Monday, August 31, 2009


I’ve never had such a marvelous giveaway time as I am having now. I’m not just giving things I don’t want any more to the Salvation Army, or weeding my library to the Friends of the Library Booksale. I’m letting of of objects I’ve cherished for 30 or more years. My Nepalese shaman drum, my collection of china tea cups, my mother’s books, bound in softest leather. Things that once defined me, like special ritual clothes. Things that once held me, like a painting worth thousands of dollars that I didn’t like and couldn’t sell. That object I gifted to the fire!

With every gift I give, I seem to be the one to gain, until I am mad with pleasure. Where does this benefit come from? It’s lovely to lighten my load of possessions so that I can live more simply and I’m glad to make other people happy, but that’s not the source of this deeper joy.

I poked around a bit online looking for thoughts about gift-giving. In many cultures, the giving of gifts is a way to strengthen interpersonal ties. The indigenous folks of the Pacific Northwest are famous for their potlatch giveaways, and some Pacific Islanders and African peoples have objects that are in continuous circulation, giving and receiving being vital to social interchange and community building. Although many see contemporary Christmas gifting as empty commercialism, for others, it’s an opportunity to express affection and commitment. Gift-giving is important everywhere you go.

But understanding gift-giving didn’t enlighten me as to why I’m feeling so happy from my giveaway. Only as I struggled with my illness did it come to me: I want my life to have meaning and this meaning does not come from things. Possessions, successes and achievements, and even the constant hope for those things, have only served to conceal my true value. I am not any of those things. They do not define me or give my life value, even though I’ve wished for them and held onto them as if they did.

If my life has any value, it is intrinsic to my person. I'm worthy because of who I am, not what I have. Everything will be given back when I die, after all. Even my body will be given back. And yet I’ve held on to things as if they defined me. Now, with every object I let go of, every dream vanished or task undone, I become more myself. I see myself, unadorned, undone, unhealthy but beautiful, wonderful, human, and good.

With new eyes, I look at my life and find that the things that have had value have no form: the love I shared, the sacrifices I made, conversations on the back porch. My children, my marriage, my gods . . . these give my life meaning. Not the drum I gave away. Not the fancy house we had to sell. No wonder I’m so happy! With every letting go, my life shines brighter in my own eyes. I see the meaning that was hidden behind the veils of things.

Now, there’s this pretty hand-painted serving plate, dated 1907, with a delicate rose design I’d like to give away. The photo doesn't do its luminance justice. Do me a favor, would you, and take it?


Anonymous said...

Divesting oneself of material things ... reminds me of many saints, inc. St. Francis and St. Clare, Buddha, and Peace Pilgrim. They and many others have found bliss by renouncing the material world. It takes a large degree of spiritual maturity to reach this point. I admire you for being there!


puny human said...

Thanks, Emily. And thanks for who you are. I am holding onto my cookbooks, though, so I'm no saint, that's for sure! Hey folks, I gave away the rose plate this morning, so that's found a home. Thanks to everyone who's taken something.

sophia said...

I'm looking around my cluttered room right now. Gifting really is the most satisfying way of letting go. I had a really old banjelele with its original head that someone had gifted to me. Finding it too "special" for me to feel comfortable using, I gave it to my distraught friend who had once said how much she liked it. We aren't really in touch, but if I listen I can feel the music she makes with it in my mind's ear, and I know it is healing for her.

Alice Kytler said...

I think this is a lovely way that you are going about this. I divested myself of most of my material possessions at once because of moving. We didn't have much money and I wanted my children to go to this beautiful Steiner School down here in Tasmania and we couldn't afford to cross the sea with more than what we could carry. I am so grateful to my children for being that source of love that made me realise I didn't need all that stuff! Now when I move from here I will have only a few boxes of books to pack up and a suitcase of clothes. It makes me feel lighter. I like the things you stated you want to do with your blog, I can very much relate to them.