Every September in Luxembourg, local residents find a large, orange transparent sack shoved through the mailbox (or sometimes, dumped unceremoniously on the ground somewhere in the vicinity of the front door.) This is the time to go through closets, locate items we no longer wear and wish to donate to charity, and pack them into the bag for pickup, usually scheduled for the first day of autumn. Whether this is coincidence or deliberate seasonal gesture, the timing is fortuitous.
In our neighborhood we also have a giant orange container for the same purpose, next to the bins for recycled glass and paper, perched outside our local Portuguese greengrocer’s shop. On the afternoon the orange bag arrived (this year, still clinging stubbornly by one corner to the mailbox), I got excited. My natural impulse to give things away and to clear space kicked in with a sort of frenzy, and soon I was happily laying waste to my closet and chest of drawers. Once I started, I didn’t want to wait the two weeks until pickup of the sacks, so I ended up taking 4 bags down to the corner container. Clothes I hadn’t worn in a really long time. Clothes given to me that I had kept just to be nice. Clothes I wasn’t sure why I bought in the first place. Clothes hanging under other clothes, forgotten. Clothes I imagined someone else would take pleasure wearing. Clothes that didn’t quite fit my body, or my personality, but that had continued taking up space, “just in case.” A few holdouts from the 90’s that had survived several such purges and changes of residence gave me pause, but sometimes it’s simply time to let go and move on. (Apparently, I was fond of leopard prints in the 90’s…)
Cleaning out a closet isn’t such a big deal, really. Making space in my head, in my heart, my spirit – that’s another thing. What in my life have I been carrying around that I haven’t needed for years but haven’t released? What burdens have I taken on from my family, friends, colleagues, society in general, and never examined? What do I hold onto from the past that no longer serves me, but stays in my psyche, “just in case?”
Releasing old baggage and destructive behavior patterns is as easy – or torturous – as we allow it to be. My Reiki teacher, Don Alexander, often spoke of resistance, of the many ways we hold onto the familiar just because we know it and are afraid of who we are without it. Even, and sometimes especially, the pain. Why do we identify with our limits, physical or intellectual? Why do we let the old tapes in our heads tell us what we cannot accomplish, why we cannot be free? Don teaches his students a wonderful meditation about this. After centering and finding a calm place inside, you slowly strip off, one by one, all your physical layers. Who are you without your hair and skin? Who are you without your muscle? Without your eyes and ears? Without your soft organs, your blood? You continue this until you are down to your very bones. The idea is to pare everything down to its most essential, its basic components.
Who am I without my horn playing? Who am I without my need to make people feel comfortable and happy? Without my anxieties and desires? Without my intellect? Without my taste in literature, my ability to cook, my health, my marriage, family, senses, thoughts, emotions, even without my name?
Obviously, we don’t throw everything away. (I still have clothes in my closet!) But if we take a moment now and then to look deeply at the things we carry, to discover what is essential and what is not, and to release just a little of what burdens us, we can breathe so much more freely. I’m still working on it, that balance between resistance and release, but the releasing part gets easier with practice.
Oh, and by the way, if you ever see me decked out in leopard prints again, send me home to do another closet purge, please.