On Simplicity, Forgiveness and ThrivingJul 13, 2018
By Jackie Ambrow, M.A., C.Ht.
When my then 18-year-old daughter Xochitl and I sold our house and moved into a fifth wheel RV back in 2010, our remaining possessions took up not one but two 10 x 20 foot storage units. That was a lot of stuff!
We had no idea how long we might RV full time. We just knew it was what we wanted to do rather than sit around and struggle paying rent to fund someone else's mortgage after we had paid our own mortgage for 7+ years. We didn't even have a truck to pull our trailer yet.
We just had a dream of traveling and working together. It felt right. And it was.
We thought maybe we might have a place again sometime in the next couple of years and we'd furnish it then with all the things from our house that we loved.
We thought we'd get our truck to pull our RV in just a year or so when the economy got better after the Great Recession.
Boy, were we fooled. And life kept happening while we were busy making other plans.
Our new lifestyle, even if stationary, required that we downsize and simplify. When you live in a space that's not more than about 350 square feet, you get very real about what you need and want in your space and what's just in the way.
And when you finally start traveling, you have to get rid of anything that's dead weight!
During the first five years we lived in a fifthwheel RV trailer, we kept a lot of clutter we thought we needed: books and kitchen gadgets and extra clothes and pet stuff and games and DVDs and electronics and on and on. We could do it because we weren't on the road. If stuff stayed out, it stayed put because there was minimal bouncing along as we just sat there.
We discovered that paying for two big storage units was really not fiscally prudent, shall we say. We were essentially paying for our things over and over again by renting places to keep them.
We went through the painful process of making decisions about what to keep and what to let go. The process hurt even more when we realized that after the Great Recession, people no longer wanted to pay a "fair price" for antiques and our very nice stuff! Had we sold everything back in 2010, we would have gotten premium prices. Ouch!
My parents had even told us to do that at the time, to get rid of it all, but I wanted to hold on. Hold on to the things that made my home feel like a home. Hold onto things that were my legacy and my ancestors' legacy. All for some future time when we might have a "stick house" again that wasn't on wheels.
In the end, we got out of one of the big 10 x 20 storage units by having a big sale on nearby land, selling some of our things for low prices, and finally taking most of our precious leftover antique furniture sets from my late great aunt to an auction. We made very little money, but we were free of one whole storage unit as well as the monthly rent for it!
Over the next few years, we moved more stuff around, some to my two-room office that I still kept in Columbia, Missouri and some to storage. A dear friend in our old neighborhood kept our climate-sensitive things like photos, art and musical instruments in her basement. Graciously, she allowed us to move the rest from the last storage unit and the office I finally closed to her basement.
And there it stayed—until last month.
Her sister had moved in and they had other plans for the basement. (We can't wait to see the new space after it's finished!)
So ahead of the deadline, we got it all downsized again and moved it to the smallest storage we've had yet: a 5 x 10 unit.
It was really a miracle though! A friend was passing through on her way back to Florida from Wisconsin and unexpectedly stayed nearly two weeks to help us get it done. She helped sort and haul and sell and move all the stuff that had to be sorted and hauled and sold and moved. We could not have done it without her in that amount of time. We are so grateful to her for that totally unexpected help!
Have you noticed how everything tends to work out for the best? Even when you have no idea how it will? The climatized storage unit that was the least expensive turned out to be in a town near my severely disabled sister, so now we can get to storage and see her at the same time. And it's affordable!
All of this sorting and selling and hauling and moving of stuff has got me thinking about the other kinds of baggage we haul around with us and weigh us down.
During the last few years, I've come face to face with a family member who created a lot of baggage for me as a child and younger adult that I thought I had let go years before. I certainly had worked on it and had done my best to have a better relationship with them.
Then I discovered this person could create entirely new baggage for me and is still actively making an effort to continue doing so. (I don't believe this person has ever let go of their baggage from childhood.)
So I've been thinking: How can we let go of new and currently forming baggage, even as it's being added? How can we stop building resentment and anger toward someone who is trying to hurt us in the present?
It's hard enough to move through forgiveness for stuff from the past. But painful stuff in the present? That's a whole 'n'other kettle o' fish.
As we have been clearing out clutter and working to simplify our lives and possessions, I've had a lot of time to think about this sore of a relationship and the pain I've been carrying around with me because of it. Funny how de-cluttering and downsizing can still give us time to think about such things.
I've been wondering how I can ever forgive this person, especially because they continue to have the power to cause me pain.
