“When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is utter waste. But when you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.”
For the past few weeks I have been reading the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text composed sometime between fifth and second century BCE. It is one of two texts Mahatma Ghandhi read regularly, the other the Sermon on the Mount. Both texts could take a lifetime of pondering to understand.
I picked up the Gita in my on-going research into world religions. I’ve recently read influential authors in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Native American spirituality; even Atheism. Within each text I continue to look for hints of truths about our existence, links between the religions and science. It has been an enlightening journey.
Perhaps the reading influenced me, or maybe my wife and I simply decided it was time, but we have been spending our spare time cleaning out our house of extraneous objects. For anyone who has cleaned out a closet and felt “lightened,” you’ll understand the underlying motivation.
The goal is to take everything out of every closet, cabinet and off every shelf; clean it properly, and only put back the objects we need or love. We’ve spent about five full days working at it and are over half way. The amount of stuff we have taken to our dump is, well, shameful. Shameful not because we’re getting rid of it. No, shameful because we even had such excessive stuff in the first place.
The impact on us has been tangible, and quite remarkable. Our house has become calmer. Not calmer because of quieter children, but simply more relaxing. My thoughts seem clearer, less cluttered like our house. I use to seek out coffee shops for writing. Now, I’m much happier at home. There are less distractions, my eyes move to nature out the windows more often. Deep breathing comes naturally.
My priorities are different. At a store the sales clerk gleefully announced we had earned a free gift. My wife and I looked at each other and declined it. It was not something we needed. Now purchases are much more about need than desire, a truly liberating feeling in our world of hyperactive marketing and consumerism. Watching commercials has become somewhat baffling.
I’m not going to argue material possessions are evil, or even bad. Let’s be honest, our reality demands certain objects for humanity to exist; even if those are simply food, water and sex. Instead, my experience suggests these objects distract us from a happiness that comes from within. When we are constantly looking outward at objects we miss the point, in my mind.
That said, I find myself still wrestling with the possessions in my life. There are a number of items I simply love having around, from photos of family, to art work, to specific books that have taught me something important. Or what about need? Do we need the good china? What about the regular plates and cutlery? What do we truly need? Where is the line between a true need and a need to fit into our desired societal place?
The thought of removing these items brings up a source of angst within me. Would I be happier without these objects? I simply don’t know. I am not anywhere close to seeking poverty, but this inner tension is likely the next phase of transformation for myself.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:2