“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden.
Comfort in the Parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.
Possessions don’t make us happy! Situations do.
Possessions, desire, covetousness, craving, yearning, lust; these forces drive humanity. Somehow each generation of moral thinkers know these things are ultimately wrong and look for something deeper. With virtually every major religion and most schools of moral philosophy reiterating this through the millennia it’s surprising any of us even pretend to a higher conscience in the age where consumption is a human’s primary role.
A Taoist monk wearing a coat made from cast-off scraps of cloth as a sign of his un-attachment.
And yet, each generation produces it’s share of radicals who cling to the hope that we can get more from life by having less.
At some point, some of us have an epiphany about what is truly important in life. It’s not the pursuit of money. Life is short, so if you don’t enjoy what you do from day-to-day, them something needs to change. Look around. How many ways are people and companies trying to sell you something you didn’t even know you wanted? Is it worth selling your soul, one hour at a time? Not to me. Not any more. Like so many people before me, I wasted much of my youth. Not all of it, but large swaths of time were sold away to an employer for mere money. Not that giving time to a cause is an evil in itself. Helping a friend, working with kids, or teaching a skill; all are noble pursuits and are, in a sense, work. These things just don’t fall into that class of mindless drudgery that makes up most day jobs.
Filling a McMansion with things you don’t need while struggling to pay the mortgage is not a road to happiness. It’s the road to enslavement.
Even in our hobbies, generally they are just fillers. Something to be done in our leisure time, and somehow not part of “real life.” Isn’t this backwards? Shouldn’t we fill our days with things we love; music, family, reading, writing, wandering, or just plain idling? We are taught to criticize the idle and there is possibly some logic to it.
At a family or village level, its easy to see how we might resent someone who doesn’t pull their weight; and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean we need to forget to live a satisfying life along the way.
I am often amazed how angry even the most privileged people become when they think someone is getting a handout for free. Taking this to an extreme, people relish in the schadenfreude*.
I think many of us are that person at some point in our lives, but with spiritual growth, this petty thinking will be only a phase.
Finding your joy. In this case, a little wine, song, and presumably, camaraderie.
We have, as a society, confused real and honest work, with mindlessly stumbling to a job. Even with a so-called “good job” most of us have no stake in our employer, other than making sure the check comes regularly. Choosing to not punch the clock does not make one a slacker. My friends and acquaintances who choose to live outside this system are the hardest working people I know.
They just don’t sell their lives cheaply for others’ gain.
Maintaining a garden is work, but providing for yourself and family directly eliminates the constant need for the middle-men.
Taking control of your needs, even a little, alleviates some of the more abstract time demands paid out to someone else by serving yourself directly. The most negative comment I have heard about doing these things for oneself is “I don’t have enough time!” Yes, doing things like gardening or making clothes or furniture or tools takes time but at some point it becomes a trade-off. Is it a bigger waste of time to commute and hour to work each way or spend two hours with the kids in the garden?
For me, there’s no question; and I’m certainly not the first person to reach this conclusion.
Finding your inner peace. Dervish, with leopard and a lion, ca 1650.
I think this need for, or as a result of, spiritual awakening is the driving force behind many religious and philosophical movements over many thousands of years. And, of course, they are all the one true path, religion, paradigm, whatever-you-call-it (leading to division, persecution, strife, and war; some irony, eh?). Once the epiphany hits, there is realization that the system is not really necessary. To make it through life, few possessions are truly essential.
Join me on a journey to a better life…
A well-known photo of the personal effects of Mahatma Gandhi.
“Chase your passion, not your pension.”
— Denis Waitley
*Schadenfreude– the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune; an all-too common evil in humanity.