One tool to exercise against the accumulation and retention of material items is the guidance of Buddhism. While a religion to some, it is also an insightful list of lessons for the human mind’s unhelpful tendencies.
A quick primer: The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are that (1) suffering exists; (2) suffering arises from attachment to desires; (3) suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases; and (4) freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path. Basically, we wouldn’t feel so bad if we stopped wanting things we can’t have. This goes not just for material items but for life circumstances as well.
As discussed in my last post, Admire Versus Own, the feeling of wanting to own something that we believe is beautiful instead of simply appreciating its beauty, is a manifestation of the second Noble Truth. If we can’t own that thing we desire, we feel bad. That bad feeling may come in the form of frustration that we don’t have enough money to afford it or we missed an opportunity to purchase or inherit it. Then we feel bad; then we suffer.
We also form emotional attachments to the objects we already own: our mother’s old china, the broken watch our grandfather passed down, the 9th grade science project that still evokes pride, or even the project we started but never finished. These attachments tend to be stronger and somewhat buried. The effort to dig ourselves out is daunting, so we just keep the stuff. But instead of tackling each of these items individually, we can ease the process by reshaping our mind. We can practice non-attachment wholesale.
If we don’t attach ourselves to objects, if those desires subside, we can free ourselves from that aspect of suffering. If we don’t attach ourselves to objects, we can avoid allowing them to- destructively- become a part of our identity. If we acknowledge the truth in this, then we open ourselves up to a freer life and one with less suffering. Unlike other types of suffering that seem to attack us from out of nowhere, this one is completely self-created from start to finish. We have the ability to create this mind shift and enjoy life more.
Practice of the Eightfold Path (the 4th Noble Truth) is another tool. Much of this guidance is common across all religions and our collective understanding of what it means to be a good person: don’t lie or gossip, don’t steal, don’t be jealous, etc. It also introduces the idea of mindfulness: having a clear sense of one’s mental state, feelings, and bodily health. I think of mindfulness as simply a pause. It’s a bit of space we can create, millimeters of distance between our initial emotions and the resulting reactions, that can result in miles worth of greater understanding and patience.
In my next post, I’ll explore how, much like less = more, mindfulness = minimalism.