Clearing Space: Divesting the “Good Stuff”

We’ve been hearing lately from many people who are gleefully engaged in “de-cluttering”.  What a great idea!  When things are piled up in our homes it can literally constrict the flow of healthy life force through our living spaces.  Whether the drive is “spring cleaning” or good Feng Shui tenets, clearing clutter from closets and coffee tables feels better, in part because it frees up that flow.  There is also another aspect about our possessions that can create a drain on our energy resources.  That is the fact that every object we own is attached to our personal energy field, each one tying up tiny amounts of our life force through our unconscious connection to it.

 On some level, part of us accounts for everything we own, for we’ve been taught to maintain, clean, track, inventory, protect, and determine the social and monetary value of our belongings.  (Do you save your “good” dishes for special occasions?)  As our inner mind does that on a continuing basis, we psychically carry our possessions with us wherever we go.  Imagine every one of your belongings being tied to you with a long string, trailing behind you like tin cans on the bumper of a newlywed couple’s car and you’ll get the picture.  Wouldn’t that slow you down a little as you walked through life?  Might it make you want to pare down what you owned?

 Listening to stories of recent joyful donation trips to Goodwill or the Salvation Army told by our Mesa friends once again got my wife, Kate, to making noises about “clearing out the junk” in our house.  We each have things the other might call “junk”, but are respectful of each other’s emotional reluctance to part with any of it.  Many times we had started in on this kind of sorting through of belongings, only to become stalled by indecision on what to keep and what to pass along.  Couple that with the fact that we are people who are able to see blessings in nearly everything and you might grasp the magnitude of our dilemma.

 This time, the inspiration to downsize coincided with our reading of Dr. Carl Hammerschlag’s book, The Theft of Spirit.  In it, the good doctor talks about how our possessions often end up “owning us” and that it is not until we give something away that it ceases to own us and we gain ownership of it instead.  But if I give it away, I’ll no longer have it, I thought, and I filed the concept away for later consideration.

 I could feel that I still had deep rooted conflicts about possessions and the material nature of physical life.  Kate did too.  We came by them honestly, I told myself.  As artists and spiritual people, we see everything as able to be turned into something beautiful or useful.  As a blacksmith, I see every scrap of metal as able to be recycled into wall hooks, nails, or small tools.  (Blacksmiths were the very first recyclers, you know!)  Stray sticks can be made into drum beater handles, water bottle caps used as glue reservoirs, broken glass can be melted into beads, and torn leather jackets fashioned into crystal pouches or medicine bags.

 Our environmental ethics also clashed with our energetic understanding of the curse of clutter, embodied in our recognition that there is really no “away” in, “thrown away”.  It all goes somewhere, usually just out of our sight.  We agonized over tossing old but repairable items into the trash.  We felt responsibility for stray twist ties and rubber bands.  We saved yogurt tubs for rinsing paint brushes, tie dyed stained tee shirts, and plotted ways to turn torn jeans into tote bags.

 Add to all of this the fact that I was taught poverty consciousness by my parents.  Possessions were something to be diligently protected and cared for.  Shoes had to be repeatedly shined, good clothes were saved for special occasions, and new things had to last a long, long time.  We always had to finish the “old” apples or bananas before eating the freshly bought ones, practically guaranteeing that the new ones would lose their appeal in over ripeness before we got to them.  Nothing was to be given away unless it no longer fit our body or age level, nothing was to be thrown out until it was completely, shabbily used up.

 This internalized indoctrination caused me to hold onto physical property even though it was counter to my true nature, even things that I didn’t really like, need, or use very often.  I found myself “protecting” possessions by not using them until they went completely out of style, dry rotted, or were so hopelessly out of date technologically that their special batteries or other consumables could no longer be purchased to be able to use them.  Then I felt sad or angry at myself for not taking better care of or getting enough use out of them.  I had been taught to squeeze every last drop of “value” out of what I had invested in, no matter how small it was.

