I've been engaged in a massive clean out program the last few weeks in an attempt to combat my pack rat tendencies and reduce the amount of stuff I own. It's been a bit like an archaeological dig of my own life.
I can look through the stuff I have to see the time periods I've lived through—all of the careers, interests, hobbies, and style preferences I've lived through at various stages. It's walk down memory lane of all of the past selves I've been at different times.
Some of that is fun. Some of it brings up remembered pain, especially when a change coincided with a time when my heart or my life was broken in some way.
Most of all, I've realized that I often hold onto all of these old things as a means of remembering and honoring these old selves. While that seems harmless on the surface, this process of cleaning out is teaching me a lot about how stuck this tendency can keep me.
Clinging to my pre-broken self
There is (at least for me) some benefit in remembering and honoring my past selves because it gives me a framework for measuring my growth and for being more compassionate with myself and with others in seeing how often we shift and change along the way. None of us are set in stone for all time.
But what I'm discovering is that there are many times when my helpful act of remembering is actually a cover for an attempt to cling to some version of myself or my life prior to a time of brokenness.
I want to imagine that this pre-broken self was better, happier, and more together than I am now and that if I can just cling to the remnants of that old self then I have a chance to becoming that old self once again.
This intense period of interacting with the ghosts of all my old selves has given me the chance to see (again) how untrue this is.
My pre-broken self may have had some things better than my current self does—she was at least still oblivious to how much pain and heartache the coming brokenness would bring—but if I'm honest with myself, there were also many ways that pre-broken self suffered.
My pre-broken self was not perfect, nor was her life a utopia. In fact, there are many ways that I am happier and more content now on the other side of the healing process than my pre-broken self ever was.
I have learned so much about myself and about life in the process that continues to bring rich dividends all the time.
My attempts to cling to that old pre-broken self simply blind me to the healing that has happened (and continues to happen) and keeps me tied to the trauma of the losses involved in the brokenness I experienced.
Sweeping away the lost pieces
When I break something in order to repair it for my kintsugi artwork, the breaking process almost always results in at least a few tiny shards that are too small to even attempt to include in the reassembly. This is true for both my polymer clay and my stone work.
It's not unusual, though, to wind up with quite a bit of material that has simply crumbled into sand-like particles too small to work with, especially with some forms of stone.
My first step after the breaking always involves gently brushing away these tiny pieces from the broken edges to give me a clean surface to work with for the repair.
I have to sweep away those parts which are not suitable for the reassembly in order to make the repair successful.
It's the same with my life. In every break I've experienced—from the smallest heartbreak to the biggest brokenness that shook my whole world—there have been parts of my pre-broken self or life that got swept away in the process.
I needed to let go of those things to make room for the new repair that was forming.
My attempts to cling to every bit of my pre-broken self only slows and hampers the healing process just as the grains of sand-like shards interfere with repair process of kintsugi.
Letting go of my old selves
As I've let go of more and more remnants of these old selves of mine in this season of cleaning out, I'm struck by how much energy it is freeing up to be present in the here and now.
I'm no longer surrounded by reminders (or at least fewer of them—I still have more work to do!) of who I used to be that continually remind me of the brokenness I've experienced and the jagged shards left behind.
That doesn't mean that I forget who I've been through the years or that I keep nothing from those times, but in letting go of most of the excess old baggage, I'm clearing space for the old pain and regret and brokenness to heal.
I can still honor my past selves without trying to carry all of those old ghosts with me all the time.
Of course, this is bigger than just the physical stuff I'm releasing, but physical process is helpful in reminding me to also let go of old relationships, internal attachments, and expired dreams that are also getting in the way to make room for new things to emerge that better fit the person that I am becoming.
Through it all, this sweeping away of the old is making it easier and easier to see and appreciate the gold that has appeared in the repaired cracks of my life as it no longer obscured by my clinging to the past.
My work is far from done. I still have more stuff to go through and will likely need to cycle back through everything I've already gone through another time or two to really release all that needs to go. The level of overwhelm in the amount that I have held onto makes it hard to get it all on one pass!
But with each release of old stuff (external and internal), I'm enjoying the resulting lightness of being and the increasing shine of gold.
Questions to ponder
In what ways do you cling to your pre-broken self? What things (or relationships or expectations or dreams) do you hold onto that no longer fit into your healed self after the brokenness?
As you think of those things that you have continued to cling to, how might it feel if you were to let them go to make space for new gold to emerge from your healed scars?
What is one step you might take to begin releasing that pre-broken self today?