There is an old custom in our culture called “khooneh-takooni”, or “house-shaking”. Before Nowrooz, the Iranian new year, we have to clean every little thing in our house. I remember asking my grandmother about the name “khooneh-takooni”. I asked her why don’t we call it “house-cleaning”, and what does it have to do with “shaking”? She said khooneh-takooni is much more than just cleaning, you have to move everything and clean underneath. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s the only way to really have a clean house. She also taught me to do something else during khooneh-takooni. She said while you move your stuff, try to look for things that you don’t need. For everything that you don’t use anymore, there is someone who needs it. She said, you’ll feel good when you give your extra stuff to someone, and you’ll also learn not to carry things with you that you don’t need anymore.
During the last 17 years, I’ve moved for 15 times, so I never had to do a real khooneh-takooni. But every year I go through my clothes, pick things that I haven’t used for a year, and I give them to The Salvation Army. Sometimes some of the items are still new, and it’s always hard to give away your new things. The rest are old and it’s difficult to say goodbye to your things that contain memories. But I always remember the last part of my grandmother’s advice: if I want to live lightly, if I don’t want to carry a lot of things with me, then I have to give them away.
During the last couple of months, I went through a complete personal Khooneh-takooni. It was (is) a painful process, I had to let go of many things; things that I was attached to, my beliefs, my expectations from life, my attachments, my joys, even my moral values. I knew it was time to let go; I could feel the weight of the last 10-15 years of my life on my shoulders. But it was time to grow, time to see the reality, time to redefine my life. But I wasn’t able to accept it; I wasn’t able to detach myself from my old values. Like a little child I got angry, I cried, I prayed, I cursed, I made up stories, but I was just trying not to grow; I was trying to stay a child.
Growing up is not a pleasant process, but when the time comes you can’t escape it. You can’t live in fairytale stories anymore. You need something more real, something tangible. Fairytales, like lollipops, might be sweet, but they won’t satisfy you forever. Keith, my beloved philosophy teacher, once said “When you tell your son about Papa Noel, you want him to believe it, you want to make a sweet world for him, you want him to wish for something and get it in the morning of Christmas, but who wants to marry someone like that?! You may play that game with her too, but if she really believes in Papa Noel, you definitely want to take her to see a shrink”. At some point you realize that Papa Noel is not real, but you still want to fake it for a while, just to continue getting your gifts. But deep down, you know that it’s just a story, and you start looking for something more real. Reality is not that bad after all. Reality is like beer, or olives; it tastes bitter at the beginning, but when you get used to its taste, you really enjoy it; much more than the fake sweetness of your childhood lollipops.
Last weekend, I had two very long conversations with two friends. One of them didn’t know anything about my recent thoughts – she doesn’t read my “notes” – but these days my thoughts seem to be too much to hide. That night, she told me stories about her life that she had never told me before. She told me about all the pain and suffering that she was going through. She even cried a little. Like a wise friend, I tried to comfort her first, and then I started giving her some good advice – I tried to tell her how to see things differently. I read Sutra’s from Tao Te Ching for her. I told her to see life the way it is, instead of holding onto her expectations of life. I said the only way to stop the pain is either to stop living or to accept life the way it is. I said she has to see the beauty in it by changing her taste. I said she should know those fake lollipops won’t make her happy anymore. I talked about the joy of the bitter taste of olives. I told her she needs a khooneh-takooni. I’m a wise man after all, and I know a lot of good things to say to people! But then, she suddenly looked at me, smiled, and told me that all those stories was her way of trying to give me some advice. She had made me put all that advice into words for myself. She said all of her stories were real, the feelings were real, even those tears were real. But she also knows that they are important only when she takes them seriously. First I felt angry, even a little betrayed, and then I was confused. It took me a couple of days to really get what she wanted to tell me.
These feeling are serious and real, but not important. They are serious because they can take a lot of energy, they can change one’s life, and they can seriously hurt. But when I detach myself from them when I look at them from a distance, or after a couple of years, I only laugh at them, and that’s why they are not important. I know after few years, I even feel nostalgic about the most serious problem that may be in my life right now!
All this time, I knew my thoughts were not important, yet I was still taking them seriously. Whatever I said before was absolutely real, about the emptiness of this world, about the unbearable lightness of being, the lack of excitement, everything. These feelings are very real, and very serious. But there are moments that I forget about the seriousness of these problems. Like yesterday, when saw a good flamenco movie; last week when I touched beautiful Japanese papers; when I put a picture of a little baby sleeping on my chest on my fridge; when I went to a great concert; when I was with a good friend and I saw love and support in my friends’ eyes and touch; when I listened to my great new CD; when the last minute, instead of going to the boring opening party of the film festival I took my friend to have sushi and sake, and then walked for hours in the beautiful streets of San Francisco; when I shared the joy of a good haiku with a friend; when I saw “Roads” for the 10th times; all these times I forgot about the emptiness. I could remember those “serious” and “real” problems, but they were not important.
It’s strange, but sometimes I think what makes me hold on to those thoughts is that I feel that letting the feelings of emptiness go would make me feel empty!
Now I lie down in my bed and I look at the view of the city: the bay, the sky, and the passing clouds; Arvo-Part is playing in my stereo, and I know that in neez bogzarad – and this too shall pass. I know in few years when I look back at these days I’ll feel nostalgic about them.