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Saturday, April 29, 2017

My tryst with stuff

Until I was 15, my school books and stationery, a few audio cassettes, some clothes and accessories were all my possessions. After two years of tailoring in my eleventh and twelfth grades, cloth pieces, threads, buttons and stuff started accumulating. After three years of Fine Arts in college, art and craft supplies joined the pile. Starting to volunteer with different NGOs and social movements, diaries and journals filled with to-do-lists, observations and outpourings started gathering. And books, reports and photographs. With my entry into the world of farming and gardening, garden tools, bags of seeds started piling up. With a child into our lives, toys (mostly never bought) and books started gathering. When I stopped buying clothes and starting accepting handed-down ones for all of us in the family, bags of those started filling up our cupboards. And alongside all these, my commitment to not discard used things into trash and upcycle them (I usually throw away literally one small bagful of non-reusable and non-recyclable trash a year!), my burning creativity to execute new ideas that used to be churned out by the minute, led to volumes of junk all over our house. With my experiments in natural dyeing & podi-making over the past year, a whole new collection of podi dabbas, dried peals and leaves, rusted iron pieces (for mordant), etc. started to grow. Well, it's a long list. Basically, I was trying to create a whole 'village' with libraries, workshop spaces, free-stores, studios, kitchens, gardens, play areas, waste centre, etc. all in one single house, managed by one single person. And as someone who does not believe having a helper at home, I'd have all this work with stuff, on top of my share of the housework and everything else I was doing. Madness!!!

Even though I believed myself to be regularly clearing away stuff, in reality, it was only growing in complexity and volume. And with all this stuff, we were shifting our house at least once every year on an average. I would take a few days after our each shift to recover from my shock of how much stuff we had with us, followed by some sort of a depression.

What originally began as my fascination for the material world was beginning to grow in pathology! See this collection of used matchsticks to be used in a mandala craft I had an idea for!

I was spending most of my waking time engaging with all this stuff that had filled my house, and now, my life! Either cleaning and organising them, or searching for things of value that would get buried under some pile of something somewhere.

If you've seen 'The Beautiful Mind', it was like this collection of papers that Nash had put up on his garage wall, about which he had made up a compelling story. Well, not really but almost. My 'beautiful mind' had made up a whole story about how my life was about all this stuff I needed to constantly collect, organise, clean, maintain and use. And declutter.

But my inner voice was persistently disagreeing with it. It kept arguing that I had a much better use of my time than with all this stuff. My real calling was elsewhere. Like spending more time practising stillness, doing body & breath work, singing, serious study and contemplation, writing, engaging and facilitating. Being birthed and Birthing.

Last year, I added two pursuits into my life, Silambam and Music, which didn't go beyond a few classes. My asana pranayama practice was not growing in rigour or showing much progress. My real and palpable fascination for matter was just not allowing me to add any more things into my life. I constantly beat myself up about not being 'organised enough', 'disciplined enough', 'balancing my vata dosha enough' so I could calm down and find that extra time to do all that I wanted to. “One day, I will be so perfectly organised, balanced and coordinated that I can….!” And continued to sew, craft, grow plants, work in my podis-lab, compost, make EM and pack in bottles. Stuff. Stuff everywhere!

Like Nash said running up to his wife in the rain “Marcee never gets old! She can't be real!” it began to dawn on me that this thing was not going to wane on its own. It hadn't all this while! I had to step in to take some serious action.

This past year I have increasingly satiated my appetite for my engagement with stuff. I was feeling a growing sense of fulfillment, of readiness to move on. And also a realisation that waste management is a community responsibility, not mine alone.

Now, the question was 'Where do I begin? How do I get out of this mess, quit literally?' Last year, when I saw people losing all their possessions to the floods excepting those two bags of essentials that they carried with them on the boats, a part of me was distressed, but a part of me watched yearningly to be liberated from the tyranny of all my stuff. I was was desperate about getting out of my entanglement with it!

The past few months was spent going through every single piece of stuff at home and setting it aside for giving away, returning to where it came from, or recycling / composting. And finally with a heavy heart, dumping a few sacks in the landfill. Retaining only what I absolutely valued, cherished and was going to take care of. And most of these are things handcrafted and gifted by close family and friends, naturally dyed, unique and beautiful things that I really valued, which had been submerged under an ocean of unimportant stuff! “I'm going to keep you and take good care of you!” I literally had tears of joy as I did this!

But, old samskArAs don't leave that easily. I sometimes find it hard to simply pass by neatly stacked boxes like these – my fascination for organising stuff. I stood by this pile for a while, staying intensely with my inner struggle, this strong urge to pick them up. I didn't rush past it but stayed there for a while looking intensely at them, and then I was ready to let a deep breath out saying “Bye Bye! Stuff and old samskArAs!”

It's an old belief system that everything can be resolved within. Technically, yes. But I'm someone who believes in taking the help of the collective (sangha) and also moving to an environment which can facilitate inner changes with ease. It so happens that Auroville, where I have moved in, is tremendously helpful in this. This meta-community / city has all the things I was trying to create and accommodate within my house. It has an upcycling studio, a freestore (where people give stuff they don't use and take stuff they need, all in good condition), recycling centres, and possibilities for bulk-buying organic. And I have an excellent partner in this, Isha, who just loves minimal living. “Amma, don't pick that up! We already have plenty of it and don't need any more.” she drags me away from window-shopping bags and other stuff I'm addicted to.

It's been a month living with few things, less than 10% of what I used to think we needed. And it feels like we still have more things than we need. We continue to make bags of stuff to give to the FreeStore each week.

I need to clarify something here. No, I am not very inspired by the Japanese minimalism. Not where I am in my life. That is why I have more to say on this topic. May be for another post / other posts!

My Inspirations
Zen Habits: For inspiring writing
Peace Pilgrim: For her life and her message.
Deepa Preethi Natarajan: For her delightful life where she cherishes and takes great care of the very few exquisite things - organic, natural, handmade - which she creates or buys from conscious stores.

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