Pouring Soul into Objects
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay in the mid-2000s, I was pickpocketed one day while riding a bus. It was a coordinated effort. A very large man blocked my path from the turnstile to the seating area, while another man made an exaggerated fall into me when the bus started moving. I checked my pockets, and sure enough, the engraved money clip my sister had given me for my birthday, along with the money inside it, was gone. I watched the men exit the bus, and out of a deep anger for what had happened, found myself leaping off of the moving bus and chasing after the men. As I caught up to them, I saw that there were, in fact, three men. They turned towards me. Blinded by rage, I yelled at them to give me my money back. The ringleader handed the money clip over to me, and we parted ways.
This encounter could have gone many different ways, including a few ways in which I ended up beaten, injured, or dead. The silliness of my reaction to being pickpocketed has become starkly clear to me in a few different ways. First of all, the value of what was taken was less than $20. The money clip was probably worth $15, and the money inside of it was worth less than $3 in US dollars. Second of all, even if there had been $10,000 in my pocket, it would not be worth losing my life over.
But it has been very interesting to explore the reason I jumped off of that moving bus. At the time, it felt as if it was something I simply had to do. I had no choice. But why did I feel that way? And why did I yell at the men, even after I saw that there were three of them?
Over the past year, my wife and I have been paring down our material possessions in an effort to simplify our lives and ensure we are focusing on what is important to us. We have let go of things that we had been carrying all over the globe for many years, and it has been one of the most liberating experiences of our lives. The money clip was one of the first things to go. As I have changed how I think about material possessions, and been asking myself how things do—or don’t—serve me in the present moment (not ten years ago), I have realized that I used to ascribe value to things at an unhealthy level. I had been confusing mementos from certain experiences with the experiences themselves. I had been confusing gifts from people I cared about with the relationships with those people. On a deeper level, it felt as though I had been pouring my very spirit—my very soul—into material objects, which is why, on the hot Paraguayan summer day, it felt as though those men were not just stealing an object, they were stealing a piece of me. I told myself that I chased after them because of the principle of right vs. wrong. But I would not have developed that principle for myself had I not had a deep personal association with that material object. If those men were risking jail or physical harm by stealing, they obviously felt desperate and afraid. Understanding that blurs the clear bright line I had drawn about right vs. wrong.
As I declutter and pare down what I own, I have felt myself grow stronger, more confident, and more focused on what brings me joy. It has made me a happier, healthier, and kinder person. When I give away or throw away something that I had “poured my spirit into,” I realize that I am symbolically “pouring my spirit” back to where it came from—back to myself, and discarding the container. In that way my spirit has grown stronger and my dependence on things outside of my control has diminished.
This concept is akin to the concept of a horcrux (from the Harry Potter books), in which wizards store parts of their soul in physical objects. Doing so helps them preserve their temporal lives, but at the cost of diminishing their soul. We all have things in our lives that we have turned into our own personal horcruxes, and one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves is to clear them out of our lives.