Could you leave it all behind?

It has been an exhausting month, as you can probably tell by the dearth of blog posts lately. We recently bought a home and moved. We also drove halfway across the country for vacation, from Utah to Illinois, which is not an easy task with three young children. Our destination was the historical city of Nauvoo, where my parents are currently volunteering as missionaries for a year. This place was an important part of my childhood, and I was even married there over ten years ago. It was wonderful to finally go back.

During the moving process, I’ve thought a lot about material possessions. It took several weeks to pack everything and separate our stuff from my parents’s, whose house we had been living in temporarily. And of course we realized we had forgotten a bunch of stuff after we had taken back the moving truck! I’m sure all you readers know what a pain it is to also unpack and find new homes for each of those things in a completely new space. It was kind of surprising how much other stuff we had in storage that we hadn’t used in years. Stuff, stuff, stuff! It has felt like such a burden this past month.

And amidst all this, we took our trip to Nauvoo. This experience complicated my perspective on material possessions. Back in the 1840s, this city was populated very rapidly by large influxes of Mormon refugees who had been driven from their homes in Missouri, some of them in winter without even shoes on their feet. There were also many immigrants from Europe, recent converts to the LDS church who had spent all they had on the Atlantic passage. Needless to say, these people were very poor. But they worked hard and built a beautiful city. Every single thing they had, down to each and every article of clothing, was important. They even shopped using half-pennies!

Since they didn’t have much, they became brilliantly inventive in the things they made and did. It was fascinating to see and learn about some of the contraptions, such as this bee box,

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used to catch bees and coat them with flour so they could follow it and locate the hive. The process to get a simple thing like honey back then was quite extensive. Me, I just go grab a jar at the store, or order some online and then retrieve it from my front porch! I’m often tempted to label the nineteenth century as a “simple” time, but it’s really our times that are simple, as far as being able to complete the tasks necessary for survival.

As a mother myself, I thought a lot about the 1840s children while we were in Nauvoo. A child with a room like this,

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with three or four different toys, would have been a very rich child among his or her peers. My daughter loved this room and these toys, saying she wished they were hers, but I’m sure, were that even possible, she would have gotten bored with them in half an hour. While unpacking, I couldn’t believe how many toys our children have, and how little use a lot of them have gotten.

And just one more example: water. Oh, how I love modern plumbing! We have all the water we need–hot water even!–available at the turn of a knob or flip of a lever. We don’t live in fear of contamination. My children and I do not have to haul water from the spring in a contraption like this:

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Tragically, due to continued religious intolerance, the Mormons in Nauvoo had to leave their beautiful city to find a place where they would be free to practice their religion in peace, and that place was Utah. It was emotional to see what they left behind. I mean, just look at this cute brick home:

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The family who built it was only able to live there 4 1/2 months before they had to close the door and walk away! Breaks my heart. And when they left, they could barely take anything with them, since ox-drawn wagons like this

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only had the capacity for food and clothing for the journey and the tools they needed to start over in a new wilderness. But those who were able to afford a wagon and a team were lucky indeed. Most of the poor immigrants were forced to push a handcart, like the one my dad and I are pushing in the top photo. Even very small pioneer children had to walk every step of the way, which was around 1,500 miles. The handcart we pushed for our little trek was loaded with 50 lbs. and we only went a mile or so on an established trail. They had to haul 500 lbs. through mud, rivers, uncleared land and finally, the steep rocky mountains, underfed as they were. Very little more than food would have fit on these handcarts. All other treasures had to be abandoned, some of it which they tried to take but didn’t have the strength or space for it, and these cherished objects littered the trail through Iowa.

This really gave me pause to think about all the things and stuff I’ve acquired. Would I be able to shut the door on my home and just walk away from all of it? I can barely even throw out an old pair of socks, or things I haven’t used in years, just because I *might* need them someday. How much of my energy is wasted in finding, cleaning, storing, maintaining, organizing, and trying to use all the stuff in my life? Is this stuff really serving me, tools to make my life better? Or am I merely a slave to it? These questions are not easy, but I would encourage you to ask them of yourself. Really examine the time and energy that you devote to your stuff, and decide if it really is worth it. Try to discover the reasons you have what you have in the first place. Did you acquire it to feel a certain way? Gain status in the eyes of others? Or does it serve to free you to be able pursue what matters most?

The challenge for these people of 150 years ago was to acquire and hold on to the things they needed to survive. Our challenge today is to be able to let go of the things we effortlessly acquire that are not necessary, and which become burdens on our lives. Our challenge is to seek detachment from material things that don’t add any real value to life. It’s okay to have things, and we are blessed by God to enjoy such bounty, but we really must examine our attachment to these things. Could we really give them up, for something more important, such as freedom, family, and God?

