Saturday, August 18, 2012

Precious Things: The Ways in Which Our Possessions Can Hold Us Back

Personal growth is an interesting thing. It's the sort of thing you don't realize you've made progress with until something small happens that makes you sit up, take notice, and think: "Wow, my reaction to that situation would have been completely different x-number of years ago." I've actually had a couple of moments like that recently, but the one I'm thinking of right this minute was from the other night.

I made some random comment or another on Facebook about how great I thought technology was, particularly the technological advances that have been made with music lately. It was all about how I absolutely love the way things are these days with music. All I need is an internet connection and an account with a service like Spotify to have access to pretty much any song or album I want to listen to whenever I feel like it. Add an iPod or a good SmartPhone to the mix and I'm really styling, because I can then listen to whatever I want wherever I happen to be. Best of all, there's no longer any need to collect and maintain a physical collection of records, tapes, or CDs.

I believe I also said something to the tune of not really understanding people who sit around pouting because they want things to go back to the way they were -- a world where such technologies don't exist -- because it honestly doesn't make any sense. I mean... it's not like you can't go buy physical CDs or records anymore if that's really what you want, but why would you when you can enjoy the exact same music without having to purchase, store, and care for what basically amounts to a collection of unnecessary objects? Also, why would you begrudge other people newer options that are -- nostalgia aside -- actually better and more efficient than the options we all grew up with?

I had someone get totally offended and comment on that sentiment. She passionately exclaimed that collecting "things", dusting them, organizing them, and caring for them was more or less a huge part of the whole point of building a music collection. She also stated that music that doesn't come from something you can touch and hold in your hands will never be as good as music that does, so records, tapes, 8-tracks, and the like will always be "better" than mp3's.

I actually found myself feeling bad for this person. She couldn't even tell me why she thought something as outmoded as an 8-track or a cassette tape was "better" than a high-quality mp3 that actually preserved the integrity of the music more efficiently. She simply thought that they were because they were what she grew up with... and especially because they involved owning an object that you could touch, see, and inventory. She was also really irritated by my not only feeling differently, but by being comfortable expressing that on my own Facebook page. She clearly thought that I didn't get it and had no idea how wonderful it is to have a huge collection of CDs, or tapes, or something.

The funny thing is, I used to be exactly like this same person years ago. I'm a Taurus South node, after all. One of my biggest hang-ups in life was always the accumulation of possessions and other issues related to materialism. If I didn't pay money to own my own physical copy of something, I couldn't really enjoy it. Seriously, I didn't even have a library card and wouldn't take friends up on favors to burn me copies of CDs I wanted to hear. If I wasn't going to get listen to the new Tori Amos release on my own store-bought physical CD or read the new Stephen King story from an owned copy that only I had ever touched, I preferred to go without.

It's not that I didn't truly appreciate music or literature for its own sake. It's just that at some point, owning the objects became more important to me than the enjoyment I got from the art contained within. I honestly felt like being able to sit on my couch and stare at a wall littered with CD holders that were jam-packed with hundreds of albums somehow made me more of a music lover than someone who simply listened to the radio a lot or only owned ripped copies of the same CDs. I also sneered at so-called book lovers who just spent all their time at the library. I actually bought all the books I read and had every last one of them on a shelf somewhere in my apartment, so surely that meant I was somehow more serious about reading.


You can probably imagine the extent to which that actually limited me in regards to these hobbies I can honestly say I did truly love. If I couldn't see my way clear to investing my hard-earned money in a CD, then I probably didn't listen to the album at all. Furthermore, if I didn't think an artist's catalog was worth investing in in its entirety, then the chances are equally excellent that I didn't bother to invest in the one or two CDs of theirs I did really like. Then there's just the hassle of keeping so much fucking crap organized and maintained... or trying to actually pack it all up and then unpack it again later because I had to move.

I clung to all my possessions like a lifeline though and this was despite the fact that I didn't even make use of most of them. I had a closet full of clothes I never wore, racks full of CDs I never listened to, and shelves full of books and knick-knacks that I never used or even looked at. If you were to ask me today why I think I chose to live like that, I guess I would say that I thought the things I owned were what made me worth something as a person. It's like I needed those objects to prove to myself that I was the music lover, the book lover, or the established person I wanted to believe I was. Something was clearly missing from my life and I was just as clearly looking for it in the things I collected... but I didn't really know that.

