It was moving day. Again. Or days, rather, because who would I ask to help in these times? As a perpetually underpaid and underemployed renter in high-priced Austin, Texas, when my lease is up, it’s time to move on. And these days have been hot ones, too. On the thermometer it was 93 — tying the record. With high humidity it felt much hotter, 101, which is a lot for early May. The average high is 10 degrees cooler, at 89. I feel both the burns, from sun and in the muscles. But importantly, I still got some stuff moved. And moving my abode and my body as much as I do are worth some rumination.
Fortunately I have been granted some flexibility, which is nice. Since I can’t ask much less get friends and don’t want to hire movers or a truck, I got the bulky stuff done in two trips with my roommate. Day 2 involved a bike ride to friends to borrow their car, then more stuffing stuff into boxes and bags then schlepping it from old place to new. Day 3 will be hot again, and I’ll try to pack and move the rest. Moving, be it one’s residence or your body through space exercising, say, riding a bike is something I do plenty of, maybe too much. These days when many people can’t go anywhere it seems like a luxury, actually. But moving is a requirement of life.
Changing locales has at least one benefit: it makes you take a good long look at the stuff in your life. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have the good fortune of being able to have accumulated some possessions. Moving is a major pain in the hassle physically, makes you take responsibility for however much stuff you’ve amassed. That can involve some feelings of attachment, one of a Buddhist’s biggest no-no’s. You must look at the piles and boxes of old crap you’ve accumulated, and decide what to keep, what to get rid of by trash, donation, selling or recycling. Usually I just box and bag it all up and take it to the next place. I plan to deal with it, and sometimes do a little, but then time goes by, life happens, and I’ve accrued even more crapola, it’s time to purge and do it all over. But the attachment to the thing is the, um, thing.
Some things have a story. The bottle of hand sanitizer from a local distillery I biked 20 miles to round trip is a sign of the times. It’s useful, so I’ll keep it, maybe mix it with some aloe vera so it’s not so runny and won’t make my hands smell like bourbon. Other things, the box of old electronic cables and such, is probably garbage, or should go to a reuse shop. But yet I hang onto it, thinking maybe I’ll need something. I spent money and all this time and energy keeping it in a box with a bunch of other useless garbage, for some reason. And what is that about, you may ask, Dear Reader? Well, it’s the opposite of craving, aka aversion – a Buddhist’s other mortal enemy. Some my call it FOMO – fear of missing out. It’s that sense that well, if I get rid of it, I’ll surely need it then, and what’s next? I have to go buy it again. (And don’t call me Shirley.)
I’m no serious Buddhist, but I’ve dabbled. A few retreats years ago, time at a yoga center, a whole year of daily 30′ sitting, no to mention the meditative mindset bicycling can bring. I’ve been meditating with the Insight Meditation Timer every day this year (save a couple) for five minutes after my nightly half hour of yoga. If I were dying of some weird international virus in the hospital or going to my own funeral tomorrow (if anyone showed up at all), I’d want a wizened, serene bald old man or woman from Southeast Asia with deep eyes and a Mona Lisa smile to come sit with me. To breathe, meditate, perhaps chant. To help me let it all go. Bowels, boxes and all.
After moving, there’s the unpacking, trying to find a place for my stuff, like George Carlin the master comedian commented. It’s a new place, with a new person and new rules. You don’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. I think I need a drink. Not really, but as it happens, a kind of neighbor from not too far away was driving by and gave me a grapefruit flavored adult beverage of some sort.
I dealt with a lot of my stuff by binning it, but what remains had to be stuffed it into the closet or drawers and so on. I call it furniture jenga. For a lot of stuff, I’m just kicking that can down the road yet again. But what about my feelings? Did I stuff them too? Am I craving keeping stuff or avoiding getting rid of things because of emotions instead of logic or practicality? Does each and every thing I have “spark joy”? (Uh, that would be a negatory. Sometimes a spatula is just a spatula. Take that, Marie Kendo!) Am I sharing what I don’t need, helping where I can?
My new landlord walked around shirtless in his skivvies, kvetching loudly with his sister on the phone. I was toast, so my ex-landlord, nice guy that he is, brought over Sophie the Fairdale and some bananas, spinach apples, a cucumber and a dish of quinoa and roasted root vegetables. (Note to self: If tomorrow at some point you notice your poop looks like it has blood in it, remember you ate beets. It’s not colon cancer. Breathe normally.)
There are not any real true deep thoughts that have allowed me to solve this problem. We each have to figure it out on your own. But the adage is still true: you can’t take it with you. And with changes in latitude come changes in attitude, to reference a Jimmy Buffet album. Over the next few weeks months, I will adjust to one part-time landlord with a cat instead of two roommates with two dogs. A new part of town, being closer to one of the bike shops I frequent. A movie theater, should it reopen and I feel safe enough to go. Maybe some friends will come by and we’ll take turns not breathing near each other. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that for those achy bicyclist muscles, there’s a hot tub in the lush back yard? If the world’s ending, may as well go out relaxed.
Death is that one final move awaits us all. For many, it has come too soon, (no) thanks to the pandemic. As it happens, I share a birthday with Thich Nhat Hanh, the 93-year old Vietnamese Buddhist, activist, poet and author. He’s the second most famous meditation teacher in the world after the Dalai Lama. Last year he had a stroke, and finally left the practice center Plum Village he founded in France to go home. In an interview with a senior teacher had this advice.
One of the most powerful teachings that he [Hanh] shared with us before he got sick was about not building a stupa [shrine for his remains]for him and putting his ashes in an urn for us to pray to. He strongly commanded us not to do this. I will paraphrase his message:
Please do not build a stupa for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside, and limit who I am. I know this will be difficult for some of you. If you must build a stupa though, please make sure that you put a sign on it that says, ‘I am not in here.’ In addition, you can also put another sign that says, ‘I am not out there either,’ and a third sign that says, ‘If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.’Brother Phap Dung paraphrasing Thich Nhat Hanh in the Vox interview
As we move our bodies across the earth, we take steps on our paths. We go through the (bi)cycles of life. In so doing, may we be mindful, compassionate and peaceful — towards ourselves, others, and the planet.
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