Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Too Much Stuff

Every January, a friend of mine posts an invitation to the "Month of 100 Things" on Facebook. It is a call to donate, recycle or otherwise dispose of 100 things we no longer need. I never find this too challenging, because I am the opposite of a pack rat. I can easily donate clothes we no longer wear, toys that are no longer played with, and books that I won't reread. The challenge for me is to not fill the emptied space with a bunch more stuff. I am not an excessive shopper, but I like to buy clothes, shoes, books, and toys for my kids. I know we have plenty, and possibly even way too much stuff, yet we always seem to accumulate more. I also recognize that it feels good to purchase something I like. I like getting rid of 100 things every January, but I see that it's pretty scary that I have 100 things I can easily part with!

I was recently reading a translation of the Yoga Sutras in Desikachar's book, The Heart of Yoga, and I was struck by sutra 2.7: "Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it will contribute to everlasting happiness." I interpret this to mean that we are searching for happiness from our stuff, believing it will take away the pain of everyday life. We find it difficult to part with things (or to stop getting more things) because, for a short time, something new makes us excited again. The new toy is always played with the most, but it will eventually end up forgotten at the bottom of the toy box. Once the newness has worn off, we are no longer interested. We feel the same old feelings of loneliness or isolation, sadness or irritability. What do we do? We go shopping for something to make us feel better again. But everything loses its luster over time, even people. We age, our bodies and faces look different, and not in a good way. It happens to all of us, yet as a society we spend so much time and money trying to fight against it. We try to keep our external appearance shiny and new, just as we search for the newest car or phone to fill us up again. We keep looking and looking outside, we buy and buy and yet we aren't satisfied.

I think this sutra is pointing out that we aren't happy because we are looking in the wrong place for fulfillment. Yoga teaches us that inside, we are all whole. Instead of facing outward, searching for pleasure and avoiding pain, we need to turn inward. Our true essence at its core is perfect, in every one of us. When we attach to stuff, we lose sight of our own capacity for joy. I don't need a new iPad to feel content, peace is always with me if I choose to access it. I can sit quietly, listening to the wisdom of my own heart. I can allow this moment to be, without wishing it were something else. I can open to the universe and feel a part of it all. I can do all this anywhere, I don't need a new cushion or special chime to find bliss. I recognize that I have all I need, and I can continue to work on releasing the itch to acquire more.

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