My time in New Zealand has been teaching me about things.
Isn’t that a succinct, direct opening line? No, let’s start over because I don’t mean that in some vague, every-moment-is-a-lesson kind of way, which is also true. I mean things. Objects and articles. All these items that I’ve decided are somehow worth being carried around on my back. Here we go:
My youth is characterized with a subtle fear of material objects.
Growing up in a household of lack, I would hold tightly onto objects as ends in themselves. A new pair of shoes, a variety pack of nail polish I saved up for for ages, heck even socks and underwear all became these conquests I managed to procure through either the benevolence of my parents or my scrounging of quarters and dimes. I didn’t appreciate the objects as tools I used for a particular purpose; I appreciated the objects themselves as glorified idols. In our capitalist society where objects are touted as the end all, be all, it isn’t hard to see how a small child growing up in poverty came to this conclusion.
Shoes were more than a thick layer protecting my feet from cold and callous, nail polish more than a colourful way to express myself and give my physical body care and attention. Objects became security, and with security placed in their existence, came insecurity and fear they be removed.
I held on so tightly and did not want to let go. Thinning threads on socks became a menace—I was losing something! I was losing an object I so desperately needed. I didn’t see the miles I’d walked wearing those socks and the experiences I’d gained. I didn’t see the warmth those fraying threads had provided. Instead, I focused solely (pun intended) on my perceived sockless future. I was living in a world of lack.
Logically, I know now that when I run out of socks I can simply go to the store and buy new ones, but can I expect a small child to understand that? Especially one who is raised in an environment of scarcity? I didn’t know how much money there was. I just knew I pretended my brothers’ action figures were dolls until I finally got my own, I knew I wanted those snap-on, rip-off Adidas pants but didn’t get them, I knew pancakes for dinner because there was nothing in the house but eggs, flour and powered milk. I knew “we couldn’t afford that.”
It’s been years since I lived in that level of economic scarcity—decades almost—yet I feel like it’s only now, in the spacious and nature-abundant country of New Zealand that I’m understanding the purpose of material things.
I lost my mala in Wellington.
In a world that worships objects, my amethyst beads used for counting mantra are one of the most important physical objects I own. I don’t need a yoga mat for asana; any random paper and pen provide materials for reflection; my breath and the light carry me wherever I go, but my mala? Now that’s important. It’s a physical object I’ve imbued with vibration and is meaningful on my path. It was made at the ashram and I’ve had it for almost five years. I hold it as I dream and I always know where it is. Then, suddenly, one day I didn’t.
I searched everywhere, adrenaline coursing through my veins. What does this mean? I couldn’t help but wonder, What is the symbolism behind this? I mentally retraced my steps that day as I pilfered through my bag for the fourth time. This is what parents must feel like when they lose their child, my internal dialogue raced with hyperbolic intensity.
The library—I’d been to the library that day, slouched in a chair with these gaping-open pockets. I phoned the front desk.
“No, we haven’t had a purple beaded necklace turned in, sorry.”
“When do you close?”
“In about an hour. Good luck in your search.”
I raced out the door with my feet barely touching the ground, covering the 15-minute walk in less than 10.
I went in this door. I walked through this corridor. My eyes darted back and forth, searching, seeking, hoping. I turned here. The chair I sat on must be right around that corner. I curved around the rack of books. The modern, black pleather chair was ominously empty, sitting on the dark berber carpet. My eyes didn’t see the chair though. My eyes saw dark purple beads, coiled like a snake under the crack between the cushion and frame. The image is burned in my mind.
I scooped them up, eyes burning with the beginnings of tears, and quickly left the library.
My feet instinctively took me through the town square to the wharf overlooking the sea. It was sunset. Through my moistened eyes I saw soft, pink light gently brushing the clouds high in the sky. The sea itself was doused in otherworldly grey-blues.
I sat as my pulse returned to normal, gratitude flowing on every breath.
I almost lost one of my most precious material objects—made so because it is a tool of worship. But the truth is, it’s only an object. It has meaning because I give it meaning, and the meaning is the important part.
I’ve lost other things since then: a water bottle, tank top and disinfectant balm to name a few. My pants got in a rip in the bum so I replaced them, and my shoes are showing signs of their daily use.
These objects are not meaningful to me—it’s their use that gives them meaning. I need a vessel to carry water in so I bought a new one. The sentimentality I had for its predecessor has dissolved. My shirts wear out; I know their time is limited. I am not attached to them. I trust there will be other shirts when I need more because I am capable of procuring the objects I need for myself.
I am no longer worshipping items. Instead, I let them pass through my life with gratitude for the use they provide. I am in a place of trust and abundance. I am free.