Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Surprise!

I am not someone who relishes surprises, and I happen to be married to someone who not only loves to surprise, but is expert at planning them. For example, for my 40th birthday he planned an elegant surprise luncheon with my lovely women friends as guests. More recently, he flew in my dear friend from Ohio for a surprise birthday weekend at a luxurious spa. What could have been more generous and loving. However, there was also the time very long ago when the kids were young, and I was working full-time in a demanding job, and all I wanted for my birthday was a quiet evening reading in bed. All of a sudden friends were in our bedroom shouting "Surprise!" I faked my delight. 

I understand my discomfort with surprises has to do with loss of control, but I also know how much I love the anticipation and even the preparation, leading to something special.

A Surprising Question
Therefore, I was surprised, yes surprised, when during retreat time at the beginning of 2013, one of the questions that arose during my quiet time was, "Will it be a year when I surprise myself?"

It is one thing for someone to surprise you, whether it is with a totally unexpected gift or perhaps a response you would not have anticipated, but quite another when you surprise yourself. 

The Surprise of Letting Go
Now that 2014 has arrived, I have been thinking about this question and yes, 2013 was a year when I surprised myself. The first surprise that comes to mind, of course, is related to our move to St Paul. One of the tasks we have had to do because we are drastically (and willingly, even eagerly) downsizing is sell or dispose of large pieces of furniture. Antiques we have loved and used in a variety of ways. The one I most dreaded parting with was our harvest table bought for our 1802 farmhouse. In our Middleton house it did not fit in the dining room, but instead became my desk in my large lower level office. I loved spreading out my work on that desk, books and papers and laptop, a candle and other treasures, and while I worked, I could recall memories of Thanksgiving dinner at that table or gatherings of my women's spirituality group or easy meals at one end for just my husband and myself. We had added our own patina to that simple farmhouse table, and I thought parting with it would be wrenching.

Reluctantly, I listed it on Craigslist, along with many other items, and surprise, it was the first item to sell. A bigger surprise to me was that I had no trouble letting go of the table or any of the other things I had loved and enjoyed over the years. It was more than recognizing that it was only "stuff," I was letting go of, but it was recognizing that in order to move on, I needed to shed layers of our material life.  In our case, a lot of things!!!! And that process will continue for a long time, in order to live more simply and sparer in a much smaller home. 

The desire to move forward, to be where we want to be, to focus more on the people in our lives, rather than taking care of possessions, and in my case, to create spaciousness for writing and other growth-giving, life-sharing endeavors, is stronger than clinging to the "stuff," and then mourning its passing. I hasten to add that I loved the process of gathering and have great memories of wandering country roads in search of antique shops, and then finding just the right spot for the acquired treasure. I hope our home will always be a place of beauty and comfort and now in this new little house, I once again am happily home tending, creating our nest. 

At the same time, I surprised myself with my ease of letting go. Of course,  I realize letting go of stuff is not anything like letting go of people whom I love or as time goes on of my own abilities or capabilities or vision of myself, but now is the time to learn the skill of letting go.  

Words of Wisdom
Here's what Joan Chittister http://www.benetvision.org/vitaJoan.html says in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully as she describes this stage of life being one in which we "travel light."
     When I look around the crowded room and wonder why I
     am keeping the large desk when a smaller one would do 
     just as well, something inside of me is beginning to change.
     When three sets of dishes are two sets too many, I have
     begun to need more than just things. When the house is
     too crowded and the car is too big and the perfect lawn
     too much of a bother, I have begun a whole new adventure
     in life…It is the shaping of the soul that occupies us now.
     Now, consciously or, more likely, not, we set out to find 
     out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what
     we care about and how to be simply enough for ourselves
     in the world.

She adds:
     A burden of these years is the temptation to cling to the 
     times and things behind us rather than move to the 
     liberating moments ahead.

     A blessing of these years is the invitation to go light-
     footed into the here and now--because we spend far too
     much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying
     the present.

An Invitation
How do you respond to surprises and what has surprised you about yourself recently? How are you challenged by the idea and process of letting go? What are the fruits of letting go for you? I am eager to know.  


  1. Hmm. Your hesitation before letting go of that table and then the pleasant revelation after you did it that you could handle it suggests that we anticipate mourning, and maybe sometimes it's the anticipation that hurts, not the actual event.
    I am currently getting a lot of my parents beloved items that they saved from their early times and and from my childhood. My prom dress. My favorite book of nursery rhymes. The first set of glasses for entertaining they once used. I feel confused and sad having them for some reason and don't often know how to handle it.

    1. Yes, the anticipation is often worse than the reality, but I encourage you to sit with what you are feeling and allow yourself, first to wallow a bit, but then to let these objects speak to you and offer you insights about what you are feeling and what they can teach you.

  2. I have not yet come to that place, but I know it is coming soon. I hope that I can welcome it gracefully. Shirley

  3. After reading about you "Clearing Your Space" I remembered writing this almost a year ago.. "Shedding – letting go again and again is part of this journey out of my comfortable place that holds habits of behavior and thinking – and by shedding I’m lightening up, preparing to live with freer internal storage space along with less physical space." I hold you in my heart. You are doing this with such grace...

    1. It's no wonder I consider you a spiritual mentor--and am so grateful for your friendship.


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