Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Steals My Purse

About a dozen years ago I was teaching a rather late night yoga class, and when I returned to my car afterward, I found that it had been broken into and that my briefcase had been stolen. Panic was the first emotion I remember experiencing. "My life was in that bag," I thought. All of my identification, credit cards, addresses, datebook, and a few irreplaceable personal items were now no longer mine. Without all those numbers, I felt alone and afraid.

I reverted to "survival mode." As soon as I arrived home I got on the phone and canceled the credit cards, contacted the bank to get my account numbers changed, and then after the adrenalin wore off and I could actually feel again, I cried. I actually lamented for my lost wallet, my checkbook, my expensive Tumi briefcase, and all the bits of paper held therein. I berated myself for leaving something so valuable in the passenger compartment of my car. I made a plan to awaken early and go to the Pasadena police station to file a report, and tossed and turned myself to sleep.

I awoke with the dawn. At that time, I lived in a little upstairs apartment with an east-facing window directly over my bed. The sun was not quite over the San Gabriel foothills, but the clouds were already glowing with that special red-orange hue that is reserved for the moments before dawn. Reality set in: I was still without my possessions, but there was a glimmer of hope appearing on the horizon with the sunrise. 

My first stop was the police station. As I drove the fifteen minutes east from Burbank to Pasadena, the dawn was in full bloom. It was one of those January mornings in southern California that just makes my breath come a little bit faster. Now, tears were coming to my eyes, not from grief, but from the pure joy and gratitude of being able to witness this glorious sight. Out of nowhere, I found myself smiling like a maniac and then laughing. Guffawing is more like it.

Grinning until my cheeks ached, I gave my report to the notably unsympathetic desk officer, and then decided to search the area around where my car was parked, in hopes that the thief had taken the wallet and thrown the briefcase away. At least I could get my datebook and addresses back again, and the briefcase was a very nice item costing in the hundreds of dollars to replace.

Returning to the scene of the crime, I embarked on a systematic search of the area around where the car was parked (where I discovered shards of broken automobile glass indicating that I wasn't the only crime victim that evening), and then into a culvert along a disused railroad track culminating in a secluded encampment beneath an overpass. The dank, shadowy nether-city was littered with the detritus of homeless life: bits of clothing, newspapers, cans, bottles, blankets, and boxes. I quickly and cautiously inspected the area, afraid that I might provoke the ire of the residents, and then I moved on. 

As I followed the train tracks, a feeling of lightness began to arise in me. What was I looking for down here? Just a few hours ago, all my things had been so important to me, and now they were garbage. A quote from Othello came to mind:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. ~ III, iii, 157
I remember thinking, "What if I were searching through this junk looking for something really valuable?" A loved one, perhaps. This kind of scenario is playing out right now in many parts of this suffering world. I stopped my quest then and there, climbed out of the gully and walked back to my car with a lighter step. In that moment I felt liberated from the weight of my possessions, which were now, and always had been, simply trash.

In the same way, we can open the tight fist of grasping to things that we hold as precious, such as outmoded, dysfunctional ideas, or habitual ways of reacting to the world, and release ourselves from the bondage of these possessions. Lightness, liberation, and relief from suffering will follow.


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