Friday, August 28, 2009

Do Your Possessions Possess You?

Let's start with quotes from two people who learned very important lessons when they were facing death.

"I don't know what spiritual development really means. But I do know we're deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don't satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted" -Morrie Schwartz (an agnostic and a sociology professor)

"Whether the subject is bike racing, or cancer, or just living, comfort only takes us to a point that's known. Since when did sheets with the right thread counts, a coffeemaker, and an electric toothbrush become the only things worth having or working toward? Too often, comfort gets in the way of inner reckonings." -Lance Armstrong (an agnostic, cancer survivor, and 7-time Tour de France winner)

Here are two men with their new found wisdom while they were facing death. Not surprisingly, they echoed what the bible has been teaching us all along about the folly of putting too much focus and time on materialism (apparent in our "bling-bling" pop culture.) See Luke 12:16-21.

Don't get me wrong. I do realize there are some real necessities in materials like food, clothing, and shelter. I even think that it is necessary to maintain a certain level of appearance (because we have to make our "temple of God" presentable). However, many of us in our pop culture go overboard in our excessive spending on our appearances, on decorating our houses, and on "souping" up our cars. Our obsessions have gone way beyond necessity. Our obsessions with luxury are causing our miseries, as demonstrated from the following excerpt from Peace Pilgrim's teachings.
I remember a dear lady, who was up in years. She was working so hard and always complaining. I finally said to her, "Why in the world do you need to work so hard when you have only yourself to support?" And she said "Oh, I have to pay rent on a five room house." "A five room house!" I replied. "But you're alone in the world. Couldn't you live happily in one room?" "Oh yes," she said sadly, "but I have furniture for a five room house." She was actually working her fingers to the bone to provide a proper home for that furniture! And that happens all the time. All I can say is, don't let it happen to you.
Because of our preoccupation with materialism, we often miss the best things in life, which are free. Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them.
I'll tell you about one more woman. She was liberated, although not in the best possible way. I saw her only occasionally, but I happened to see her about a month after her huge house, in which she and her husband had been living alone since the children were grown, had burned down while they'd been out. They lost everything except the clothes they were wearing. Remembering how attached she had been to that huge house, in spite of the fact that it was such a burden for her to take care of, I started to say a few words of sympathy. But she said, "Don't sympathize with me! Now, you could have the morning after, but not now. Just think, I will never have to clean out that attic. I will never have to clean out those clothes closets. I will never have to clean that basement! Why, I've never felt so free. I just feel I'm starting life all over again!"
She and her husband were living in a sensible size apartment and, indeed, I'm sure they did experience a wonderful sense of freedom. But wouldn't it have been better if they had learned to give and had extended their surplus towards those who needed it? Then they would have been blessed by the giving, and others would have been blessed by the getting. In any case, it was a situation which liberated. (Peace Pilgrim)

If you have enough for food, if you have housing, if you have enough for clothing, if you have enough for a certain level of freedom in transportation, if you have enough money or insurance for unforeseen conditions or illnesses, and if you have enough for the basic survival necessities, you are fine and be grateful for all these things. On the other hand, it is not necessary to drive a Mercedes instead of a Honda. (That extra money you spend on a Mercedes could've been partly invested in funds to generate passive income to cover more necessary expenses and partly donated to the needy.) It is not necessary buy brand name clothing when there are a lot of beautiful clothes available for 1/3 of the price. (If you ever see me in brand name clothing by the way, they were gifts from others. The last time I bought a brand name anything was probably more than eight years ago and the price must've been drastically cut.)
I am not a slave to comfort and convenience. I wouldn't be a pilgrim if I were. We can allow false beliefs to govern our lives and be enslaved by them. Most people do not wish to be free. They would prefer to moan and chafe about how impossible it is to give up their various enslavements to possessions, food, drink, smoking, and so forth. It is not that they can't give them up--they don't really want to give them up. (Peace Pilgrim)

If I am to sum up this message in one sentence, it is this. Don't let your possessions possess you.
"I realize that if you don't have enough you won't be happy. Neither are you happy if you have too much. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest." –Peace Pilgrim
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Shu Chan 陳樹中


  1. Someone once said that you should look around in your life and ask yourself, if you lost your job and couldn't find another one for a while, what could you cut out that you absolutely don't need. When you get down to it, all we need is a roof over our heads, food in the refrigerator, electricity to power everything, and our loved ones. That's it. Sometimes it takes losing everyting for people to figure that out.

  2. That's another way of looking at it. That's very good, Stephanie. But I do have to add to your list of basic necessities, such as decent clothing, shoes, health insurance coverage, and probably a few other things I can't think of right now.