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Friday, January 07, 2011
Therapeutic New Year's cleaning up
People of my generation are taught to revere books. They are sources of knowledge, our teachers, and later (for books of our choice) our close friends.
As a journalist, books have for me gained an additional dimension. A practical one. They provide in-depth information and insight for my work. Simply put, books are a source of my livelihood.
My gratitude towards books has over the years extended to documents, monographs and research papers. Since they are valuable to my work, I feel I must take good care of them. Imagine my guilt whenever I've had to throw them away.
I had no choice. The house was bursting at the seams. There was no place to sit on the sofas. We had to squeeze for room to eat at our dining table. When I got out of bed, I had to be specially careful not to trip over piles of cookbooks, dhamma books, and copies of the Sudoku games I downloaded from the internet. All of them are my trusted bed-time friends.
"You have to do something," my friend admonished when she last visited. And I did just that over this New Year holiday.
While choosing what to give away, what to keep, and what to throw away, I came to realise that I was not only cleaning my house, but also my mind by practising letting go.
To my surprise, I had few problems with the dhamma books I'd collected over the years. Not because I was giving them away to a temple library. When I was packing them up, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd actually read few of them. That the main reason I liked to have dhamma books around was because it made me feel good to have them. That I, too, was in the game of accumulating stuff. Only that my object of accumulation was books on letting go!
What did I decide to throw away? News clippings on the monastic scandals, the clergy's plans for Sangha reform, various documents on women's development, community forests, migrant workers' problems, and draft legal amendments of rights-oriented laws, among many others.
What went into the bin were issues of the day which, back then, I'd felt were very urgent and important. And now? For some, the information is outdated. For others, the high hopes ended in empty promises and disillusionment. Whichever the case, the very act of throwing away what I once considered important shed light on the futility of attachment to ideas and views. Somehow, I felt much lighter.
What did I decide to keep? All my notebooks containing numerous interviews and conference information. I told myself they are for future reference. But that's only partially true. Mainly it's an ego thing. Those notes are an extension of myself, so it's hard to let go. What else? Among them: articles on abortion, because nothing has changed on this front. Tips on how to solve kids' addiction to computer games. Some dhamma books which I really intend to read. Papers and books on small people's struggles, to remind myself what journalism is for. The cookbooks? I'm keeping all of them although I don't cook that often. The remnants of a woman's instinct from thousands of years in the kitchen, I guess.
The cleaning up was nearly done when I found my late mother's two account books which I had long forgotten. On a whim, I put one in the bin. Keeping just one would be enough, I thought.
Then I sat down to look at my mum's handwriting. All of a sudden, a flood of loving warmth filled my whole body. I rushed to salvage the other expenses book from the bin. Books, I could learn to let go. But not this. Not what helps me feel as if my mum were beside me again.
Her expenses may look trivial. But they brought back to life the little details of her daily life, what she loved to do and the persons she loved. Now I understand why people say cleaning up is therapeutic. I don't just feel lighter after much of the clutter has gone, I feel loved. My friend was right. I should have done this a long time ago.