We live on a property fifty kilometres out of town, so a truck doesn’t come to us to carry away our refuse. We have to take it to the rubbish tip ourselves every three months, and usually combine it with a picnic dinner in a pristine spot.
Rob loads the SUV with sealed plastic bags that emit a whiff of their slowly rotting contents. He follows these with open sacks of recyclables — plastics, flattened cartons, tins, bottles and jars. Several rusted bicycle wheels and a box of dead globes are stashed between them. There’s barely room for me in the front, a picnic basket on my knees containing our dinner, and two folding chairs to sit on down at the beach at sunset, where beauty and fresh air abound.
The trip to the tip takes twenty minutes. We open the windows slightly to let out the spreading miasma of decay, and breathe through our mouths so we don’t gag. It’s a very long twenty minutes, spent driving past green paddocks dotted with leaping lambs and curious calves. We barely notice the idyllic pastoral scene because we’re focussed on trying to get through the landscape as quickly as possible to unload the pile of despicable things threatening to spill over our shoulders and onto our laps.
In Stillness Speaks, Eckhart Tolle asks:
What is your relationship with the world of objects, the countless things that surround you and that you handle every day?
He advises I appreciate an object for what it is, and feel grateful for its existence.
But we’ll ignore that for now and get back to the nightmare.
Things get worse at the tip. Giant skip bins with scratched and dented sides already contain piles of horrible things that I try not to look at as I empty our sacks of recyclables into their gaping mouths. The grating, screeching sounds of tumbling garbage fill the air. Then I fling the stinking sealed bags of rubbish over a barrier and into a deep tip-truck tray parked below. The squelching thuds as they hit the bottom make me wince.
I don’t want to be here, surrounded by noisy, smelly reminders of past moments. I long for the beach. For an ocean breeze. I want to be enveloped in nice things. I want to nibble blue cheese, sip chilled white wine, spear a gleaming cherry tomato in the salad with a pristine fork.
But Tolle’s words haunt me as I pick up a crushed tissue and squashed prunes packet that have escaped their bag and lie on the ground near the car. I hold them up and examine their reality for a few seconds. I silently pose questions to them, much like Hamlet did to poor Yorick’s skull.
Does something have to be “nice” to be appreciated?
Are these two derelict items distasteful, or is it just my perception that make them so?
Is there anything in the physical world that has no value?
Why should I despise anything?
I toss these last two thought-provoking items into the abyss, wash my hands, brush off my shoes, and leave the rubbish tip a different person from the one who’d arrived in a state of revulsion several minutes before.
We still wind the windows down to let out the lingering stink of things we don’t need any more, and I smile with pleasure and anticipation as the grey stretch of the Southern Ocean comes into view. I revel in the gentle walk along the beach with Rob and relish the picnic. That cherry tomato is as delectable as I’d imagined it would be.
But I’m humbled.
Living with mindfulness
Every single thing is beautiful. Every single thing has value. Perfumes and stenches are ultimately the same. One day I will be rubbish.
Through selfless appreciation of the realm of things [including the kingdom of rubbish], the world around you will come alive in ways that you cannot even begin to comprehend with the mind.
Our next trip to the rubbish tip will be different. It will be filled with a bit more wonder.
With love, Marlane
First published on Medium.com/Illumination