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True Stories: Excess Baggage

For the last year, I have considered myself a practicing minimalist. After having spent two weeks in Costa Rica in the winter of 2012, living out of a suitcase, I became overwhelmed by how much stuff I owned when I returned home. In the weeks following my return, I got rid of furniture, old CDs I never listened to, books that I would never read again, and DVDs that I hardly watched. Yes, that copy of “The Cable Guy” that I got over ten years ago and may have watched once had to go. I felt much better about my living situation once this clutter had been removed.

This process of letting go is called non-attachment, or dispassion. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lists Attachment as one of the five causes of all human suffering. If we hold no attachment toward things in our lives, we will not suffer for that attachment. In letting go of all these excess possessions, I thought I was doing pretty well.

That is until I realized something about myself. Yes, I can boast about letting go of all these things that I did not need, or did not serve me, but what I recently discovered is that the more I let go of the proverbial “fluff” in my life, the more attached I became to the possessions I had left. I found that it’s not the non-attachment to the things you can easily do without that will end suffering (in most cases), but letting go of the things that you have strong attachments to.

This revelation was brought to light as I returned from visiting family in Mississippi for Christmas in 2012. The day before I flew back to Michigan, I contracted the flu and it really began to set in, naturally, on the flight home. After hours of flying and delays, I landed in Grand Rapids about two hours late completely and utterly exhausted. I wanted nothing more than get my bag, drive home, and lose consciousness for a few days. That was not to be my fate.

After exiting the terminal, I went to the baggage claim carousel and waited. Just a side note here, how often are we left waiting for our “baggage?” In the literal sense, though, my baggage never came. All hope inside of me shattered in an instant as I watched the carousel go around and around until it eventually stopped. I was sick. I was tired. I wanted to cry.

I ventured over to the service desk and twenty minutes of “tracking” later they found that my bag never left Chicago (one of my layovers). With all of the delays and gate changes, it’s a miracle that anyone’s bag made it. The airline representative told me that it would most likely arrive the following day and they would deliver it to my apartment in the early afternoon. I accepted this, though I was bitterly angry. We were late arriving, and now I had to head out into early-winter Michigan with no coat (I conveniently left it in my checked luggage) and drive home.

The next morning I woke up and felt like death had visited me in the night and done a half-ass job. Every muscle, every bone, every hair follicle on my body ached. In hindsight, this is probably the worst I have ever felt. I wanted nothing more than to overdose on Nyquil and sleep this thing off, but alas I could not. I had to wait for my baggage to arrive. I took the non-drowsy, non-working medicine and waited. The afternoon came and went and I waited some more. When night arrived, I finally took the Nyquil and gave up hope for the day.

My bag didn’t show up the next day either. Or the following day. To top it all off, the flu was not abating. It clung to me with talons that dug deep. When I called the airline for information, I got someone who must have been in India and who I could barely understand. All he could say was “Please give us more time, sir.” I wanted to hit him.

So in not having my bag, it was losing the “necessities” that I suffered for first. In those first three days, I had to replace some of my day-to-day needs. Deodorant – Toothbrush – Toothpaste – Face Wash. Mind you it hurt to move, so going to the store was quite the trial.

I called again two days later and got the same response. Except in this case my weakened physical and emotional state got the best of me and I cried upon hanging up on the customer service rep in India. I felt helpless and like someone had stolen my things…my baggage. It felt like injustice. That sadness turned to anger, which manifested itself in the most interesting ways.

The first was that a rebellious and defiant part of myself surfaced and decided that I was not shaving until I had my bag back, because within my bag were brand new razors. As I’m sure you know, razors are not cheap and I refused to buy replacements. In my defense, I did have a beard trimmer, so I wasn’t going all Grisly Adams.

Five days after returning home, I had to file an official claim with the airline, which consisted of inventorying every single item within the bag and its value. This process took an entire day and only fueled my anger. I don’t like being angry, so I did the next worst thing and tried to ignore the problem. Ignoring it was hard to do, because as I made a list of everything in the bag, I realized that most of my favorite clothes were in there.

After two weeks without the bag, I got my first paycheck in January and spent $200 replacing much of what I lost. I reached levels of retail therapy that I had never known, and I honestly felt better for it. I got a ton of clothes on clearance (and discounted more on top of that), new socks and underwear, and even a new coat. My closet and dresser felt full again. That and I didn’t have to do laundry every few days to keep up. Mind you, I’m a practicing minimalist, so I didn’t have many clothes to start with.

In the clothes and necessities department, my attachments were abating and my suffering was easing. But there was one item in the bag that weighed heavy on my heart. No, it wasn’t any of the Christmas gifts that I lost. It wasn’t the amazing loose-leaf tea I purchased in New Orleans. It wasn’t even my favorite set of pajamas. No, it was a pair of shoes.

I am ashamed to admit this. I’m not a shoe guy, believe me and never have been, but back in October I bought the coolest pair of shoes that I’d ever owned. They were black leather dress boots that came just above the ankle and zipped up the side. They had a one-inch heel that gave me little extra height (I’m 5’6”, so I need all the help I can get). When I wore these shoes, I felt confident and I was “the shit.” I mourned for the loss of these shoes. I had planned to wear them on New Years Eve and for several events thereafter. I complained to friends about my loss, much to their dismay, and I had to fight off the urge to by new ones, because there was still a slight chance that I might get the originals back.

I guess the most yogic way to end this story would be to say that my bag never arrived and got over my attachment to these belongings, but I am grateful that’s not the case. Almost six weeks after my baggage went MIA, I received a call from the airline that they had found it at last. A few days and FedEx later, I had all of my things (my literal and metaphorical baggage) back.

Now there’s irony in all of this. I tried being minimal but in buying all the replacement stuff, I now have more clothes than I have ever owned. And though I had my razors back, I decided to keep the beard a little longer.

The moral of this story is not that I practiced non-attachment successfully, far from it, but that I was able to watch myself have this experience and learn more about myself from it. I realized that as I get rid of the excess baggage in my life, I become more reliant on that which I have left and it is that end attachment that can cause the most suffering for me. Also I got my shoes back, and that, of course, is the most important thing.


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