Integrate or Disintegrate

by Joe Lafferty on April 18, 2006

A caring friend of mine sent me a copy of an article or book which was challenging, but very helpful. I tend to cram a lot into my life – and sometimes this takes its toll. I guess I’m learning to be more peaceful, operating out of rest, rather than excitement and anxious activity. Clearly I still have a way to go, or my friend would not have noticed – and cared enough – to share this with me.

Hope you get something out of it – and if you can let me know the source, that would be great. Don’t want to infringe copyright.

Now to the pile of books in my bedroom…

What if you get what you wish for? Will you live happily ever after? Or will you just have created a job vacancy for another wish?

My friend and teacher Gloria Karpinski has a good nugget of wisdom: Don’t lust for more than you can integrate. This doesn’t mean you can’t have big dreams and ambitions, just that you should be aware of the line between desire and greed. This is such a good idea. When 1 heard it I thought it was meant for me. I have spent a lifetime with my eyes bigger than my stomach. The result of this, alas, is that your stomach ends up being a whole lot bigger than your eyes. Lusting after more than you can integrate has a lot of other direct and visible consequences. You have a cupboard full of once irresistible clothes that you hardly ever wear. Think of Tmelda Marcos’s shoes.

Or you fill a diary with dates. It makes you feel loved and wanted, but beware being the type of person who always cancels at the last minute, or who arrives perpetually late, perpetually rushed, because you’re trying to cram in one more undigested, unexperienced experience. When friends begin to feel just squeezed into someone’s life they eventually squeeze themselves right out again. A friendship that isn’t integrated soon disintegrates.

Perhaps, like me, you have a serious book habit. The painter who had to shift hundreds of books to get at my walls said, ‘Have you really read all these?’ ‘Oh yes,’ I said, exaggerating a bit What about the piles of books by my bed? If they were apples they’d all have a couple of bites taken out of them and lie in a rotting heap. Books don’t do that. They just lie there patiently gathering dust until I decide to take another bite from one of them. The rot is in the effect they have on my energy, the way they silt up my space. I think back to when I bought each one. The inviting pile of new books in the bookstore. Only a few pounds each. Educational. Good for the soul. I was brought up to equate books with virtue, so an impulse buy is easy to justify. But back home it soon goes on the pile. And unintegrated books just mean more to dust.

And what about the evening classes which are going to change your life, abandoned on the first wet winter night? The correspondence course uncompleted. The miraculous beauty creams half-used in the jar. The exercise machine gathering dust in the spare bedroom. The sailing boat that never leaves the boatyard. The gym membership that’s unused after six weeks. Never forget that Mr Colman of Colman’s Mustard once said he’d made his fortune from the mustard that people left on the side of their plates.

Why does this matter? Because it’s all a waste – a waste of money, a waste of whatever it is you spent the money on – and because it’s the visible evidence of a huge failure of self-discipline and self-knowledge. And because the detritus, the clutter unintegrated possessions make, is so depressing. It clogs up the emotional arteries of our lives as well as our cupboards.

What T did that worked, in terms of curbing the lust for more than I can integrate, was to buy a fairly small wardrobe and never have more clothes than could comfortably hang in it. It would be a good idea to do the same with bookcases.

I don’t think that I, or most of us who aren’t monks or nuns, will ever quite crack this one because we all live in a society where happiness is identified with acquisition. But I’ve learned to ask not ‘Do I want this?’ but ‘Do I really, really, want this? Where am I going to put it? Am I ever going to use it?’ I’ve learned that what I don’t integrate disintegrates, and with it/some of my bank balance, my energy, my sense of order and my peace of mind.

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