Saturday, September 13, 2014

Decluttering Successfully Uncompleted

I think I went too far with all this decluttering in that every day I miss certain irreplaceable objects, and the places where they were look sad and empty, so I’ve decided not to go ahead with the remaining sectors of my small apartment. The decluttering project is concluded and Barbara Reich has fallen off her pedestal. She was really talking about people with entire houses full of really too much stuff, which is not my situation.

I miss my mother’s gold casserole with a tiny crack in it and a certain butter knife, though it still seems OK that the ugly vase and many other things are gone. I still have my mother’s mechanical pencil and my father’s toy truck, and the last blouse my grandmother ever wore, found hanging on a hook on her bathroom door. It still smells faintly of her perfume, 12 years later.

I was telling my mother I planned to get rid of my LPs and turntable, etc., and she said, “I do not support this,” and she was right. It’s not time yet, and might never be. I’ll leave this for Hammett to do after I’m gone. Here he is, resting up for the future task, or maybe just for more resting up.

I had also been trying to think if there was a way I could get rid of my stereo receiver and old speakers and still use my turntable, and I made the thrilling discovery that, since the turntable has a pre-amp built in, I can plug it directly into the back of the new computer speakers, and I can do the same with my tape deck! But, a few days later, while listening to a Todd Rundgren song, I heard a truly terrible sound that I could not get rid of via the equalizer in iTunes.

I belatedly went to Amazon to read the reviews for the computer speakers, which are overwhelmingly positive, but on this occasion I read the 1-star reviews, about 50 of them, and a good number of people complained about the sound quality: overly booming bass, nonexistent midrange, tinny treble. There was a chart comparing this speaker system to other Logitech speaker systems that have 25 or 40 watts of power. These have 200. So now it’s back to the drawing board on all of this, because it appears that for great sound, I might need to use my old stereo receiver and old speakers, and that is really too much stuff to have on my desk.


A couple of weeks ago, I took a walk with Elea on a warm Saturday, and then had a phone date with Margaux. In the evening, I had a burrito with George, one of the core group of volunteers at the soup kitchen. He regularly goes to volunteer at San Quentin, as well, and I offered to treat him to a burrito if he’d tell me all about it. I thought I might like to go along with him one week. I must have mentioned this to my mother, because the next thing I knew, I’d received a copy of Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.’s Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us in the mail, so I could choose my incarcerated husband carefully.


I was noticing one day very clearly in sitting practice that when something unpleasant arose, such as a physical sensation, the reaction was not one of aversion and trying to push the unpleasant thing away, as I would expect, but of shrinking away: There was a fear of fully perceiving the experience, coupled with a fear that the experience wouldn’t go away, that it would linger and maybe even become worse.

I also noticed that when a pleasant sensation arose, or perhaps a pleasant sound, like a certain kind of airplane, there arose a desire for the pleasant thing to continue, certainly, but also the mild anxiety that it would go away. So in the unpleasant there was mild fear, but also in the pleasant.

When I became Howie’s student, in 1990, I was excited that meditation and mindfulness might help with the compulsive eating I’d struggled with since I was seven years old. I figured that, instead of eating when I wasn’t hungry, I’d use my nascent mindfulness skills to notice what was happening, and thus not need to eat compulsively. This approach did not meet with immediate success, and I mentioned it one night at sangha. Howie asked how long I’d been practicing eating compulsively. If we had that conversation roughly a year after I became his student, then I had been practicing it for 22 years. He advised that it might then take that long to get the hang of doing something else. He was precisely correct. It’s been 23 years, and very recently, since going on the Tejaniya-style retreat at Spirit Rock in April, I have noticed a major change in the realm of eating.

I now see that, for most of those 23 years, I was on the Mindfulness Diet. (By the way, at Rainbow most recently, I saw that phrase, used sincerely, on the cover of one of the Buddhist magazines.) That is, I was attempting to use mindfulness to reach a predetermined goal, that of not eating when I wasn’t physically hungry. Basically, I was trying to use mindfulness in the service of grasping: I want a certain result, and mindfulness will help me get it. That was the idea, anyway. It absolutely did not work.

Since coming back from the retreat, I’ve been practicing a more open awareness. Rather than choosing an object and attempting to stick with it or drill down into it, I aspire to notice how all things are working together: What thoughts are arising? Is there wanting something to happen or wanting something not to happen? What am I aware of?

Thus I am aware that I am walking to the refrigerator and that I have an unpleasant task to do. Or I’m tired, but have several things I must do before going to bed. Or I have finished a task and will be beginning another, but am in between right now. And as soon as I see that, assuming I wasn’t actually physically hungry, the urge to have a snack disappears. The cause that created that condition—namely, unperceived anxiety—no longer exists.

(Click photos to enlarge.)


Unknown said...

I struggle with "clutter clearing" too, but recently tossed the empty cassette tape cases (truly clutter!). Next I plan to sort a box of photos into two piles: toss and to-be-organized/scanned. That's as far as I've gotten in recent months.

lisajean1015 said...

I also saw that "Mindfulness Diet" phrase on the magazine cover, and leafed through a copy in the store prepared to meet the article with disdain. But actually, the article is about finding the right mix of mindful practices to fit your life ( So now my disdain is reserved for the magazine's attention-grabbing move of putting the phrase "Meditation Diet" on the cover.

Bug Walk said...

Empty cassette tape cases definitely qualify as clutter, agreed!

Good for you, King, for being so un-lazy as to actually open the magazine and find out what it said before criticizing.

Indeed, there are so many things one could be mindful of in a given moment, from time to time I ask Howie to help me prioritize.

The last time I asked him this, he said he's always aware of his body, of relaxing, of his emotions, of his mental attitude, of liking and disliking ...