suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: hoarders


(Continued from yesterday’s post…)

The idea that complemented attachment in Chogyam Trungpa’s Meditation in Action, was, very simply, giving.  To disconnecting with the idea of possessing is to let go of possessions.  Just give it away.  Easy, right?  Wrong.  Because he’s not talking about that old bag of golf clubs in the basement or the extra raincoat that hangs in the front hall closet.  He’s talking about giving away our treasure.

Gurus accept gifts in exchange for their teachings.  The offering is an intentional display of gratitude and an exchange of energy.  “I want to give you this treasure that is dear to me in exchange for the intangible treasure that you willingly share.”

Granted, there are different kinds of treasure (as there are different types of gurus).  In Tibetan Buddhism, there are three types of offerings.  The lowest type of offering is of material wealth.  Next up the ladder is service.  And the highest form of offering is practice.  Other strands of Buddhism vary a bit, substituting teaching, compassion or vitality in the top spots.  But always, material goods slide into lowly third place on the offering lists.

We stuff-loving Americans may be surprised that the material things to which we cling so tightly are the least valuable of the offerings.  Or maybe we’re not surprised.  Of course it’s more important to give of ourselves than give of our stuff.  Right?!  But if that’s the case, why the hell are we still clinging???

I always think I’m not overly attached to things, but when I was trying to decide which treasure I could part with, I realized just what attachment means.  Even the material, the VERY LOWEST form of giving, was perplexing for me.

While it’s not my most beloved, the thing I feel most dependent upon is my computer.  No way I’m giving this hunk of metal and wire away.  At least not at this point in my life.  So I’m still grappling with what the most treasured treasure is in my world, well, second most.  When I figure that out, I’m going to give it away.  I don’t know to whom yet.  Maybe the Lama down the street?  Maybe I bury it in my backyard and give it back to Earth, the ultimate guru.  Maybe I’ll swallow it and store it in my mouth, like Krishna did the Universe.  Then again, swallowing things didn’t work out so well for this guy.  I’ll let you know.


But there are still other types of offering to go!

Service?  I got this one.  There is no shortage of volunteer hours logged over the course of my lifetime – organized or otherwise.  But could I give more time?  Yes.  More love?  Yes.  More me?  Yes.  There are always opportunities.  And this doesn’t mean serving up stew in a soup kitchen.  Service can be performed in countless ways – the most powerful of which is kindness and all its forms.

And then there’s the practice.  Oh, the practice.  Can I commit to a meditation schedule?  Can I engage my Buddha light every day, all day?  I don’t know.  I’m trying, though.  I know the light is aching to burst through my chest and light up the world.  There is no doubt this is the offering that will best serve my Inner Guru, the guru that rests in my own heart.  Realer than stuff, truer than service.  The toughest offering of all.  Practice.

From mine to yours,


more meditation in action


Original version of my last column published in The Winchester Star (skip down if you’ve already read it):

Sometimes I am overwhelmingly repulsed by the amount of crap I own.  I walk around my oversized home and stare at all of the things I’ve accumulated over the years and pray that it would all just disappear.  The the electronics, the appliances, the photo albums, the decorations – they are like anchors.  The weight attached to all this stuff comes in the form of anxiety, stress, worry: more to care for, more to pay for, more to clean up, more to distract me, more to dust, more to lose, more to get lost in.

Buddhists call this attachment, our need to be connected to someone or something, the cause for all human suffering.  While the theory of attachment digs far deeper than the knick-knacks on my bureau, these little manmade treasures are a great place to start practicing non-attachment and create a simpler, less stressful life.

In his book Peace is Every Breath, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that mindful consumerism is an important part of modern life.  By focusing our minds strictly on our shopping lists and taking a moment to consider the real value of a desirable item on a store shelf, we are empowering ourselves to make better choices for humanity and for the planet.  Our purchases come from somewhere.  Our purchase will end up somewhere, too.  While purchases may be fun for awhile, in the end, the desirable items will find a home in a heap of garbage.  Along with billions of other once-desirable items.

My New Year’s resolution was to stop buying stuff I don’t need, “giving up non-essential spending” my dear friend KF calls it.  Bad news for stores like Nordstrom, Target and Home Goods.  Heaven knows how often and easily I have strolled into those stores and loaded up bags and shopping carts with non-essentials – because they were shiny, because they were stylish, because they were on sale, because they scratched my itch to consume.

