Twice in the last five years, I moved across the country. The first time was from Florida to Portland, Oregon. The next time, and most recently, from Portland to San Diego.
Both times, I sold my things and packed only what I could fit in my Suzuki. Both times were a burning cleanse. The feeling of dead, sunburned skin falling away and exposing the new. Pink, fleshy, raw. Sensational.
In these moments, without familiar ground underfoot, familiar furniture to rest on, or friendly voices, I freeze like an animal stunned. Like a shark flipped upside down in tonic immobility.
About a month after moving to Portland, I collapsed onto my bed—the one piece of furniture I could afford to buy in the moment—and sobbed from the crushing emptiness of my bedroom. I cried not for lack of possessions, but for what possessions meant: home, safety, friendship, memories. Before I left Florida for Portland, I had a mulberry tree in water tattooed over my left ribs. The idea: roots can be replanted, even in the sea.
Exposed roots and all, I still wept into my new IKEA bed, unable to move. I was so stunned by my transition to Portland that I was unable to write for a year.
With so much buzz in wellness circles lately about mindfulness and meditation, I decided to do some reading on Buddhism. (The true root of this “hot new” trend. Isn’t it funny how all the new crazes find their scaffolding in ancient thought?).
It was my weeping IKEA moment that allowed me to appreciate the Buddhist concept of dukkha. Commonly translated as suffering or pain, the idea is actually much more complex. In one context, it means inherent unsatisfactoriness in all things. Because everything is impermanent, nothing is satisfying. A similar sentiment to Christ’s words on the Mount: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
It all falls away.
My recent move to San Diego is having similar effects. After “storing up treasures” in Oregon—creating memories, friends, and attachments—I sold all my things and hopped into my Suzuki. Again.
For the second time, I feel stunned, underwater, immobile. My world is upside down, and I am catatonic for the moment. Yesterday, I sprawled on a new bed—again my first purchase—and listened to a trashy audiobook for hours alone in an empty apartment.
Yet, I made these choices. I didn’t move for work or a partner. I moved for the sole purpose of change. A response to a stirring. A call to walk away. A stirring of unsatisfaction, maybe, even among satisfactory possessions and people? Itchy feet. Wanderlust. A North Wind. Dukkha.
Along with mindfulness, there’s another new trend sweeping our culture: minimalism. I don’t think it’s coincidence that these terms are trending at the same time. They certainly relate. Practitioners of minimalism, like Marie Kondo and those two dudes who call themselves The Minimalists, emphasize intentional consumption. Have less things. Those few things should bring you joy. In other words, pick your possessions mindfully.
But how do minimalists reconcile parting with those people, places, and things that do “spark joy.” Regardless of how intentional we may be in choosing our possessions, our relationships, our city of residence, the impermanence looms. As long as we are in mortal bodies, detachment from earthly treasures will sting. It will tear away the top layer of flesh. It will flip us upside down, expose our bellies, and stun us.
In my very new, very undeveloped, very naive inquiry into Buddhist thought, I’ve learned, but not experienced, that meditation can lead to a deeper insight and awareness (perhaps contentedness?) of impermanence—it can help us be aware of the change and growth and decay around us. I’m not sure if that prevents our flesh being torn when we go through change, when we must let go. But I imagine it might mean a bit more to our raw souls if we have a greater understanding of the sting.
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