Friday, October 12, 2012

Sentimental, Objects Gripping the Heart

My shelves are full of books I haven't read in years, yet as I consider them, they seem to represent my life, my experiences, my hopes, and so many stages of my growth. Less personal than diaries perhaps but in some ways just as revealing, my bookshelves really carry weight. Literally. How many have I given away, or traded in at second hand bookstores?  Like the changing seasons, I change the flavor of my reading-in-progress pile, but for the most part the shelves stay the same. I am attached to them even though the vast majority of these books simply collect dust.

A dear friend gave me this book. I read this one in the middle of a hard winter in my sophomore year at college. These were my introductions to the existence of Japanese writings; these to the deep currents in Russian literature; these to the lyrical qualities in English poetry; these to the myths and stories that form  gender awareness, this was important in my pursuit of yogic practices. These were my grandfather's. This, from my uncle's shelf. These were my children's favorites once they began reading. Here is that poet whose name I never remember, and then this one that my husband gave me ... on and on.

I stare at the bindings and allow whatever is evoked to arise. Not quite ready to clear these shelves though I've traveled and lived elsewhere without them. I can conjure up the same feelings simply by thinking about them. How much weight must I carry to hold moments of memory,  feelings about people, ideas of myself in times past? This tiny tee shirt that my son outgrew 23 years ago is still folded in the back of a drawer in a room where he no longer lives. Four delicately cut glasses, that once belonged to my husband's grandmother, stand in the back row of my kitchen shelf. They are designed for some specific drink that I can't identify and yet I feel the tug of his childhood memories. There's that little dish tucked into a top drawer of my own dresser, the small shallow ceramic where my mother once deposited tiny sea shells and beach stones.

This poignant remembering does have such a richness, like a special caramelized sauce, heated by the heart, and sweetened by memory.  I can pour it liberally over anything, anywhere. The senses respond, the emotions rise. On the one hand my experience seems deeper, but in truth, it is a repeat of a pattern of responses. And yet all of this is fantasy, just my mind making a story for me. These objects, books, even ideas, can trigger memories that are pleasant or unpleasant. Essentially I can use them or not in this way, making choices about how I remember something or use my feelings to influence this moment in my life. Do I want to spend my time in a web of reaction, replaying feelings and a story line that might change or harden with time, or can I free myself from this layer of attachment and be present now?

It seems the sentimental object is a small trap.  Once I see it, I can step around the quicksand or jump in with both feet. Having this choice definitely loosens the grip of reactivity on my feelings and behavior, and frees me to see more than that one story, understand beyond the repeated pattern, and be present. I love reading a book more than once, discovering it anew,  not measuring how much I missed or forgot, and yet savoring the familiar. I do not try to relive my earlier experience of reading that book, but allow myself a fuller, layered experience of it. It is not a sentimental journey but a new adventure.

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