Last night Trevor and I went to Powell’s Books and sold a bunch of our used books. I am always a bit ambivalent about letting my books go. In the past I owned two huge steel bookcases that were packed with titles meticulously organized on a wide range of subjects. In a strange way, the books represented historical mirrors of all the different parts of myself – my interests, hobbies, professional work, and dreams. Some were gifts, others written by friends, and yet others were reminders of times past when some topic engaged me. So selling my books feels like I am giving away little parts of myself.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Robert Bly, who once said:
We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again.
How true this is in my experience! Everyone has a past history of things we care to forget, that we hide away in a private bag and hope never gets opened. And unlike like Bly, I think as we get older we continue to add to the bag. We stash away our fears, disappointments, challenges, and feelings of shame, because these things are painful and no one likes pain. The only problem with this approach is that it doesn’t make life any better. Shit seeps out, the bag gets holes in it, and life gets even more complicated and painful when we don’t deal head-on with what is in the bag.
There are many ways to deal with what is in the bag. We can go to therapy and have someone help us delve into the bag in a safe way and work through our stuff. We can meditate on the bag and get clearer about what is in it and how it influences our life. And we can develop a practice of letting go.
Because the material items in my life, including books, all mirror parts of who I am inside, I have found that when I donate, sell, and get rid of stuff I no longer use on a regular basis, my bag gets lighter, much lighter! So the image today from the New York Public Library is a reminder to continually practice letting go. To downsize stuff, upsize experiences, clear out my bag, and live courageously until I reach the final letting go.