Many spiritual thinkers, including Don José Matsuwa, the 110-year-old Huichol shaman with whom Brant lived and studied for 12 years, believe that having too many possessions around us can detract from our inner peace and balance. When we learned about the work of thought leader Barry Dennis, who advocates simplifying one's life and decluttering as a means to achieve a less stressed, happier existence, we decided to ask him a few questions. He is the author of a new book called The Chotchky Challenge.
We were intrigued by your idea of "chotchky" -- anything in excess that hinders, distracts, or diverts our attention away from what matters most in life, our "soulful" pursuits. What kinds of things are chotchky?
There are three levels of chotchky: things, body and mind/soul. Thingotchkies can be any thing we have too many or too much of. With things, there is a "line" and once it's crossed it becomes chotchky. Is it one pair of shoes, or two or three? Of course not. It's when we have so many shoes we get confused, even stressed or "apparelyzed," as we stare into our bulging closet.
Bodyotchky is generally food (but can be other stuff too) that enters this precious storage space called the body and is harmful. Anything eaten past the point of hunger, no matter how healthy it may be, is foodotchky.
A good example of mind chotchky is informotchky, the never-ending stream of useless info designed to hijack our attention, causing our thoughts to dwell upon trivial, frivolous matters.
Each aspect of chotchky affects the others, and it all piles up on our soul as our dreams lie neglected in a heap of regrets. One day on our deathbed we may think, "If I had only channeled all that money and energy into my passions..."
How can you tell when people, media and even thoughts have crossed the line into being chotchky?
Peopleotchky are those who do not nourish our souls, but encourage self-destructive, habitual behaviors. Re-cycle them!
Media crosses the line very quickly and often. It's out of control. If you walk into a post or a person while texting, your smartphone has just made you dumb. Wake up!
Thoughtotchkies are sediments floating around in our brain such as worry, fear, revenge, anger and hatred. Very little, if any, good ever comes from such negative thoughts. They can, however, be transformed into excitement, bravery and even joy.
How does too much chotchky cause stress, or tip our lives out of balance?
Everything in excess requires attention; it takes energy. Some things are worthy of our energy; these are not chotchky. However, when we have stuff around that isn't really important but we have been thoroughly convinced by society that it is, we then begin to take for granted what really does matter. Our relationships, our health, our passions, our work and our world slowly begin to bear the brunt of our neglect.
Like you, many spiritual leaders advocate living simply, with few belongings. What are some simple ways to start changing one's overconsumption habits?
Begin practicing "precycling." When the urge to be a "good consumer" overcomes you and you want to "buy" just as an addict wants a fix, pretend for a moment that the thing is already yours. In fact, realize that there is often a sense of happiness that comes before you even own the thing, before it's out of its packaging. Sometimes, what you really want is the feeling you think it can bring you, which of course it can't. This is why as soon as you get it home, the feeling is gone. It has no feelings to give you -- you brought the feeling with you. You carry it everywhere you go, often smothered under chotchky, but it's there! Once you have the feeling, put the thing back and hold to the truth that you already had it, in your size, in stock, in your favorite color, always available in one very exclusive outlet store, YOU! Precyling gives us the ability to reach into the future, saving for ourselves, the earth and generations to come the precious resources needed for a brighter tomorrow.
What are some of the immediate effects one will feel from throwing or giving away all the excess stuff in your closets, pantry, kitchen cupboards, bathrooms, garage, basement and everywhere else?
Freedom, peace, ease, the ability to breathe again. Every piece of thingotchky is basically stress captured in a physical form. As you let it go, so goes the stress.
What would be the collective effect of an entire community that chose to take "the chotchky challenge," and get rid of all the excess in their lives?
You would see a collective return to sanity. Authentic power awakened en masse. There would be a holy retooling, as everything produced would have to, in some way, support the health of the community. Not because it would be a law, but because this practice would become common sense.
Barry Dennis is an internationally known inspirational speaker and spiritual teacher. His new book is The Chotchky Challenge: Clear the Clutter from Your Home, Heart, and Mind...and Discover the True Treasure of Your Soul (Hay House, April 2012). Learn more at www.BarryADennis.com.
For more by Brant Secunda and Mark Allen, click here.
For more on stress, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.