Friday, August 29, 2014

Help! I'm caught!

At breakfast, my wife Judy asked what I thought about selling some of our stored “stuff” – stored away in closets and garage – at the great Niles Flea Market this Sunday (August 31)

Main street - Niles Flea market!
My first reaction was.  “Well, some of the things we bought in exotic foreign markets are nice to bring out once in a while and be reminded of where we bought it.”  Judy responded that “anything we haven’t looked at in three years could be sold and we wouldn't miss it.”  Hard to argue with that logic.
I think in this world there are “keepers” and “givers”.  I suspect we all have some measure of both tendencies. I grew up in a small Midwestern town where many attitudes were formed during  the depression … My family and neighbors lived by the rule that “you never know when that will come in handy”. So they kept wrapping paper, and string, nuts and bolts, tools and furniture that needed to be repaired, old clothes, books that had been read and been sitting on the shelf for years unread, old copies of National Geographic,  and empty coffee tins… "You never know how you could use that...." So I was raised with these tendencies and have had to combat them all my life. 

Internet photo - not our garage (yet)
In the case of the flea market, I agree that if the unused items can be turned into cash to benefit a good cause that makes sense.  Still, I will probabily hold on to things that evoke a special memory.  When I  take our a wooden figure carved in an African village it brings back a flood of mental pictures… also I love to hold a small pottery incense burner from Oaxaca made in the style of the early Aztec people.  I like to run my hands over the intricate design in a bronze bowl made by a Turkish village craftsman.  None of these items have great monetary worth – but they have the ability to bring back images of past adventures.  I can part with stuff with no special emotional tie – but some things I would miss.
Craftsman in Oaxaca making Alebrijes:
There is a story told in many variations in different countries of the world that deal with this issue:  The story is “How to Catch a Monkey’
“A hunter takes a jar with an opening slightly larger than a monkey’s hand. He ties a rope around the neck of it, which is a cradle of the rope around the jar.  The hunter places a nut or other favorite monkey food in the jar.

My trapped inner moneky
The monkey reaches his hand into the jar, grabs the food, making a fist with his paw. Now, the monkey’s dilemma:  the monkey cannot get his hand out of the jar unless he drops the food. The neck of the jar is simply not wide enough. Of course, the monkey could drop the food and easily get his hand out, but it won’t. Despite having at his command the means to escape, it does not — it holds his hand grasping the food until a hunter throws a net over it, capturing it.”
This guy is in conflict

I can so relate with that monkey – not only holding onto material things but holding on to thoughts, ideas, and values that no longer serve a purpose.  Is all seems so valuable and necessary that I can't turn loose of them – but if I could, when I do… my mind is freed of having to maintain and protect that thing or that idea.  

In the Buddhist version of the story it is told that "to be free in our mind all we have to do is let go…”  We all have experienced this at times in our lives – but it is hard for me to do. 
Yesterday's junk - I like that
Another example of the same message is in the Bible 
“A rich young ruler asked Jesus, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered, ‘Sell everything you have and give the profits to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow my way of life.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. “

I often choose the hard way, when the easy way is 'letting go'
I have had a hard time dealing with this reading.  I don't see many practicing Christians giving away everything they have, and I don't think that needs to be the message of the reading – I think that we are called to free ourselves by letting go of our superfluous posessions and connections... and to do a better job of  'seeing' and responding to the needs of those around us.  By freeing my tight grip of control I can free my mind too.

As the twig is bent so grows the tree...

In our travels in third world  countries,  we have been surprised by the hospitality from poor people who freely share what little they have, possessions, food, water, hospitality… It seems that 'rich' people are often so concerned about acquiring more or preserving what they have that for many it's become quite easy to now see the needs of people in our midst.  I must add that I can think of powerful exceptions to this statement - some wealthy people have preserved and practice great outreach to the poor.  

Maybe I had better take another look at what I can part with and sell in the flea market...