My lifelong collection of shells

As 2024 begins, what will you continue? What good practices, positive attributes, meaningful choices are you already making? The new year is always a time for intentions, goals, and resolutions. What if this year, we take a page from Maya Angelou’s book and consider how to continue? Maybe you (like me) hear the many messages in our culture about needing to  change, improve or be something else.  A recent practice I have opted to continue, is one of creating space.

Much like surrender and letting go, creating space in a variety of ways has been the single best practice I plan to continue in 2024. Creating space around my responses to things I find upsetting, and creating space in my schedule have not been easy for me. I will likely need to “continue” this practice for as long as I walk the earth.

I grew up on the gulf coast of Florida, but haven’t really called it home since I left as a 17-year-old heading off to college. When I return to visit my family, one of my favorite things to do is to walk the beach for hours and collect shells. Every visit home usually includes at least one day to return to the gulf to take a long walk in the powdery sand and do this collecting.

Last year as I helped clear out my first NH home (of 20+ years), I discovered jars, baskets, and ziplock bags full of the shells I had collected over the years. Neatly stored in various boxes for safe keeping. While I still have many shells scattered on window sills and in small dishes throughout my house, the sheer volume of these shells was alarming. The cumulative mass of these beautiful creations of nature had been stock piled. Even though my beach walks might have produced only a handful of keepers each time, they clearly added up.

My sister and niece drove up for a visit last summer. We spent some time sorting through various family photos and objects that I’ve been holding for her. Since she had her car, we decided it was time for her to take her boxes of belongings from my grandmother’s home back to Florida with her. In the spirit of creating space, I decided to gather my jars of shells and send them with her too. The shells filled a plastic tub and she offered to keep it until I made it back down to Florida.

We went down for the holidays this year. As if on schedule, a few days after Christmas, the gulf called to me. Even though it wasn’t warm or sunny, I loaded up my tub of shells and went to the beach for a walk. And to return the shells. The water was rough and choppy, and perfect for receiving. I waded into the cold water and scattered my lifelong collection of shells, one handful at a time. It was quite an experience… cathartic really. It felt good to return these beautiful treasures to the earth.

For 2024, I hope to continue creating space. I want to continue clearing my physical space by releasing belongings. I want to continue clearing old emotional baggage I have also been collecting. For me the shells became symbolic of the stuff I have held onto for many years. Instead of in jars, bags, baskets, and boxes I sense it has been accumulating in my body and spirit – weighing me down. I hope to continue creating space in my calendar and to prioritize what matters most; what feels important. After 18 years of teaching yoga on Saturday mornings, I am stepping off the weekend schedule as part of this experiment in creating space.

We all know that what is important is not the stuff we collect.