Consumerism is an addiction.  This works out well for manufacturers, I guess.  But what is good after all?  What is bad?  A thriving economy?  Sure, that’s good.  But what’s the cost?  More greenhouse emissions, more waste, more distraction, more stuff?  What’s the real price?  Sure, we’re happy now, playing with our trinkets and showing off our great taste.  But what about our kids?  Our grandkids?  Honestly, I’m not sure my great-grandchildren will inherit a clean planet.  Because at the rate I’m going, in a 50 years my junked picture frames and discarded tennis balls are going to be piled up so high that they just might block the sun.

So I’m drawing the line.  Here and now.  Walking my talk.  This is not easy.  Temptation is everywhere.  We are programmed to spend spend spend.  Social pressures, sale coupons, technology updates, red carpet fashions – all keep us in buying mode.  It’s incredibly difficult to turn off the voices in our heads, the ones encouraging us to stand in line and swipe that card.  But it’s possible to turn down the volume, with inspiration, commitment and mindfulness.

Originally, I told myself that I’d cut out the riff-raff purchases completely.  No more for me EVER!  Then I thought, well, maybe just this year.  And then I got realistic.  I need to start with changing my lifelong spending habit just this month, taking it one day at a time.  After this month, I’ll focus on the next month, and then get through that month one day at a time.

It’s interesting.  Going into this resolute commitment to stop spending, I thought it would be sort of easy.  I mean, really, I’m not THAT spend-crazy.  I thought it’d make me feel good, powerful, wholesome.  I thought that I’d walk past that store window on Newbury Street and forget the fabulous Stella McCartney dress on display.  I’d get home and feel relief that I survived the day without making a purchase.  But that’s not the case.  Instead I’ve been coming home and feeling frustrated.  I want that dress.  I’d love to have that dress.  I’m still thinking about that dress.  I’d really like to see that dress hanging in my closet.  I’d really like to wear that dress out to dinner with my husband.

It sounds so petty, doesn’t it?  So spoiled and selfish.  So human.  But aren’t we all this way?  Another person’s struggle may not be consuming – it may be thinking judgmental thoughts or overeating, a technology addiction or being a workaholic.  None of these bad habits is contained within us – they reach far and wide.  Our issues affect those close to us, then those whom they encounter and those people affect other people.  It’s a wave of connection that makes your problem my problem and my problem your problem, even if we’ve never met each other.  So it’s important for each of us to get healthy and practice wholesome, mindful behavior, even though the caveman in us tells us otherwise.

Detaching ourselves from our humanness is hard work.  That’s why we’re not all monks and priests and mystics.   But that common bond of human suffering reminds us that we’re all in this together.  And when we see that one person is willing to give up pleasures and temptations in hopes of bettering the planet, we become inspired to do it ourselves.  Many thanks to those who planted this seed of mindful consumerism in me.


I have a bookshelf tucked behind my bedroom door.  Most nights, I scan the shelf, choose a paperback that speaks to me and climb into bed.  I might only get through a couple of chapters before sleep overtakes me or before I need to put the book down and reflect on the writing, but I always read the message I need to hear.  Time after time, the words in my hand reflect the thoughts in my head.  And while I am no longer surprised by the tiny burst of intuition that leads me to that excerpt, I am always amazed.

Right after I wrote this column, I selected Chogyam Trungpa’s Meditation in Action for my nighttime read.  Here’s what he wrote:

So there is this possessiveness, this psychological hunger.  And this relates not only to money and wealth but to the deep-seated feeling of wanting to possess, wanting to hold onto things, wanting things definitely to belong to you.  For example, supposing you are window shopping.  One person might be unhappy all the time, and when he sees things he likes, this always produces a kind of pain in his mind because he is thinking, “If only I had the money, I could buy that!”  So all the time as he is walking through the shops this hunger produces great pain.  Whereas another person may enjoy merely looking.  So this wanting to own, wanting to possess and not being prepared to give out, is not really a weakness for any particular thing.  It is more generally wanting to occupy oneself with something, and if you have lost or lose interest in that particular thing, then you always want to substitute something else in its place.  It isn’t particularly that you can’t manage without a motor car or central heating or whatever it may be.  There is always something behind that, something fundamental, a kind of wanting to possess, wanting to own, which is always changing and developing and substituting one thing for another.  So that is the real weakness – though not exactly weakness, but more a kind of habit that one tends to form through a neurotic process of thoughts.  