I do believe our current season of prosperity is not permanent. A day may come when, like these nineteenth century pioneers, God may ask my family to leave our possessions behind and venture into the unknown. I don’t want that to happen, but if it does, I want to be mentally, physically, emotionally ready for it.

Let’s help each other, readers. What strategies have you used to detach yourself from things and stuff? How do you get rid of things you don’t need, but are inclined to hold on to? What do you do to keep yourself from over-acquiring in the first place? And how do you teach children to avoid possessiveness and materialism?

A Tale of Two Sorrows

Okay, I finally feel like I’m in a good place emotionally to be able to post about this. I experienced pregnancy loss recently (mid-January). My first miscarriage had occurred over eight years ago, and the two experiences were totally different for me. While that first experience came as a complete and utter shock, this time around, I knew, without really knowing, what had happened. Or maybe I should say, my subconscious mind knew exactly what had happened, probably for several weeks, although my conscious mind could not have known until the doctor gave me the facts. Of all the things I learned from this sad experience, I found this fact to be the most intriguing. Our subconscious minds are plugged into a huge database of information. If we can learn how to access it, we can know everything we need to know in order to live healthy, full lives: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. More on that later. Back to the story.

Over Christmas and New Years, being 8-9 weeks pregnant, I had fully expected to feel completely nauseated at the sight, smell, or even mention of food. I was looking forward to that sickness, because for me, it’s the sign of a healthy pregnancy. There were times when I felt slight nausea, but I really think it was only because I had wanted to feel that way. But this wasn’t the only tell that something was wrong. I recall feeling apprehension, unease, and doubt even earlier than this, but it was so vague I didn’t think about it. I just never really got excited about this pregnancy, like I had with my others, and I didn’t get lost in thoughts of wondering and dreaming about new baby.

On January 1, I posted this on Facebook: “Learned two important lessons for the new year: 1. Always, always lock your car. The one time you forget, someone will exploit you. 2. Don’t be attached to things and stuff. You just might wake up one morning to find it gone. (But don’t tell me this while I’m mourning the loss of my Garmin, my entire stash of gift cards and store credit, my classic rock CD collection, and my Vera Bradley tote full of my kids’ toys and books. Let me have my cry.)”

After we found out that the van had been broken into, I had cried for almost an hour, and my eyes were sore the entire day. Since I’m somewhat allergic to my own tears, it’s just not worth it to cry to such an extent! Thanks to an insightful comment from my daughter, I soon came to realize that all that was just stuff, most of which could be replaced, and some of which didn’t matter anyway. So why the huge outburst of sorrow? My husband and I both blamed it on the pregnancy, and we were right, although not in the way we had thought at the time.

Then, on January 13, I posted this to Facebook: “I’m completely sick over having thrown away a large bag of my kids’ winter gear last week. I had thought it was Christmas trash. All the snow-pants, hats, gloves, scarves, boots…gone. Even my own never-worn gloves I got for Christmas. And we’re going tubing on Monday.” I had stuffed the gear into a trash bag for our trip to Colorado, and hadn’t unpacked it when we returned, just left it in the garage. That morning, I had been trying to find Lil Miss’s snow boots for her to wear to school, and I couldn’t find the bag of snow gear anywhere. I searched the house, asking everyone if they’d seen it, and Lil Miss chimed in: “If it was in a garbage bag, maybe someone accidentally threw it away.” As soon as she said it, I knew that that was exactly what had happened, and I had been the one who had thrown it away. I half-heartedly looked in the outside trash can to see if it was maybe still at the bottom, but I knew it wouldn’t be. I had taken a lot of Christmas trash straight out to the curb for pickup the week before. I distinctly remember that I had had one bag of trash in one hand and just thoughtlessly picked up the bag of winter gear with my other hand as I passed by.

As I realized what I’d done, I cried, and cried, and cried. I thought I was crying over my stupidity and thoughtlessness. I thought I was crying over the new Christmas gifts of hats and gloves, which we never got to use. I thought I was crying over how expensive it would be to replace all those snow pants and gloves. I thought I was crying over the material waste of it all. But it wasn’t until two days later that I realized the actual force behind all those tears. It was loss, grief and sorrow, deep inside me, that found an escape hatch and just came pouring out. Loss that I didn’t understand consciously, but a part of me already knew, even before I had been seen by a doctor.