Then I actually made some real improvements in my life. I met someone and I fell in love for what I am starting to think was the first time in my life. I got out of my loveless marriage and began a serious relationship with the man I loved instead. I made friends who actually cared about me and valued me for who I was instead of what I looked like or how good I could make them look to others. I found things to do with my time and for a living that didn't make me feel like a worthless waste of space. It was amazing how quickly the need to collect objects went away once those changes had taken root.

Starting a new life, a new relationship, and a new existence required me to move 3000 miles away from all my precious "things" though -- something that was actually very painful at the time -- so once I was settled, I was faced with a decision. I could either rebuild my collections or I could try something new. I opted for the something new. Instead of building my physical CD collection back up, I bought an iPod and started filling it with albums I downloaded for free off the internet... whatever struck my fancy and that I wanted to try, not just what I considered worth investing in as far as my precious collection went. If I tried something and didn't really care for it, I just deleted it and tried something else. Nothing lost in the process but a little bit of my time! I wound up quadrupling the list of bands I loved pretty quickly as a result -- more music to love, enjoy, and make memories with -- and I got more eclectic and adventurous as far as my overall tastes.

I got a library card so I could read whatever I wanted -- including all the new releases I heard people talking about -- and I discovered the joys of public domain ebooks to boot. I discovered that a lot of the classic authors I'd always loved -- like Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde, and Nathaniel Hawthorne -- had actually written many more books than I'd ever seen stocked in the book stores before. (The free public domain libraries had them available while the bookstores normally didn't. Bookstores only stock the most popular works in a given author's catalog as a rule.) Man... my whole world just opened right up and it hasn't been the same since.

I no longer feel that desire to hold an object in my hands in order to enjoy art like music or literature. Instead, I've embraced the absolute freedom downsizing has given me. I spend way, way less on entertainment than I used to. However, I'm actually enjoying more of it than I ever have before. I actually check out albums, movies, or books on a whim now the way a self-proclaimed free spirit should do and I discover some awesome things in the process. I carry music with me everywhere on my SmartPhone and iPod, allowing it to enhance every experience I have whether that's going for an evening walk to the grocery store or sitting out on the front porch enjoying a glass of wine with my fiancĂ©. Instead of getting pleasure from wrongly feeling like I somehow own the music I listen to all to myself, I get it from feeling like I'm part of this whole universe saturated with music that everyone else is part of, too. That's a lovely feeling, really.


Of course, this isn't really just about music... or even just about art. It's not even really about possessions. It's about life, growth, potential, and the limitations we put on ourselves and our world when we allow ourselves to get too wrapped up in the material. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with money, objects, or possessions. They can be wonderful ways to make a living space feel homey and like it belongs to us. They can even be gateways to wonderful new worlds that do allow you to grow and explore new possibilities, much like the very laptop computer I'm typing this on.

However, it's just that its so easy to allow them to define us and -- eventually -- weigh us down, preventing us from moving forward and realizing our true soul purpose. When we're talking about objects that can easily become numerous and take up a lot of space, this can happen quite literally. In the end, it's a decision each person has to make for themselves. Do they want to be heavy... or do they want to be able to travel light and be free? The choice is up to them.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My Life Through the Lens of Astrology

Pisces by Boris Vallejo
Astrology is something that has always been a part of my life. However, the role it actually plays in that regard has evolved and changed quite a lot over the years, which I find really interesting. From the time I first heard of the sun signs as a child, I was no doubt fascinated with them. I knew I was a Pisces and I knew a little bit about what that meant. I knew Pisces's influence made me more likely to be creative, deep-feeling, imaginative, and a bit melancholy from time to time. I had yet to really learn how complex astrology really was and how helpful it could truly be though.

I don't tend to be the kind of person who looks back on the past very often. However, I do rather wish I'd become a serious student of astrology a lot sooner. The ways studying this in earnest and really applying it to my life and the way I see the world around me has helped to put so many things in perspective. I know there will always be those who think astrology is complete bullshit and they are entitled to that opinion, but I myself have found something in it that has been so phenomenally helpful that it's hard to explain.

