“Do Not Save These Structures. Save as Many Lives and As Much Beauty as You Can.”
That is the sign I want to put on the front fence this fire season. It is partly because the structures here are old and weary, and are far beyond their prime. It is partly because I don’t want anyone to risk life or health in a building that might let a foot slip between the boards or the ceiling drop from above. Even more, these human-made shelters and the collected stuff that they hold are trivial. The lives of families, friends and neighbors, creatures and trees are much more precious.
If the fires do come, they may bring the gift of emptying, so that something new can enter in. I have learned “Letting go into emptiness” from the Moon. She is in a perpetual cycle of emptying to her New form and then being filled to Full Moon glory. It is an irresistible pattern, like the waves crashing into the shore and then receding back into the sea. It is like the movement of tides within the ocean and the flow of blood in our bodies. The heart pumps itself empty, moving the blood out to the furthest cells, and then the blood returns to fill the heart and be renewed.
I have experienced times of selling and giving away much of what we owned to open the way for the next stage of our life. When we left Arizona it was in a truck with a camper shell and a small U-haul trailer. I let go of my life as a United Methodist clergywoman and we headed to a small town on the Oregon coast. I became a student of holistic health and worked at the front desk of a bed and breakfast for a year. Oregon provided a pause time while we waited to see what would emerge next.
About ten years later I did it again. I walked away from co-leading The Still Point Zen Practice Center which Bill and I had started in Chico. I knew it was time to let go of the roles and tasks of teaching and guiding others. I spent hours walking the trails on nearby wild hillsides. Nature was all that made sense and the relationship with the earth held me as I waited to see what was next.
What opened up was a major shift to bookbinding and book repair. I took courses in Telluride, Colorado and developed a small business working with my hands. I enjoyed the experience of reviving old books and binding Bill’s published writings. It was creative and different. I followed instructions, measured carefully, learned skills with specific tools and created beautiful books.
Then, four years ago, it happened again. We realized that it was time to make the next major step in simplifying our lives. We left the three-bedroom house we were renting and move into a motor home. In preparation, we held a Potlatch-style sale in which we accepted any offer made for any item. We let everything go, down to what would fit the Subaru and headed to Arizona to find our house on wheel. We kept a small storage unit for the year we were gone, but it held mainly my bookbinding equipment that I was not yet ready to release. When we settled back here that was all donated to a college.
Having experienced these cycles, of willingly letting go of as much of my stuff as possible prepares me for the inevitable times when I will lose everything when I least expect it. I know how it feels to be empty. I know the pause when there is only open space and uncertainty. I recognize the thrill of simple things moving back in, whether new tasks or new clothes.
I have packed three boxes of my own things to grab if we have to evacuate due to fire this summer. I look at the rest of my possessions to consider what I release to the thrift shop and what to take to the dump. There are also the things I enjoy having, but do not have to have. I will appreciate them more knowing they may be temporary gifts. I can willingly release several more boxes of things just to practice holding everything and everyone I love in soft open hands.
Then, I can know that whether of not there is a sign on the fence, the time may come when everything here will go or stay, not by the will of the fire department, but by the movement of the wind. I do not know how empty I need to be at this point in my life. I do know that all that matters are the people I love, our neighbors both human and creature, and the freedom to flow with the natural unfolding of this wonderful land.