My intuition (or spirit, plugged into the subconscious mind) had known exactly what had happened, long before the proof came. On the 15th, at my first doctor’s appointment and 11 weeks along, things weren’t looking good. Then, after another test on the 19th, it was certain that there’d be no baby. My procedure was done on the 21st, and it was all over with, and no pain to boot! The strange thing was, I didn’t shed one single tear on any of those days. Though I was sad, I felt at peace with it. There was no hard edge. Part of me felt guilty for not “acting sadder, ” like I was “supposed to,” but why put on an unnecessary act? I had already dealt with it when I had thought I had been grieving over that trivial stuff. Once the sorrow was out of me, it was out. That’s when I felt really grateful for having lost those things: those little losses caused me to process out my grief quickly so I could to move forward with life and be strong enough to support my husband and six-year-old daughter, who took the news of the lost pregnancy (or, I should say, loss of the potential son/daughter or sister/brother) very hard.

That hadn’t been the first time that as soon as I gave a little space for tears to flow, a dam broke open and an inexplicable flood gushed forth. With all the pressure that builds up behind emotions blocked up inside, if you try to vent just a little, it explodes out. And often, the tears that come out are manifestations of a much different emotion than that for which I first started crying. What is the point of tears anyway? Lubricating the eyeballs? Obviously, extreme weeping goes beyond this function, so there must be another physiological purpose. Tear ducts are actually release valves for the clearing of energetic waste products.

I’ve come to understand the way the body deals with an excess of emotion. This will make more sense if you understand how emotions are created in the first place. Although I’ve heard many knowledgeable people explain this, Dr. Joe Dispenza said it in the way that made the most sense to me. As your brain gathers sensory data from your environment, jungles of neurons organize themselves into networks and patterns. The moment these string into place, your brain creates a chemical that translates into an emotion, and that chemical gets stored in your body. These chemicals are the end-products of our past experiences; they have an emotional quotient. That’s how you remember significant experiences. So sensory information, combined with our thoughts, is translated into chemistry. These chemicals signal the gene that helps you react to your environmental condition. The chemicals can switch genes off and on. Feelings are a way of thinking. Emotions push the genetic buttons that turn genes up for health or down for disease. People look for familiar emotions, and it’s the redundancy of the same information that keeps signaling the same gene in the same way and wears down certain genes.

Along these lines, according to Dr. Bradley Nelson of The Emotion Code, each different emotion originates from a different organ of the body. Our intense or repetitive thoughts turn on the endocrine system, which then signals a specific organ to generate a certain chemical, the release of which becomes our experience of emotion. Since experiencing the same emotion over and over again means that one kind of chemical is being released in the same area of the body over and over again, it makes sense that that part of the body would become stressed or damaged.

Even though negative emotions have a necessary function at first (see this post), it is healthy for the body to unload the negative emotional energy after it’s served its purpose. Otherwise, that energy has to go somewhere, so it is absorbed into the tissues of our body. Science has confirmed that every kind living tissue gives off electrical vibrations. The chemicals of negative emotions vibrate at a lower frequency, which changes the way the surrounding tissues vibrate, and if the emotion remains there long enough, stress, pain and sickness are the result. Every time an experience triggers that emotion in us, our body feels it all over again, and we must expend energy to deal with that hurt. Because energy is the force that keeps us alive, to avoid unnecessary expenses of energy, the body wants to rid itself of negative emotions of sorrow, anger, fear, grief, anxiety, etc. This is why, at even the smallest provocation, a large amount of emotional energy may pour out. You give the body and inch, and it will run with it a mile.

This frequently occurs with the emotion of anger. Have you ever seen how a tiny annoyance can make a person lash out? Have you ever been mystified as to how you deserved to be attacked for a seemingly inconsequential action on your part? It’s because it wasn’t about you; it was that person’s anger over something else, the energy of which was poured out onto you. I understand now that the large majority of people don’t process their negative emotions and remove them, deliberately, in healthy and effective ways. People don’t have the skills and knowledge of how to do this, and because our culture has downplayed the huge significance of emotions, a lot of them won’t even try. Because they are unaware of their emotions, they are run by them and don’t even know it. (Read more about this phenomenon here.)

To be fully in control of your behavior, and thus your results in life, it is essential that you control your emotional state by not only being more fully aware of your thoughts, but releasing the negative emotional energy. There are many ways to do this, some of which I will go into in future posts, but I hope you will make use of crying as a release tool. Cry intentionally, with the purpose of catharsis. Children know to do this instinctually, and we adults can unlearn what we’ve learned and get back to that.

If you don’t know how to cry with intention, here are some suggestions:

  • watch a sad movie with a box of Kleenex
  • create a playlist of sad songs and play through it when you need to cry
  • write about your experiences, past and present, and really let yourself feel your feelings
  • find a way to relax before or during the cry, whether it’s a warm bath or going out in nature
  • set a time limit for your cry so it doesn’t extend beyond the point that it’s helpful
  • plan a regular time and place for your cry so that this release becomes a habit

Readers, do you have any suggestions to add to this list? And have you had any experiences similar to my own? I’d love to hear your stories!