Towards Freedom – Materialism and Possession

I think it fair to comment that a swathe of humanity is somewhat obsessed with material things; houses, ‘phones, cars and maybe even yachts. There is a desire for the less concrete material things, the man-made things, like position, status and kudos. These are the markers, the accoutrements of the show-and-tell story of success, material success. People attach a lot to objects and stuff. Some houses are brimming. There is a like of the shiny, the medals, the trophies of societal conformity. One can even have a trophy wife and post-nominal letters. These things can be taken away, an event which causes distress and suffering because of the attachment, thereto. People have possessions and are possessed by them. That which they are attached to has power over them. In the hunger for acquisition rarely does it occur that people are giving their power over to their possessions.

If you are to be free then the equation of freedom is that the fewer things that have material power over you there are, the freer you become. In the limit of no possessions, one might wander the streets penniless dependent upon the hand-outs of others. This, depending upon mind-state, is a state of powerlessness. This can also not be free, because of the dependency. Is there perhaps a happy medium? Well in a world where relative might operate, there is. One can have only those belongings which one actually needs and that suffices. Many acquire way more than this, perhaps in a vain attempt to satiate some hunger, some hole in being. Their “happiness” is correlated somehow, to number count of material accoutrement. It is straightforward to see that, in such cases, the thinking behind is faulty.

Even then it is likely that some degree of clinging to accoutrement occurs. This clinging is needy and not free. If one uses, with respect the needed things, knowing that their use is a temporary gift of the universe and without a sense of entitlement, there is less attachment. Non-attachment without respect is wasteful and profligate, it engenders a throw-away society. Non-attachment with respect is perhaps a hallmark of a free being. In this one has no belief that the universe owes us a living or anything much at all. Thereby one is grateful for the loan of the material things offered, yet not attached to having them.

Materialism implies a lack of spirituality, which comes in many flavours and degrees. Despite all the reason, logic and justification, many find that some sense of spirit is the icing on the cake of life. Without it life is incomplete, unfinished. In our times spirit seems to be dying in favour of material, it may be that this underlies the tremendous levels of world angst and anger. This is an opinion for you to consider.

There are many wise quotes that suggest materialism is a hollow path, that whilst shiny and bauble laden, offers no lasting happiness or peace. This gnawing materialism is insatiable; at the end of its rainbow is the pot of enough, which cannot be found because for those so oriented it simply does not exist. This elusive enough, often sought, can cause suffering. It is sought with the wrong mind-set and motive and ergo, is elusive.  There is a Buddhist expression which I am fond of; hungry ghosts. A ghost then is a being divested of spirit seeking always to quench a thirst and silence a hunger pain, in the netherworld of materialism. If you don’t believe in “actual” ghosts, perhaps you can see the manifest hungry ghosts walking alongside you on our streets? They are quite common, and they do come out during the day.

In order to walk towards freedom, it is necessary to reorient in respect of the material so that it all but ceases to have power over you.  Despite the prevalence of totems, relics and the like, they have no inherent power. The power is only in the mind of the reverential and acquisitional. This power is a mental construct attached by the being who holds it. These attachments can bind and hold.

Objects can be the talismans of memories, markers of stories and anchors of such. They evoke baggage and strengthen its hold. To be free of the past is to reconcile and dissolve it. To evoke and bolster it is unwise. In this respect sentimentality is a burden.

A major part of the obsession with materialism is, as I have hinted, this show-and-tell competitive social behaviours based in comparison mind and exploited by the advertiser. This fear of missing out on the latest grooviest thing is the marketer’s dream and a fundamental weakness in the herd of consumers. So many buy stuff they do not need so as to partake of a show-and-tell life. This to the extent of living beyond means in many cases. A trophy cabinet is of little solace when the creditors foreclose. You could say that this attraction to shiny baubles is a little primitive and yet pervasive.

If one looks ever outward to the material world for “happiness”, reward and acknowledgment, the inner world becomes barren and untended. There is no balance, no centre. It is difficult to be free when near perpetually off balance.  In this respect simplicity is a counterpoint to acquisition, where need as opposed to want or desire, is the basis of interaction with the material world. Not everyone can tolerate the idea of monastic sparseness, yet relative comfort without excess is liveable for most. And in not feeling owed, or attached, knowing that your tenure of goods is transitory not guaranteed, equanimity can be found. The concept of ownership and permanent ownership at that, is a human invention. Nature can at any time challenge human perceived ownership of goods and irrevocably so. This construct of ownership and possession is of human origin and thereby a part of the illusion of the common dream, the prevailing world version.  The mantram of “must have” is chanted daily by millions and it is not a mantram of peace or fulfilment. It is mantram of hunger. “Must have” is not free.

In order to be free, one must at least lessen the power which things and awards have over one. There needs to be a responsible lessening of attachment, perhaps in a stepwise manner. Slowly the umbilical to the world of materialism needs severed. To be possessed by possessions is to be hooked to them and their purveyors. And short of a full-blown exorcism it is best to wean yourself towards autonomous living and thinking. This addiction to materialism is powerful and it holds power over most.

