Updated: Jan 14, 2020
I wrote the bulk of this post about a year ago with the intention of including it in my blog at some point. I thought it would be timely to release it now. For many of us, this is a time of extreme consumerism with Black Friday and holiday shopping looming over our heads, along with all the extra demands on our time that come with the holidays and the end of the year.
Recently my husband has been exploring the idea of minimalism, or streamlining personal possessions. As a child of a cluttered household, my initial reaction to this was knee-jerk disdain. Whenever I have this type of strong, negative reaction, it tells me that I have triggered some sort of unconscious baggage, and I take it as a wake-up call to look more closely at what I am reacting to, along with why I might be having this reaction.
In an effort to explore this I (somewhat reluctantly) sat down with him to watch a documentary about minimalism. Since my ultimate focus in life is spiritual, I found myself trying to understand what the spiritual ramifications of minimalism might be. The people in the documentary all stated that they felt happier and freer after ridding themselves of what they had determined to be excessive possessions (the definition of excessive definitely varied according to the individual), so I concluded that there must be some spiritual benefit, although I admit that it took me awhile to get past my own strong response into a more open-minded state about this.
It is part of the human experience to feel lack in our lives. We try to fill this “hole” in a myriad of ways, but ultimately the only lasting solution is to fill ourselves with Divine energy. We try to use anything from the physical world-- possessions and/or shopping, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, work, “busyness,” social media and/or technology-- to fill this void, but it is never enough until we realize that we can’t solve a spiritual problem with a physical solution. Only a practice that invites more Divine energy into our lives can make us feel truly fulfilled.
Some of the people in the documentary seemed to me to be trading one addiction for another-- they released their possessions and high-pressure jobs only to continue to pursue the same adrenaline rush they had been getting through work and consuming by chasing physical adventure in various forms. That might have made them happier (at least initially), but to me that’s a lateral move. If we are still chasing fulfillment in the external, physical world, we’re still missing the point.
Let me be clear about something here. I am not saying we need to renounce the world or its physical pleasures to live a spiritually fulfilled life. But we absolutely need to have a spiritual foundation as our ultimate support in life, or any physical pursuits will eventually feel empty and meaningless. Giving up our fancy stuff and fancy jobs in itself does not change our energetic pattern unless we do these things with the intention of inviting Divine energy into the space we've created with our change.
I watched the documentary with healthy skepticism (along with my own decidedly non-minimalist baggage) and I wondered what spiritual benefit there really was to ditching the physical things we have collected that we don’t really need. I thought a lot in the next few days about what it means to let go. How does letting go of physical objects create energetic change? When it finally hit me, it seemed fairly obvious, but I think most of us have consuming and collecting so ingrained in ourselves at this point that this is exactly why the entire idea of minimalism can seem so extreme.
Letting go of physical possessions can begin to set up an energetic pattern of letting go. There is a lot of weight given to the idea of letting go in Buddhist philosophy. Living in a state of loving non-attachment requires us to let go of unhealthy attachments to everything-- people, situations, and physical things. When we start to evaluate the physical possessions in our lives, we have to confront the strong emotional ties we often have to these items. Letting go of the physical also allows us to let go of the emotional, and this is indeed a spiritual practice (and a difficult one for many of us!).
As with any practice, the more we do this, the better we get, until we completely shift our energetic pattern of gripping. I have spent most of my life working to release my own emotional and energetic baggage as well as helping others to do the same. This pattern of gripping is something we all struggle with to some extent. How liberating would it be to just release things as they come, instead of working on releasing a past issue from years ago because we were holding onto it unnecessarily?
Apparently I've been practicing spiritual minimalism and letting go for years without seeing the connection that doing the very same practice in the physical realm is also beneficial. Our physical lives are a representation of what we're creating spiritually. Ultimately I think that practicing physical minimalism (whatever that looks like for each of us as individuals) can be another tool we use to let go of excess energy and gripping so that we can begin to live in a state of easier and more open flow with the Universe.
With that in mind, at this time of year it's even more important for us to pause and consider what brings us joy. Beyond that first documentary, I went on to watch Marie Kondo's series on Netflix, and her idea of only keeping items that spark joy is clearly about opening the emotional, spiritual and physical space we so desperately require in our lives to allow a sense of joy and wonder back in. And after all, isn't that what this season of giving, family, and love is supposed to be all about?
This year, I will still participate in gifting my loved ones and attending holiday events, but I will do so with the intention of creating and maintaining the space I need to reconnect with the Divine energy that permeates all things and provides the sense of wonder and joy that I'm hoping to achieve. I hope you'll join me!