A Journey into Self Understanding

Probably the most helpful thing that astrology has brought to my life is an alternative path to self understanding that I was unable to find before. In order to get to this place though, you really must graduate beyond simply studying sun signs at some point. Defining an entire complex birth chart by the sun sign only is a lot like trying to define a person by only one minute aspect of their personality and how it manifests out there in the world. You must study your birth chart in its entirety, getting to know your moon sign (governing your deepest motivations), your ascendant (your public persona), and so forth. Then you'll begin to come to an amazing understanding of who you are and why you are the person that you've become.

As far as myself, I have a Pisces sun, but also a Leo moon and a Sagittarius ascendant. I'd never understood why my natural personality -- which is shy, retiring, and even a little timid in certain ways -- never quite gelled with either my innermost emotions or the way other people see me. However, now that I know that my watery Pisces core personality is basically sandwiched in between an inner personality that is prideful, passionate, and that longs deeply to be seen as special or important and a public persona that is equally fiery and exuberant, I've been given some real food for thought. 

Really, it lends a lot of insight into why I've always felt not only at odds with myself, but misunderstood by other people who haven't yet gotten to know me very well. I come across as fiery. Inside, maybe I even feel fiery and am motivated by fiery yearnings. However, the person that I am is and always will be softer and more sensitive. I have to learn to work with that, not against it and part of that has meant learning to reconcile these two types of energy within myself. Once I did that, it was easier to start understanding where I do (and don't) belong in this world.

Where You've Come From and Where You Are Going

Learning about the placement of my lunar nodes has also been beneficial to me. (Lunar nodes govern your life path, your karmic lessons, the issues you're assigned to overcome, and your purpose for being here). 

Learning that I have a Southern node placement in Taurus -- associated with materialism, personal baggage, a strong attachment to the idea of what a physical home is, and so forth -- has helped me acknowledge some of my biggest hang-ups in life and begin to move beyond them. I've finally learned that home is where you make it and with whom you make it. It's not about any particular pile of bricks at a given location. Happiness is not about the money you make either. It's about growth, understanding, and human connection.

My Northern node placed in Scorpio -- associated with a calling to perpetually transform, find one's self spiritually, and embrace the whole spectrum of what humanity is about -- has similarly helped point me in the right direction as far as possible career choices, personal choices in regards to the people I keep company with, and more. I've learned that there are reasons why I've always felt called to change, evolve, and vary myself almost constantly. It's part of my soul purpose and something I should embrace, not try to stifle as I did for so many years. That's helped me begin to find peace within myself at last. Now I can get on to the meat of carving out a place for myself in the world.

Unraveling the Mystery of Other People

I've never considered myself to be much of a people person. Like I said, I'm a Pisces so I'm pretty introverted and shy for the most part. I don't often go out of my way to connect to other people or to connect to others on a purely social level. The internet, blogging, and social networking have helped with that at least a bit, as I do find such things fascinating, but still I tend to naturally remain enclosed in my little personal bubble of space more often than not. However, astrology has really helped me to understand others better in the same way I've learned to understand myself.

After analyzing and ruminating on my own birth chart to understand myself, I began doing the same with the charts of those who have been major players in my life over the years and so many things began to come clear. I began to understand why my parents have really never understood me despite the fact that I'm sure they love me in their own way. I realized some things about why my marriage to my ex didn't work out and why it most likely never would have. Likewise, I also gained some insight into why my fiancé and I seem to be so tightly bonded and so perfectly matched. It's all right there, written in these birth charts and how well one chart does or doesn't gel with another.

They say that everything happens for a reason. They say there's not much you can do to change relationships with other people that just don't seem to have a natural harmony about them. Now I think it's safe to say that I believed those things. However, it's also a fair statement to say that I never actually felt I saw evidence of those maxims before I started evolving into a serious student of astrology.

"As above, so below."

If I were ever to get words tattooed anywhere on my body, it would probably be those words because of how true they are. There's something up there -- something in the heavens that was put there to help us understand ourselves and this wonderful world we're living in, a star map of sorts. You can use it to guide yourself and to help figure out the best way to guide others as well. To understand what's going on here below, you can look toward the above to put yourself on the right track. I find that sublimely comforting in more ways than one. Perhaps there are others out there who do as well.