The tyranny of stuff

A few years ago, I came across a thought from John Daido Loori, a Zen Master who has developed a training method called the Eight Gates of Zen. Work Practice is one of the eight gates and in a discussion about this practice, he said that you must have respect for your tools.

This dislodged a memory for me. My grandfather was many things but he began life on a farm and returned to farming during the Depression. He always had a garden and I helped him with it when I was a little girl. Every fall, he took the hoe, shovel and rake; sharpened them, put linseed oil on the handle, and hung them up on pegs for the winter. I’ve always had a garden as well, but I can’t say that I have had respect for my tools. It was a good day when my tools were not left out in the rain. They spent the winter with mud on them. The handles cracked and split from the elements and I just bought new ones when they no longer worked.

So many of my things met a similar fate. But, when I read Daido Loori’s Work Practice that included respecting tools, it got me thinking that each thing that I have is worthy of respect. It should be cared for, put away, appreciated. And, if I couldn’t care for it or appreciate it, I probably shouldn’t have it.

This new thought was mind blowing. First, it made me appreciate the tyranny of stuff. All the stuff that I have accumulated over the years was taking a toll on my psyche. My brain was always thinking that stuff needed to be dusted, put away, or mended. As I tried to meditate, stuff called to me to deal with it. I began to appreciate monks who only have three robes and a bowl to deal with.

This began my crusade to get rid of my stuff and to care for the things that remain with me. Sometimes it was difficult to part with things. But the more I sent to Goodwill or was able to discard, the less attached I was to the rest. And, the less stuff, the easier it is to clean, maintain or repair.

Also, respecting the things I do own makes me want to take care of them right away. To clean them as I use them and to place them where they belong. All of a sudden, housekeeping began to take less time. My house become more serene as there were less things that needed doing.

Of course, I haven’t always been able to respect my belongings as much as I should. And, periodically, I seem to need to purge accumulated stuff, or I find that I am no longer attached to certain items and can send it to a new home.

Christmas is often the time to merge new stuff with the old. Perhaps it is also a good time to find new homes for things we no longer use or need but can be of use to someone else. I feel another purge coming on and hope to be relieved of some of the tyranny of stuff. I may not get down to three robes and a bowl, but I’m working on it.

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~ by lindabeekeeper on December 31, 2007.

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