I’ll share a little more from this chapter tomorrow morning because I felt the idea was so deeply profound.  I’d include it here but but this post is way too long already.  😉

From mine to yours,


you’ve come a long way, baby

i’ve been on a cleaning spree all weekend.  it began when my son came down with strep.  my husband took the girls up north to go skiing and i stayed home with the little man.  for the most part, he slept while i scoured every nook and cranny of my house.  i’m talking creepy basement closets, mudroom cubbies, behind the lazy susan in the kitchen corner cabinet…  whole hog.  the purge felt nearly blissful, undercut only by the inevitable shame attached to buying so many stupid things over the years.  i recycled as much as i could, but far too much junk was laid to rest in trash bins.

the rampage continued this morning – monday.  the kids left for school and i got busy clearing the useless contents of my personal space.  i started in my bathroom, tossing crusty bottles of hair gel and half-used hotel shampoo samples.  then i moved onto my closet, launching last decade’s kitten heels and tired pashminas into a box labeled “salvation army”.  i dumped loads of t-shirts and old sweaters into the same box without taking the time to consider if i’d wear them again.  it didn’t matter.  if someone else can use them, that’s what’s important.

i then scooted into my bedroom and pulled open the drawers to my nightstand.  i barely use these drawers.  they’re oversized and hard to open, so i don’t put anything in there that i need to access frequently.  as it turned out, my life’s story was buried inside:

a stained rasied-seal birth certificate for one “Vanessa Linsey Cronin”; a gold necklace given to me by my beloved gram who passed 7 years ago; a diary filled with pages cursing my father for leaving me when i was 11; unsent love letters to boys who broke my heart; calendars marked with cheerleading practices, key club meetings, midterm exams and sleepovers; a panty liner, random, i know, but it stirred the clear image of me at age 15, with a figure like flat stanley, pleading daily to the menstrual gods that i’d get my period; a little red monopoly hotel; expired immodium AD tablets – left over from my years of suffering from IBS, a time when i was so emotionally twisted up that i could barely leave my house for fear of pooping my pants; an autograph autobiography on rex trailer, an old time TV star who helped me put together the resume tape i schlepped down the east coast in hopes of landing a TV reporter gig, a gig i never got; postcards, maps and museum passes accumulated over several european adventures; a white silk rose from my wedding gown that i swapped out for a peach one for the big day; a funny sex kit i won at a winchester neighbor’s club yankee swap (too embarrassed to leave it for the trash man); a loving birthday card to me from my husband; my first baby’s hospital ID bracelet; a pile of books about buddhism and spirituality; a few pens, some yoga pose cards and a box of matches.

looking at all this stuff, i really felt for the girl i used to be.  though her life was pretty good, it wasn’t always easy for her.  as you can probably tell by the contents of the nightstand, that girl’s adolescence was emotionally challenging.  she experienced some real torment, some desperate times, some sadness and sickness.  but she was a survivor.  shit happened and she found a way to make it better.  she cried then laughed then cried again.  but in the end she was just fine.  she got involved, had some fun and dreamed big.

sifting through these relics, i saw the progression of things – how that girl overcame one obstacle at a time.  sometimes alone, sometimes with help.  but she forgave, she worked hard, she acted on good advice, she never said no to an adventure, and she remained hopeful.

life has continued to move along, the young girl’s patterns and tendencies creating the woman i am today.  sometimes i think about my herstory and wince, happy it’s in the past.  sometimes i look back and smile upon fond memories tucked away in a fuzzy thought bubble.

it’s the goodness, to which i was able to cling, that overpowered the angry, insecure, disappointed, lost kid i used to be.  i still have my shortcomings – the same ones that have haunted me all my life.  i’m messy, i procrastinate, i talk too much, i’m a terrible eater, i’m too sassy to my husband, i hate to exercise, i’m jealous, i give up on things easily.  but these qualities are very manageable now.

i think they are manageable because i love myself just the way i am.  good at some things, bad at others.  some people like me, some don’t.  some things i screw up, some i kick ass.  i don’t need to spin my wheels trying to reach the unreachable goal of perfection.  because when i’m perfect i’ll either be enlightened or dead.  and based on the rate of awakening i’m experiencing these days, death will come sooner than enlightenment.  so why not just accept myself as i am and spare myself years of frustration.

the point is, we don’t have to define ourselves by who we used to be.  we can clear out those unhealthy habits and traits like we’re clearing out a drawer full of junk.  it’s just a matter of deciding that it’s time to let go of the clutter.

from mine to yours,


p.s.  feel free to share this with other formerly flat 15 year old girls…  or anyone who might like the story for that matter.


first grade, front row left, shortest (always the shortest) kid in my class.