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February 20, 2017

How Cleaning out my Basement led me to my Truth.

 

When I first learned to meditate, I was taught that I didn’t need a designated holy place to experience “the truth.” Since it exists everywhere equally—both inside and out—it can be experienced anywhere, regardless of time or place.

In the language of ancient Indian philosophy, the ultimate, unchanging light of consciousness, known as Shiva, permeates the ever-changing physical world. Shakti, the dynamic cosmic power, animates the physical world and conceals Shiva in her dance of illusion. When Shiva and Shakti join together, they reveal the truth.

My experience of the truth had always been an intuitive feeling, a feeling of oneness. But a few years after I learned to meditate, I was sitting in my bedroom one night and saw the room dissolve into light. “Wow!” I thought, “The light of consciousness!”—and not in a holy place either.

This moment helped me realize that oneness is real and the truth is everywhere. But I still preferred to seek this feeling in ashrams, temples, churches, and especially in nature.

Then the time came to deep clean my dusty, cluttered basement—the last place I expected to experience the light of consciousness.

My basement, clogged as it was with boxes, not only muddied my spiritual vision, but also clogged my mind. I could hear my boxed-up belongings calling out to me through the floorboards. The noise became so great that I finally stepped downstairs a couple of weeks before the New Year to clear the space and, hopefully, enter the upcoming year with a clear mind.

Boxes spilled out of my storage room and crawlspace into the open space where my gym equipment had gathered a thick carpet of dust. I had saved more than 100 banker’s boxes and over a dozen plastic tubs of teaching materials from my 23-year career in education.

I’d switched jobs five times, moved into a house, earned my doctorate, and almost died in an accident. Because each job change built on the previous one, I saved all my work.

The boxes piled up.

After my accident, I took early retirement and planned to publish materials from my career. Instead, I expanded my private coaching practice, ventured into new writing territory, and published a book.

The basement dust grew thicker.

Now, my new life and I were strong enough to let go of my past. It was time to stir up the dust.

I sat down on a step stool and opened the first box. Everything I touched pulled me into a time machine of memory and emotion. These were the memories I’d felt rising up through the floorboards—like ghosts calling out to be seen.

I could feel the pride of my accomplishments, the wonder of learning, moments of joy and care with students and colleagues, frustrations toward institutional politics and collegiate competition, and the inner conflict when I had to retire.

After going through a couple of boxes, I could hold an item in my hands and know what to do. Sometimes I felt creative energy projected into the future so I kept it. Everything else had an obvious fate: recycle, shred, donate, sell, or throw away.

As I sorted through my past, I suddenly experienced the sum of all the boxed-up creative energy. I felt how the universal river of energy, the Shakti, had joyfully flowed into all these projects and experiences throughout the years. But now these objects felt out of flow—they had potential, but were stagnant.

The Shakti had moved on to animate new ideas and enter new forms in my new life. And though I’d eagerly jumped into a new flow, my past creations had been so integral to my identity and material security that I couldn’t let go until my new flow proved trustworthy.

With this realization, I experienced the dissolution of all my creations and the truth within. My old reality had, in fact, already dissolved. The only things left were memories and artifacts. I wondered if the objects, out of compassion, had remained quiet until I was ready to let go. For their call became urgent only when I felt strong enough to send them back into the world in new forms, as trash, recycling, gifts, and new projects.

Letting go of so many things at once—things that had tied me to a creative and fruitful career—was both unsettling and liberating. I was ready to fly into my future unfettered by the past, yet disposing of it all reminded me of Ecclesiastes:

“What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?

No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.”

What had I gained from my labor? What would be remembered?

What stayed with me were the living moments of creation and the emotional highs and lows—love, laughter, joy, learning, wonder, grief, conflict, and frustration. I knew I would remember what I needed to, without physical reminders impeding my experience of present time.

Within a month, my basement was cleared out, donations picked up by smiling friends, recycling and garbage gone, and possible projects stacked in my storage area. I vacuumed up the carpet of dust, appreciated the open space, and worked out in my basement gym.

With some effort and willingness to integrate and release the pieces of my past, my basement now felt like a welcoming holy space—quiet and free of ghosts.

My heart rested in appreciation of my past. My imagination played with future creative possibilities. The dance of consciousness, now freed from the clutter of the past, could flow into new forms, all of which would dissolve back into itself one day.

But not without first offering the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of life.

 

 

Author: Sally Stone

Image: martinak15/Flickr

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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