10,000 Pounds of Stuff
Dear Friends, Hi.
I can't believe it's November already. This past weekend we had our Saturday Sangha, which is our monthly community day (sangha means community that practices together), and we had a lively discussion about what we really need. This topic has been on my mind lately for a number of reasons. Mostly, I wonder how to live with the fact that my family is economically comfortable, and that I am able to provide easily for my children while so many other people cannot. And I wonder whether I am a good steward of all that I have been given, if I am sharing enough of what I have, or spending too much time, energy or money on trivial pursuits, when so much is desperately needed by so many all around the world.
A woman I met at the studio told me that she has been living in DC for the last eight months, having moved from the West Coast. She wasn't able to bring most of her belongings, so she has been living with everything that she was able to drive across country with in her car. Now, the moving company is planning to deliver all of her "stuff" that is in storage, and they told her that she has at least 10,000 pounds of household items that will be arriving soon. She wondered what, in that 10,000 pounds, she could possibly need, since she has been living all this time without missing it. I have been meditating on the concept of 10,000 pounds of stuff. This woman lives relatively simply, so I had to wonder just how many thousands of pounds of stuff I am living with. And how many pounds of stuff do I really need to be happy?
The Buddha, as you may know, gave his first talk on what he called the Four Noble Truths. The first truth said that dukkha, or suffering, is a reality in life. The second truth said that suffering is cased by tanha, or thirst. We all know that when we are thirsty, we take a drink of something. And we feel better. And we also know that regardless of how much we drink, or what the quality of the drink is, we are guaranteed that in a short time we will once again be thirsty. So similarly with our craving for stuff. This happened to me a few months ago, when I saw my friend Sally's cool new iPhone and I thirsted for it. When we thirst for something, we get temporary amnesia, so I really believed that I had to have the new iPhone. With built-in GPS, applications that allow me to record memos, and automatic weather updates, I would certainly be a happier person, right? Even though I know better, the habit of forgetting was very strong. Sure the iPhone is nice, but it's just a phone. My daily life isn't one bit more satisfying because of my iPhone.
Philip Moffitt, one of my Spirit Rock teachers, has written a wonderful book on the Four Noble Truths, Dancing with Life, and in it he addresses this:
Fulfilling your immediate and ever-changing desires does not result in a sense of well-being; instead it simply leads you to having more desires. Likewise, despite what your mind tells you at the time, not getting what you desire does not result in everlasting misery. In my experience, what makes life worthwhile is living from your deepest or core values.
So why is this so hard for me (and maybe for you) to live from my deepest intentions rather than reacting to my cravings? It's obvious from what the Buddha taught, and also what I have experienced, that purchasing more stuff doesn't lead to more happiness for me in the long run. It's also clear to me that it's not the desire itself that is the problem. Thirst isn't the problem, it's simply a fact of living life as a human being. We will always get thirsty, just as we will desire stuff that gives us immediate gratification.
The first noble truth about suffering says that there's a level of dissatisfaction that we will always have. But what really causes us to suffer is our forgetfulness. When we forget that the happiness we feel when we acquire our new stuff won't last, we set ourselves up for disappointment. If we pause before accumulating more stuff, we can remind ourselves that, "If I buy this product, I may feel happy for a short-time, but it's not going to affect my overall sense of well-being." If we do that, then we can go on to ask ourselves, "In this moment, what do I really want to do with my money (or time or energy)?" And we can choose to follow our deepest values, and possibly find a deeper, longer-lasting happiness. And maybe we won't need 10,000 pounds of stuff.
Does that fit anyone else's experience?