“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that
which is indestructible in us be found” – Pema Chodron
September and October were interesting months, to say the least. An earthquake, hurricane and torrential rains were cursed by most people as the random brutality of nature which brings nothing but destruction. But somehow I found quiet comfort knowing that I was feeling the vital energy of “destruction”, which is usually the fastest way of forcing us to create something new.
“Did you feel it?”, and “Did you get water?” started many conversations after the earthquake and flooding. “Yes” and “Yes” was my reply. These questions were great opportunities for all of us to start thinking about what we would take if there were precious few minutes or hours to leave the physical homes we have built. Family members and pets were givens, but it was curious that not one person said they’d grab their jewelry boxes, expensive silver or other monetary valuables. One friend said she’d grab a piece of pottery her kid made 23 years ago. Another said she’d grab the first painting she ever did. A clients’ husband said he’d grab his signed Ravens jersey! (Yes, he got the eye roll from his wife). For me, it would be the shoebox I keep under my dresser that is full of scribbled Mothers Day cards and kind notes from family and friends. About once or twice a year something rolls off the dresser and I see that little box. Opening it up is like looking into a treasure chest, filled with the priceless expressions of love and kindness I’ve received over the years. While my home is filled with lovely things that bring me great pleasure, there is nothing I would choose to take over that little brown shoebox.
I read a wonderful article by Meryl Markoe a few years ago. She wrote about the wildfires that threatened her home in Malibu, California. The fires flashed quickly and evacuation orders left little time to think about what to take with her. When the threat was over she returned home. As she unpacked her car, she was amazed at the things she took, but more amazed at the things she left behind. Turns out, all the clothes, jewelry and paintings she labeled important, really had little value to her in the big picture. Seems the wildfires were a blessing in disguise. It was the catalyst that made her ask, “If all this stuff isn’t really worth saving, then why is it cluttering up my closets, bookshelves and fireplace mantel? What are all those clothes in my closet doing there anyway? And why do I save all those snow globes”.
I welcome any opportunity from Mother Nature or elsewhere, which makes us stop and ask “what do we really need”? To me this is the most basic, and most profound, question we can ask ourselves. Yet most of us don’t take the time to check in with ourselves on a routine basis and ask that question.
Some people avoid asking that question for years, some avoid asking for a lifetime. Left ignored, the things we don’t need – like excessive physical possessions, toxic relationships and unhealthy patterns of behavior pile on and start to suffocate us. We are unable to move forward and evolve.
One reason for avoiding this question is that we all have things that we don’t really want or need in our lives. But the process of purging and changing is daunting and requires much of our energy, so we may find it easier to slip back into denial and avoidance.
The bad news is, if we don’t check in voluntarily some outside force or act will usually do it for us.
A client of mine recently left a long-term marriage when her husband came home and asked for a divorce. She was leaving a beautiful home where she had raised her children and spent most of her adult life. While the decision to leave was not an easy one, it seemed a necessary one. She called asking me to help make her new place feel like “a home”. She had taken almost nothing with her when she left so we needed to go back to her former home to get things that were “important to her”. We walked through the massive house and room after room I was surprised at how little she took – a few clothes, a couple of lamps and a picture or two. Even she was shocked at how little of it she actually wanted. The things that seemed so valuable at one time were met with total indifference. An attic filled with boxes of “memories” had somehow turned to “stuff”. They didn’t have any relevance to the person that she was becoming, so it was time to move on without them. We filled her new home with furnishings that were a huge departure from what she would have been open to just a year before. Later she realized that the destruction of divorce had actually made the pathway to a broader and happier life going forward.
Last year, I did a renovation project that my clients had not planned for or even asked for. Record snowfall the winter before had caused unseen water damage that turned into mold. A corner of a closet that had a “funny smell” revealed itself to be a hazardous situation, which had spread behind the walls. The decision was made to bulldoze almost half of the house. My clients were so overwhelmed by the bad news that they couldn’t see the silver lining. Now they were getting the dream master bedroom, walk-in closet and bathroom that wasn’t possible with the old layout. The mold had been a blessing in disguise. When the project was finished my clients agreed that they never would have been motivated to change and create something new if it wasn’t for that dire situation.
Sometimes the destruction is the easy part – sometimes it’s the painful part. Whether it happens voluntarily or involuntarily, stripping away of things, people or situations is the necessary process of editing that happens throughout the course of our lives. It propels us out of stagnantly living and thinking. It is what’s necessary to separate the things we think are important from the things that truly are.
Like the blue skies that always come after gray ones, re-creation always comes after destruction. Living through life’s disasters give us a chance to tap the strength and resilience we all have inside. That’s something we might never know unless we are tested by adversity. That is the beautiful gift that we can forget to see in the panic of the moment.
Within destruction we are witnessing change, which is often the catalyst to re-birth.
So I thank Mother Nature for shaking me in a quake and making me soggy in the mud and rain. I have renewed respect for the animals that build and re-build dens and nests without complaint. I am grateful for the little reminders that if the worst ever happens, we’ll be all right. After all, the only things needed for rebuilding are an open mind, an open heart and a desire to keep moving forward.
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