photo courtesy State Records of NSW
When I was growing up, my mum used to tell me stories about how her sister — my aunt — rebelled against their fairly conservative, country upbringing by becoming a hippy (my mother opted for the far more vanilla rebellion of moving to Melbourne, joining the Labor Party and eventually becoming a Buddhist).
After leaving school and the family home in the quiet regional town of Traralgon in Gippsland, she set off to hitch-hike up the coast, taking little more, I’m told, than a suitcase and the spirit of the ’60s. She firmly believed that you shouldn’t own any more than you can carry on your back. It’s a belief she held for a long time, even after she’d married and had her first daughter.
Another aunt, my father’s sister, was even more extreme, spending the ’70s floating down the Kashmir River on a barge before taking up residence at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal (you can actually read all about it in this book. It’s quite a good read — there’s guns and drugs and everything).
So the Buddhist ideal of “non-attachment” is one I grew up with. There’s probably some profound and abstruse explanation from the Buddha or some modern-day new-age sage I could quote to make me sound all learned here, but essentially it boils down to this: stuff is just junk and doesn’t mean shit.
Intellectually, I know it’s true: material things won’t make you happy, and putting any stock in them (Buddhists say “grasping”, but it’s one of those “Dharma jargon” terms like “hungry ghost” and “skillful means” that make me cringe and want to kick over a sand mandala) is futile.
But for all my prayer beads and Free Tibet stickers, I can’t deny it: I love my espresso machine; I love my obscenely large collection of ironic tshirts; I love my CDs (even though I’ve only ever handled most of them once: to burn the songs to my iPod); I love the stupid pictures I’ve cut out of magazines and knick-knacks I’ve picked up in op-shops over the years; I love my 90-cent Spiderman socks and my old granny shopping trolley and my pretty Japanese lanterns and my fluro green prajit.
When I left the house for work on Wednesday, all these things were in their rightful place: on shelves, in drawers.
I came home to this:
Men came and packed everything up and stuck it all in warehouse somewhere. Empty shelves, empty drawers.
Here’s everything I have in the world now:
A bag of clothes, laptop, phone, iPod, mini disc recorder, boxing gloves, toothbrush, two books, passport and a one-way ticket to the States.
I can now carry everything I own in the world on my back (OK, in my new 75-litre backpack, which is probably big enough to have its own gravitational pull, but still, I’m like a really geeky swaggie or ronin or something).
And I’m still happy.