 When Kate and I discussed clearing out the closets again a day or so later, we saw part of why we had trouble with releasing possessions.  People talk about downsizing glibly in terms of “getting rid of stuff”.  We all know how to get rid of “stuff”–  you throw it out or leave it somewhere for someone who is truly without.  But what about all the things that are still “good”?  Still relatively new-looking and usable, perhaps, but not needed, loved, or any longer used.  What’s the right thing to be done with them?  Do we sell them?  Would it be appropriate to simply give them away when we could probably could get something for them?  How much would we ask?  Would it really matter if we just threw them out?  (Insert my mother’s voice saying something here…)  Our heads knew it was time to move things along but our emotions weren’t sure how to go about it.  It involved choices.  We had to be responsible.  It stopped us dead in our tracks.

 We recognized a layer of confusion at work here, a conflict between our spiritual knowing and the cultural scorekeeping system we were raised with.  To Spirit, things have no intrinsic worth.  Our life force is far more precious.  Our capitalistic culture and emotional upbringing see things differently and suggest to us that things are very important, often more important than we are.  We were stuck trying to emotionally determine a value for possessions by systems that our hearts and souls didn’t buy into (no pun intended), even though those items held no practical value to us anymore.

 We knew how to “get rid of stuff”.  What we didn’t know how to do was this other thing; somehow moving along items of indeterminate emotional and ambiguous financial value.  Finally, a word for what we needed to do came to us: divesting.  I looked on the internet at the definition of divest, and the relevant meaning was the third one listed: “to sell off or dispose of investments”.  We were still seeing too much of other people’s idea of value in what we had to bring ourselves to willingly divest it.  There was too much tied up, in-vested in these things we owned.  Was it just the money we or others had spent that made us hold on to them?  No, the outlay was our lives, our history, and our projected selves.  This hinted at a deep seated confusion about our own value, wrapped up in what we had accumulated.

 Kate and I checked with Kinesiology (muscle testing) and both of our inner minds were saying “YES” to “getting rid of stuff”, but not surprisingly “NO” to divesting.  Here was a resistance to letting go of things that still had value(s) attached to them.  Working with our new little healing method, we were able to quickly reverse that inner resistance to divesting and get a new perspective.  Moving “good” things along was OK, completely up to our judgment, and even healthy.

 Kate immediately went to work clearing out our entry closet.  She brought things of mine into our office so I could review them as I worked on our summer class brochure.  This time, the good jackets we never wore and some other “valuables” actually went out the door to Goodwill within a day.  Other nearly new items went to the Mesa and then home with students who “always wanted” the items we were divesting.  Our blessings were spread.

 Oh… so what was the first dictionary definition given for divesting?  To strip of power.  (Literally, to take away your clothing, your vestments of authority.)  For us, something very opposite was happening.  By learning to materially divest instead of only “getting rid of stuff” we were actually taking back our power and energy from what had previously owned us.  The problem hadn’t so much been determining the worth of what we had than internalized concepts of value.

 It is our spiritual inheritance to recognize that material things are transient and relative value has just been a way to wield power and (often selfishly)control distribution of resources.  This needs to change for humanity to move from conflict, separation and scarcity towards compassion, unity, and sharing.  Native Americans would say that everything, including our bodies, are only borrowed from Spirit and will someday be returned to Spirit.  We own nothing but our essence.

 I could see that Dr. Hammerschlag idea that we couldn’t own things until we gave them away had to do with willingness to divest freeing us from external systems of “value” that allow material objects to have a hold on us.  By changing that perspective we will be able to move to a spiritual value system of Being rather than having; cherishing people, love, and peace instead of “stuff”.  Happy Divesting!

About Brad Silberberg

Brad Silberberg, director of The Mesa Creative Arts Center in Burgettstown, PA (Pittsburgh area) is an artist, holistic healer, spiritual leader, and change agent.
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