Stress has been piling up lately, as it does whenever relationships are complicated, the economy is shaky, and politics are polarized. Unexamined stress accumulates gradually, like the miscellaneous stuff in your top bureau drawer, and we avoid going there. We keep going, but stress eventually catches up with us. So periodically we clean house, even if we’re not in the mood. Today is Earth Day, a nice reminder that our fragile planet needs tending, our social network requires some maintenance, and so does our house. Putting our house in order is a many-layered metaphor. The hardest work is usually postponed as long as possible: the inner work, where our stash of resentment, anger and anxiety accumulates.
Most of the time, we let all sorts of stuff accumulate out of view: boxes in the garage, questions that need answers, damaged friendships, financial decisions, deep spiritual dissatisfaction. And of course, our tangible stuff: do you know anybody who is not running out of bookshelf space? We comfort ourselves, knowing we have a lot to sort through; instead, we buy new stuff, while resisting letting go of what doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, hurts, and reminds us of bad times. Our resistance to putting our house in order is so prevalent, it has generated a new career track: professional organizer. Why is it so hard to let stuff go? The host of Enough Already (OWN TV network)has a clue that he is asking a question that runs deep: our stuff has meaning, and holding onto it gives us some sort of comfort, or the illusion of it. When we purge things and reorganize, we are reorganing our inner landscape as well.
Frankly, our inner landscape is a mess. We are carrying a lot of anxiety right now. On the first anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf this week, is it safe to go back in the water? Is the economy better, is our job safe, can we exhale now? Some questions do not yet have answers. Some relationships are not healthy enough for us to commit to them, but healthy enough to offer hope. It might be time for spring cleaning, and yet some anxiety cannot be purged; instead we must find coping strategies to keep it from becoming destructive. Living with uncertainty and ambiguity is a part of these complicated times. How do we do that? By keeping focus on the things and people we can count on. By enjoying the cup of coffee you are drinking. By cultivating patient readiness for whatever may come.
Some of our unfinished inner house cleaning has to wait; but most of us have emotional stuff that we really can let go. We may have hoarded some old resentments, for example; we can examine them, one at a time, and if we find something that stands in need of healing, take care of it. To give up an old resentment is to release a burden. Not all old resentments are silly; we may have been wronged, and remediation may not be possible. Still, we have the option of accepting others in their imperfection or letting them go; accepting political opponents with their foibles, and the environment with all its precarious beauty. We may still have battles to fight; unburdened of our toxic resentment, we have more emotional space in which to nurture our plans. We are more free to fight the good fight, when we have a peaceful spirit. So may it be.