And I've been thinking about a wonderful conversation I had a few years ago with Rev. Phylis Clay Sparks, founder of the Soul Esteem Center in the St. Louis area, now closed after 20 years of service. We had talked a lot about her forgiveness process, which she later published in her book, Forgiveness It Is NOT What You Think It Is!
Rev. Sparks told me that a lot of forgiveness is figuring out how a hurtful person, situation or habit has served us. She said we must recognize that we are tied emotionally to that hurtful person, situation or habit and that the attachment needs to be cut before we can be free.
We often can't end that attachment until we recognize how the person, situation or habit has helped us to change. In other words, when we allow ourselves to see how our adversary has become our teacher, we get to receive the lesson, find gratitude for what we've learned, however painful, and then tell the person, situation or habit that it can stop teaching us now.
Rev. Sparks recommends a two-part process to accomplish this. Each day, she says, journal about these questions of how did this serve me, where are the cords of attachment, how did this person, situation or habit help me to change myself and how can I change my perception to see this adversary as my teacher?
Then she recommends going into meditation or contemplation after journaling each day and imagine thanking this person, situation or habit, telling them to stop teaching the lesson now and imagine them walking away or leaving us in peace. It may take many days of this process to find release and a sense of peace.
As I begin to apply her process to this current situation, I'm realizing that I'm being called to practice forgiveness on a whole new level.
You see, I had texted this person, "I will never forgive you." At the time I couldn't see how I could forgive them even though I knew when I typed in those words that one day I would have to. I had been able to forgive them for what they had done to me as a child and even as a younger adult, but I could not get past what they were doing currently to hurt me now. Not just me, but other family members too, who could not defend themselves against their tactics.
The story itself is unimportant to this post. The details of what they did, what they're doing—none of that matters in the end. They are just doing what they're doing because that's where their best thinking has led them. Unfortunate, but there it is. I cannot control what they do.
What's left to me to decide is how I will respond inside myself.
Will I continue to carry this poison of pain, anger, hurt and resentment? Will each new event trigger me to add to that experience?
Or will I find a way to move into forgiveness, even as it's happening?
I can imagine how this person and situation are serving me in at least one capacity: to force me to learn how to forgive even while in the midst of it.
Wow. I never imagined having to do that before. I always had thought of forgiveness as something we do after the situation has ended.
An image of Jesus on the cross that my friend Rev. Suzan Bailey conjured up while we talked about this situation: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."
I also realize I am attached with the strong emotional cords of family, loyalty, and the identity of belonging to our biological flesh. That attachment blinded me at times to how I was being treated over the years. Yet I hung in there because it was "the right thing to do."
I was determined to love them more than they loved me just because—I love. I thought I could earn their love by giving away some of myself and my own power. If I just loved them enough, they would see me and how much I loved them and love me in return.
Love itself is never wrong. Love is a gift. Love is eternal. Love is loyal and … forgiving.
However, we've been told to "Love your neighbors as yourself."
The implication is that not only are our neighbors worthy of love, WE are worthy of love too. An equal share of love. And that means we have to find a way to love ourselves enough to let go of anything and anyone that gets in the way of loving ourselves and being able to forgive and release.
Maybe this appears as a physical leaving, a walking away, a departure from that relationship or situation.
Maybe it appears as a shift in perception while we continue to do what is ours to do.
I can't say I have all the answers yet. But I know one thing for certain: the change has to be inside of me before I will have the changes in the outer world I wish to see.
I have a feeling that to thrive, we have to let go of everything that's in the way. We have to de-clutter at every level. We have to release what holds us back, release anything that no longer serves us. We have to let go of our attachments, old identities, old beliefs, and maybe even the need to be right.
We have to forgive. Others and ourselves.
We have to let go of anything that stands in the way of loving ourselves and loving others. Even when the cause of our pain is ongoing right now.
When a person or situation or habit comes up to "bite" us, it's an opportunity to change ourselves. It's an opportunity to notice what no longer works in our lives and do something about it.
Our lives work better now that we have less "stuff". Our possessions own us less now than we own them. Our potential to thrive has increased.
Curious, that. We're told by mass culture that to thrive, we need more and more. Hmm.
Now that I have started looking for a way to forgive this person—now that I am open to that possibility—I am finding a new way of being with the situation. I may not be able to change them or what they do, but I am finding ways to be more at peace inside myself.
At least that possibility exists now where it did not before. And that's progress.
Here's to your personal journey of de-cluttering your life, forgiving yourself and others, and thriving more.
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