One thing about zen teachings, or perhaps Neo-Confucianism, is to detach from material things “of the world”.
Now, I’m writing this from the United States, so perhaps folks in other countries may not see this subject the same way.
In this country, most folks are downright obsessed with possessions, to the extent we even have a TV show about hoarders. I can speak on the subject a bit because a recent revelation (the TV show) enlightened me to the fact that I have some of the same compulsions to hang on to things. I mean no disrespect, some people have a bit of disorder, to use the term loosely, and it’s not that they don’t care or they are slobs, it’s an emotional/mental thing. I have a touch myself.
I could never sojourn to Tibet and be a good monk. This I know. I like my coffee maker and my car, and the list could go on about the number of comfort and entertainment objects I would prefer not to do without. Some folks in this country are so enthralled by their “things” that there is a boom in “self-storage” facilities. These are rows of garages or whole buildings with garage-like rooms in which you can store your stuff if you have way too much to fit into your house. Okay, there is some legitimate purpose to self-storage. Perhaps you’re moving, between cities or houses or jobs, and you’re living in a small-but-adequate rental property, and you have some nice furnishings and other gear that needs to be stored until you get into permanent digs. Or maybe you live in an apartment but you’re fortunate enough to own a jet-ski or snowmobile or antique car or what-have-you, and legitimately need some storage space.
On the other hand…
The newest TV show is called Storage Wars, and in this one we watch folks buy abandoned lockers full of stuff. Sometimes the things that are left behind and abandoned are mind-boggling. Sure, in some cases people have passed away (a euphemism for died), or maybe they went to prison or for some other reason have been spit out of the universe like a watermelon seed, but in many cases it’s just that people can’t keep everything and can’t even afford to keep paying for the storage locker.
I’m fortunate (perhaps?) to have a large house in which we raised five kids. Now they’re grown, but we love the old ark and stay on here. That’s part of the problem. Sure, it can’t hurt to keep that [fill in the blank] in case someone needs it, we have plenty of room. Then again, it seems somewhat doubtful that anyone we know will eventually need a cobbler’s last or an 8-track tape player or a manual typewriter or a “perfectly good” picture frame measuring 40 by 30 inches, with just the slightest chip on one corner.
So, for the last couple of years I’ve been vigilant to avoid picking up anything, ANYTHING, we don’t actually need. And, slowly but surely we’re getting rid of the old Mixmaster (that just needs a plug), the one mismatched chair (that just needs one leg glued) and the “Swamp Thing” in the barn (sans engine), the forerunner of the ATV. (If you ever saw H.R. Puffenstuff on TV, it’s those six-wheeled things they drove around on).
Okay, here comes the paleontology part. An article in Smithsonian Magazine (or was it National Geographic?) states that over in Germany, in a cave, they found the oldest artifact of human creation, dating back 40,000 years. It was a little statue, hand-carved from Mammoth ivory.
So, it’s not just me! Apparently, humans have desired objects of possession since the last Ice Age! Imagine, in a world where there were no houses, public transportation, L.L. Beans, sailboats or vacation tours, someone took the time to carve a statue. At a time before Clovis people invented arrowheads, and folks hunted in groups with sharpened sticks, when the main focus of twenty hours a day was finding enough food to feed the cave clan, somebody sat on a rock and carved a statue!
This could also be treated as a premise for an article on creativity or beauty, art, sculpture, culture, or a number of topics, but in this case we’re focusing on objects of possession. Notice it wasn’t a knife handle, a pestle, a fish-hook, a shield, a horn or anything else that could be considered useful. (Well, it’s possible it may have held some magic powers, but let’s not get more lost than we already are.)
When you think about it, though, humans are not alone. There’s some bird somewhere that decorates its nest with all kind of found objects to attract a mate. There’s the phrase “shiny things to put in my nest”. Apparently “trade rats” are known to collect all manner of unusual things, though I’m not sure why.
None of that helps me, of course. These things don’t have 4,000-square-foot nests.
Then again, a cave can be pretty big…
I came into this life with nothing and will leave it with nothing. In between birth and death, I believe the most important things we have are: A) Each other, and B) Our inner light, our relationship with the cosmos.
Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac,
gangsta whitewalls, TV antennas in the back.
You may not have a car at all,
But remember, brothers and sisters,
You can still stand tall.
Just be thankful for what you got.
(William DeVaughn, 1974, Roxbury Records)
I hope some of you will share your stories about possessions, or battles with them.
Be at peace,