Towards Freedom – End of Certainty

It all sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Feel the urge to wake up, get some control over mind and talking, escape from the world version born out of societal conditioning whilst being cognisant of a growing self-knowledge. At the higher overview level, it is simple, but as the illusion fades there is an inevitable end of “certainty”. When the parameters of the world and the basis of a life start to fade what shall replace them? As the goals and stories shared by the commonality cease to be so concrete, the “ideals” suspect and even the reliability of perception in question, it is easy to feel lost, bewildered and without anchor. How does one navigate a nascent consciousness within the context of the common dream or at least living adjunct to it? There is no other way than to improvise. As all those things held to be “true” fall by the wayside one after another it can be tricky.

The societal template starts to dissolve, and the advertiser’s nightmare is seen for what it is, marketing. It isn’t real. No matter how many Instagram pictures one sees, how many “buy a house in the country programmes” one watches, the only commonality is you. Wherever you go, you goes to. No matter how you dress it, what extent of plastic surgery and how many pals you may have, you. There is no escaping it. The only real certainty there is, is death. And so very many are shit scared of death. At its simplest life offers death, of course there can be much in between birth and death. It is my observation that not much thought is given to how one spends that time. There is little discernment and quantity tends to dominate quality in the manner of living.

I personally don’t understand where this “must have” mentality comes from, I can observe it. And it is this ambition, the acquisition lust, which has prevalence. I doubt its satiation brings anything other than temporary even instantaneous relief or gratification. When the moment passes it is back, as hungry as ever. But what is it all for? What does it mean? Few question for the “must have” holds dominion in one way or another. That field over the fence is so tempting in comparison to the grass at feet. And mundane success is so often measured by the extent of acquisition, whether that be money, fame, kudos, clothes or notches on the bed post. It is my hypothesis that the “must have” does not bring peace, freedom or equanimity. I may be alone in this hypothesis though I suspect deep down most sense this if only as the autumn of life approaches. By then there is enough anecdotal evidence that folly does not fulfil. This “must have” holds dominion and it seems that the certainty of success pivots around it.

Might there be more than one kind of success?

A life lived to build a curriculum vitae for public consumption and personal advancement, may look good on paper. One might be able to talk to it, justify it and explain it; it may bring kudos and cash. It is on paper and not in being. No list of achievements can comment of the state of being, the degree of freedom or of equanimity. If one is striving, does one have balance? It does not take too much thought to see that striving and balance are not cut of the same cloth. If all you have at the end of days is a paper list of achievements, then perhaps your earthly sojourn looks good on paper but what has been the true value of living? Without sounding like some religious zealot, it is reasonable to suggest that the answers do lot lie entirely in material advancement, acquisition and consumption. Anyone who has lived a while knows this. It is convenient to abey this knowledge in the conversations of face value of mutual justification which comprise much of human interaction. Somehow it is way too scary to be open about dissatisfaction with the prevailing madness. It is de rigueur to compare lists, no matter how hollow this game is. If you take away the certainty of list-living it can be cognitively difficult to construct a justifiable sequence to peers and family. This end of apparent certainty is unsettling. If one seeks freedom, then that always goes hand in hand with a lack of certainty. There can be conviction that freedom is sought but how that might be achieved is fundamentally uncertain. There are no concrete boxes to tick to quantify success. One cannot draw graphs to talk to. All the life goals, often material in nature, are not the signposts or way stations on the walk to freedom. In fact, one may never arrive.

The broad consensus of living in the west has some materially quantifiable indicators of success, which provide a conversational framework for world version. Should these cease to apply then one has make a world version 2.0, and in between temporarily viable world version, there is no certainty. I have implied here that world version can be subject to a software update. In this the mind constructs a current world version operating system which is prone to update. But in the limit, there is no world version, just now. That now is of an eternal nature and updates second by second. To live in the now without apparent certainty is not to everyone’s taste. Freedom can be scary. It can have no comparators to give confidence, no metrics and few if any rules. Such an ill-defined world, a world not defined by social conditioning has less mental interpretive structure, it does not need justificatory sense making.

To walk toward freedom is to dissolve world version and do away with the illusory certainty. It is to stand metaphorically naked, a tiny being, against the backdrop of an awesome cosmos. This is reality. It is not the complex socio-political world version which humans appear to be enamoured of.  The world created in the minds of man, is inaccurate as regards its perceived importance within the cosmic context. Tiny beings deem themselves much more important and magnificent than they actually are. From time to time nature reminds mankind of its insignificance, those lessons are forgotten, and man carries on just as self-important and as self-absorbed as ever. The “certainty” of socio-political world version is tantamount though misplaced and inaccurate. 

If you want to be free, then you will have to end this apparent certainty of the socio-political world version and begin to see life for what is, accepting as you do the scale of your beingness. It is not to everyone’s taste to wake up from the demanding “must have” of the common illusion. Strangely if you don’t go to Santorini on vacation, can’t therefore post snaps on the internet or brag about it to friends, the universe does not implode. Why it does not do this is a complete mystery to me!

As it is phrased elsewhere one has to stop the world in order to get off. And it is only when you have gotten off that you can discern with clarity the extent of madness. Then one sees just how much assumption and supposition goes into building the apparent certainty of the common illusion. Once this certainty ends, questions begin, and learning starts. It isn’t comfortable. It is starting to be real.