by Donna Henes - urban shaman, contemporary ceremonialist
On my birthday last week, a friend presented me with a gorgeous amber necklace that she had gotten in Russia twenty years ago before she emigrated to the United States. Though she felt that it did not suit her, she held onto it for two decades for sentimental reasons. When she gave it to me, she apologized for it not being a new store-bought thing, but I was thrilled. Not only does it suit me perfectly, but I was extremely touched by her sharing of this nostalgic gem.
And I completely understood her motivation for giving it away. It is common for women in midlife to display an overwhelming urge to purge, to clean out, throw out, refuse, release, discard, to distill and streamline all of our attachments. We refine our needs and tastes and now want to be surrounded by only those people, places, and things that add something positive to our lives.
If we are to practice living life with intention, purpose, and appreciation, we are called to take stock - on every level imaginable - material, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And we feel the need to evaluate everything in terms of its value to us. Do our belongings, attitudes, ideas, obligations, commitments, habits, goals, dreams, relationships, and wardrobes still fit us? Do they suit us and our current life style? Are they flattering? Do they please us? Do they continue to serve us? Do they feed us what we need? Or do they drain our energy and slow us down by the amount of maintenance that they require?
It seems to me that we spend the first half of our lives accumulating things and the second half getting rid of them, paring our possessions down to a manageable cache. At some point in our middle years, it is important to take the time to catalogue what it is we have, what we have accumulated, what we hold onto, what we have carried with us through the years, and what we would be better off letting go of. As we face the second half of our lives, it is prime time to check our baggage and lighten up our load.
With practice, we can distinguish which of our possessions and commitments expresses our true desires, needs, values, and aesthetics, and which do not. Which relationships serve us in a reciprocal manner, and which do not. Which engagements, involvements, and assignments are fulfilling and life-affirming and which are empty busywork. "It's not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy," The writer Marie O'Conner reminds us. "The bee is praised; the mosquito is swatted."
A thorough house cleaning, internal as well as external, is a fabulous way to delineate the purpose of our lives. Letting go of the inessential creates an elegant order to our existence. An orderly house always seems like the invitation to a fresh start, which is why so many cultures incorporate a thorough house scrubbing, a clean sweep, as it were, as well as an internal ablution in their New Year's rituals. Our messy thinking and sloppy habits come more easily into focus when our surroundings are tidy and beautiful and filled with only what is meaningful, so that we can release them, as well.
When we clear out the inessentials, we make space for ourselves to grow and expand to fill the void. With the chaff, the distractions, and dirty corners of our environments and minds cleared away, we can better see the structure of our lives, the foundations of our support, and the bare bones that comprise our true Selves, and then we can dedicate ourselves to living a more authentic life.
The Queen Suggests: House Cleaning From the Inside Out
© Copyright 2004 Donna Henes. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of the author. From her book, The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife.