I’ve recently become enamoured with minimalism. From the sweeping popularity of Marie Kondo’s Netflix special, to aesthetic Instagram posts of clean spaces, straight lines and purposeful design, there’s no doubt that I’m not alone. The cultural phenomenon of “less is more” is spreading like wildfire.
How fitting, then, that I came across this phrase recently:
It’s a Latin phrase which means “so much as, in as much as, in so far as..”
This is from the first principle and foundation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which says:
“..that one must use other created things, in so far as (tantum quantum) they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as (tantum quantum) they are obstacles to one’s end. To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.”
In this context, “one’s end” is the praise, reverence, and service of God.
This specific phrase prompted me to ask myself in earnest what I was holding onto – what had fulfilled its purpose in my life, and was no longer serving me? I was spurred on further by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Buddhism teaches that joy and happiness arise from letting go. Please sit down and take an inventory of your life. There are things you’ve been hanging on to that really are not useful and deprive you of your freedom. Find the courage to let them go.”
There is no question that there are a number of tools, gadgets, and gizmos I have accumulated over a few short years. They’ve served me well. I was able to earn some side income during college by repairing broken phones and electronics, which in turn grew my capacity for problem solving. My inquisitive mind was well-exercised, and my collection of tools grew steadily.
A collection that, as of late, had been sitting boxed up in the basement, collecting dust.
And so, coinciding with a house move, I did a minor purge of clothes, clutter and gadgets. While still perfectly functional, they would be better off in somebody else’s hands. Fixing and repairing are still passions of mine, and I will continue to do so for as long as there are things to mend – but I’d like to focus on sharing and spreading these passions with others. The local thrift store will be pleased.
But… what about things beyond mere physical, material possessions?
Could an “inventory of your life” mean more than just “things”?
Experiences and memories?
What about past pain?
Stories we tell ourselves about who we are?
When is enough, enough?
Here, have another Thich Nhat Hanh quote:
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
oof. That one hit home.
So, here I am, trying to let go of the stories I’ve been telling myself. Easier said than done. Donating clothes and organizing your sock drawer is one thing but doing some internal “deep cleaning” is an entirely different ballgame.
The KonMari method touches on this inner work; emphasis is placed on keeping only that which sparks joy in you – giving thanks to other items and the roles they have played in your life. However, there are stories which are rooted so deeply within us, that no amount of external organization can fully address them.
Yes, clean your room and get your house in order, but don’t forget to also shake the cobwebs loose in the attic of your mind from time to time.
What have you been holding on to, be it internally or externally? What has been keeping you from fully attaining the end towards which you strive?