De-clutter – Pause – Expand

“De-clutter, expand, de-clutter, expand, de-clutter, expand …”, these were the words used by a friend in a conversation we had a few days ago about how we move forward authentically in our lives.  The “de-clutter, expand” notion captured my attention because it describes so much of the cycles in life, and a lot of what really defines the experience of living from one phase to the next.

Overly dark areas outside a front door, for example, could promote uneasiness because you can’t fully see what’s there. In some neighborhoods this can be an actual danger, so bring enough light somehow to make everything visible.

What doesn’t usually get mentioned in this cycle is the “still point” between the exhales and inhales, between the de-cluttering and the inward wave of what is newly acquired to move into our cupboards and closet.

There’s a timeless moment between the inhale and the exhale where there’s no movement at all:  It’s this moment of stillness I want to talk about today and how it applies to Feng Shui.

Moving out clutter – the obsolete stuff, the broken stuff, the stuff you’re over for one reason or another – feels wonderful.  New vistas of closet space and empty shelves beckon to one’s sense of possibility and invention.  Most of us feel compelled to do something to fill in that space pretty quickly.  Why is that?   Sometimes it’s a purely practical need, because we already have more possessions than places to put those possessions.  But besides that, there can be something inherently unnerving about emptiness. 

Emptiness can be linked to all sorts of discomfort, from losses we’ve suffered, to the shift in identity that occurs in degree when something that was part of a completed phase of our life is no longer present as a symbol of that time.  It can be a little (or a lot) weird when the stuffed toys from children who are now grown and gone are handed down, or when the files from a former job are finally tossed… there’s that moment where the question, “Who am I now?” hangs in the air.

If you find yourself filling in space to avoid something uncomfortable, an old feeling or an uncertainty about who you are or what your direction is now – some feeling you may discover in that still point between the de-clutter and the expansion – could I gently suggest that you give yourself a little time to just let that experience be there, and just be with it, before rushing to cover it over by filling in the space?

There’s something magical in that alchemical “pause” at the very bottom of an exhale.  Try this:  Sit for a few minutes and just observe your breathing.  We all tend to live the way we breathe.  Do you exhale all the way before you take in the next breath?  Experiment with emptying out the last bit of air you can when you exhale, before you inhale again.  What happens next is that your body will spontaneously draw in a deep and satisfying lung-full of air and that particular inhale will feel more complete and nourishing than usual.  To fill up in a satisfying way requires really being empty first.  

To translate that into practical Feng Shui doesn’t necessarily mean giving away every last bit of what you no longer need, because that could just become a mechanical task, rather than a transforming experience.  What it means is more experiential than that. 

Everything we bring into our living spaces is intimately interwoven with our purposes as well as our tasks, our reasons for living as well as our means of doing.  Whatever feelings arise after the de-cluttering are gifts remaining from the parts of our lives that are going through an inner as well as an outer transformation.  The natural expression that follows this completing of experience will fill you up in a more satisfying way than if you don’t “pause” after de-cluttering to feel what is there.

Here’s a small but meaningful story from my own life.  A number of years ago my mother gave me an orange tree in a pot.  She loved me dearly and one of her favorite ways of expressing the overflow of her affection was to give me plants, which I usually didn’t really have space for.  My mother and her mother were both what I fondly regard as “gardening addicts” – rather than doing the usual retail shopping, either one of them could often be found loading up on more plants at the local nursery, regardless of whether there was actually a place to put them.  My grandmother had an old Cadillac back in the day when Cadillacs were the size of small countries, and she would regularly return from the nursery with the trunk crammed full with lots of new plant friends to add to the overflowing yard.  Potted plants always remind me of these two women and how much in love they were with gardening, and with me.

Last week I noticed the orange tree, which I had taken with me to a new home a few years ago. My mother died six years ago, but I still had the tree. The new home really has no place that was a good spot for the orange tree, so it stayed in its pot and I took as good care of it as I could.  Honestly, I held on to it because I felt duty-bound to take care of it as it had been given to me, but mostly because I was keeping alive the moment of love expressed when my mother gave me the tree in the first place as well as the gardening lineage being handed down to me from both women.  I had a dream of finally moving to a different place where the tree could flourish, where I would spend hours gardening as they had.  Last week I took another look at the struggling tree and realized that, not only did I need the space it was sitting in, I needed to give up on the dreams that were attached to it: the dream of watching the tree grow, and the dream of being the kind of devoted gardener my mother and grandmother were.  When I’m honest with myself I see that I am not that person.  I gave the tree to a friend with a large sunny yard.  In that pause between physically moving the tree from its space and rearranging the space in a new way, I felt the sadness of closing the door on the dreams.  In just feeling that, I finally noticed the most obvious thing, that my mother’s love will always go with me and I don’t need that particular expression of it to keep the love alive.  I felt a sort of fundamental shift take place.  I got a burst of energy and drive to transform other areas in the yard and house, but more significantly, I now feel freer and more like myself, free to create something that really fits where I am in life now.

Transformation happens in that pause between letting go of the old (the exhale of stuff, feelings, dreams), and welcoming in the expansive expression that comes from making time and space for the recognition of what is truly nourishing and right, right now.