Am I myself without my stuff? Surely, the answer is yes, right? We reside somewhere in our minds in our brains in our bodies, and the outside world is just something with interact with to achieve our goals.
However, I’m not so sure that is true, at least for me and the Sandman. I just watched the Netflix adaption of the classic comics, and while appreciating its gorgeous visuals, dynamic cast, and intriguing story, I was also struck by just how much the main character wanted his stuff back.
Captured for 100 years, the Dream lord Morpheus is deprived of his sand bag, his helm (helmet), and his powerful magic ruby. He also witnesses the killing of his friend and sort of familiar, a talking raven. All this leaves him understandably traumatized, and once he is finally freed he is not the same as before. He is obsessed with finding his stolen things and goes on difficult quests to do so. Sure, they have his magic, but beyond that, those things are a part of him.
We too outsource our identity to our stuff– which is one reason it’s hard to part with them. They are memories, portkeys to another time, or they are symbols of who we are or want to be. They are crutches we depend on or security blankets we are afraid to lose. Though both these objects have infantile connotations, they are absolutely necessary at the right moment.
For me, this makes it so it’s hard to clean up and purge – how do you reject something that is (or at least was) part of you? Sometimes our stuff is threatened by outside forces, as well – like someone who once was close but is now an adversary. When challenged, you cling to your stuff – rightly, like the Sandman, or to an extreme degree, like the old lady in the Labyrinth covered in childhood junk.
Who is to say which one you are, righteous or extreme? Assertive or selfish? That’s bearing in mind, of course, that we are all skew towards rationalizing our own thoughts and actions but not others’. Who deserves the stuff?
Sometimes this stuff isn’t even physical “stuff,” but comes in the form of roles we’ve had, or even people we know who fill a role in us. When someone else takes that role, that person, what does that make us? Are we still ourselves?
It can make your head swim to think about it. But that uncomfortable process of discernment can perhaps help us, too, since our selves do a lot of changing. Losing, struggling, and gaining can get us closer to the truth of who we are without all the outsourcing to the stuff. Dream grows through his loss, processes it, and evolves. Though he loses the ruby, he actually gets more powerful. He also grows into someone who is less guarded and more compassionate. While he initially guarded his position as ruler with a bit of an iron fist, after his experience he is eventually secure enough to share that responsibility with someone he trusts.
Perhaps learning to truly outsource to others and trust, as opposed to using people for what they mean to us, is the goal for us all. And maybe wanting our stuff, for now, is just a natural response to being a small, scared little animal. Either way, at least for now, this mess around me has plenty of me in it.