The six of us who share a household here on Mitchells Island call ourselves the Shedders. Why? The prosaic version is that we have on our property a Shed that has long been central to our existence. The more complex aspect of the story is our quest to shed all those things that get in the way of living successful lives – and living closely connected to one another.
When I consider this shedding thing, it seems to me that human beings are designed very strangely. Contrast us for example with the butterfly: it starts off as an egg, sheds that coating to become a worm and in turn sheds that coating to become the vibrant winged vision I’m watching dance on the fuchsia outside my window. Or how about the cat? – old and unwanted fur just falls to the ground and no worries about that; too much licking and up comes a fur ball – no worries about that either. Life goes on for most of earth’s species without the need to hang on to old carapaces, old memories, old things that were once important to survival.
But look at your standard human being: we are unable to resist adding and adding to our lives. Another pound, another pair of shoes, a newer toaster, a bigger motorised tool. Every day we increase the larder with a new opinion, another judgement, a few new attitudes and a handful of good reasons. Into our yearly stockpiles go thousands of photos, several birthday cards, trinkets and seashells and ocean-tumbled rocks. Our computer filing systems get bigger and more complex; remember when a kilobyte was a nice little piece of data? How did megabytes and gigabytes and terabytes happen?
There’s my internal memory bank as well. I try to remember the name of every person I meet, the author of each book I read, the plotline of every movie I see. I struggle to retain the names in the news, the places where good is being done, or evil. I polish childhood memories and plans in the making.
I can turn and glance at the shelf behind me, on which sits a phone charger for a phone I no longer use, a Japanese fan given to me by an old workmate, a points calculator from my Weight Watcher days, a box set of Desperate Housewives (hand on heart: it belongs to my daughter), some big favourite old children’s books in case of the occurrence of grandchildren, a dozen glossy 8 x 10’s from my darkroom days, course materials I’ll need if I ever want to teach a Presentations course again…that’s enough; I’m too embarrassed to continue.
Can’t you feel the weight of it as it all adds up? I can tell you with certainty: no butterfly or cat ever approached life like that.
Unlike the luckier butterfly, we humans seem genetically programmed to accumulate. Perhaps the larger the stockpile our distant ancestors had, the greater was their chance of living to pass on their genes. Nature proceeded to select the accumulators for the survival of the race. In modern times, where many of us experience day-to-day comfort and live three times as long, that means it’s easy for us to get burdened. Shedding is an uncomfortable, conscious, thought-driven process.
Housemate Judy dropped by my desk a couple of days ago to say goodbye. She’s off to Canberra for a few weeks to be with her sister who is dying of cancer. Judy leaned against the door frame for a while and talked about how this is going to be an opportunity to confront and rid herself of anything that has got in the way of experiencing her deep feelings for her sister, as well as of her fears about death. She spoke of the unexamined concerns that haunt her as she heads toward that inevitable end herself. Judy is on mission to shed a big burden.
As a committed Shedder, I get a glimpse each day of what this means for me. Like Judy, I’ll work on relinquishing resistance to ageing and death. I could afford to leave behind fear of being left out and guilt about past sins. How about letting go of some of my bad habits: procrastination, second helpings, Spider? Perhaps I could even jettison that boxed set of Desperate Housewives that I’m pretty sure Jenn doesn’t want any more either.
So, some 10 or so years ago when the six of us sat around the coffee table and decided to call ourselves the Shedders [read the chapter here…, or get the whole book here…], we heard the undefined call of the need to get rid of excess baggage. Not only did each of us see the value of travelling through the rest of our lives as lightly as we could, but we recognised that for us to travel together we were going to need to let go of a lot of attitudes and opinions. To share space in a flexible and accepting manner we would need to travel light. No more carrying three sets of china – or grudges. No more holding on to half-loved artwork – or opinions about others’ artwork. No more harbouring resentments and grievances. Time to lighten up.
To go through life, consciously noticing and shedding all the excess baggage, in the company of committed partners – that has to be a good thing. Surely Mother Nature would approve, even though she’s stacked the deck against me. But what a job! And it’s never finished. I am driven to accumulate and I drive myself to keep shedding, in an endless cycle.
Sigh. Now, to do something about the fur balls I’ve been gathering on that shelf behind me…