Dear Still Water Friends,
Awakening to Craving: Exploring Our Relationship to Material Objects
Thursday, May 27, 2010
For the past several months, Baird and I have been discussing having an evening to talk about our relationship to our possessions. We’d like to share a bit of our own personal and ongoing journeys on this path, share some readings, and then invite you to contemplate your own journey on this path.
Like many of us, I struggle to find balance about how much to own in a life and society that seems inundated by material possessions as well as messages about what kind of person I am or will be if only acquire this car or that shirt or that picture or dish. Some of these messages are external; some internal. I often find myself asking ‘how much is enough? And do I truly need this? And if I get this, does this mean someone else somewhere else is going without?’ Several years ago, I underwent a pretty profound and perhaps dramatic approach to this question. I had decided to leave my job and explore a professional change, and in doing so decided to simplify my life by giving up my apartment and moving in with friends.
In preparation for this, I began to look at the objects I had acquired and accumulated over my life that now dwelt in my one bedroom apartment. As I began to sort through closets and cabinets and boxes, I began to realize how much I was holding on to things, often for emotional reasons such as insecurity, fearfulness, anxiety and that in fact, I felt weighed down by things. So I gradually began to sell or give away many things. There were times when I confess: I felt some pull to not let something go, so I kept that object. And there were times when I simply felt repulsed by all the things I had, many of which I never really looked at any more or enjoyed. I took so much pleasure in seeing how giving or selling objects to someone else really made them happy. There are hundreds of these stories, but I remember giving away some 20-year-old violin sheet music that I hadn’t looked at in years, to a young violinist, who had come to my ‘apartment sale’ with his father. With each object like this that I let go, I began to feel much lighter.
During the process, I also became aware of a craving that I had never noticed before, this deep feeling I had to have stuff. As I began to examine the seeds and roots of this craving, the feeling began to diminish. I clearly remember one day, after I had spent weeks sorting through stuff, I walked by a shop that had a beautiful green mug in the window. I felt drawn toward the window, toward that object, and was so aware of WANTING that object…of thinking how having that mug to drink my coffee from every morning would make me feel. It was neither a pleasant feeling nor an unpleasant feeling, but it clearly had the sense of craving. So I spent about 10 minutes standing on a busy DC sidewalk, walking back and forth, looking at the mug, enjoying the color, feeling the craving rising in me, feeling the other feelings that came along with it — wanting to be seen a certain way, wanting to feel secure, and then slowly feeling the craving ebb away. In a sense, that was a pivotal moment to me.
I decided to spend the next two years buying only what I needed. And I also decided that when I felt that same sense of craving, I would practice with it and would refrain from getting that object. At first, this was a bit hard, but then it became easier and easier, and gradually, the sense of craving was replaced with a sense of liberation and freedom that I can’t even describe in words. I began to see myself in relationship to possessions in a whole different way. I often think about this experience in terms of the 5th mindfulness training, which invites us to ‘not cover up loneliness, anxiety or suffering, by losing ourselves in consumption.’ I can see more clearly now how much my relation to my possessions and holding on to them was not allowing me to look deeply at my fears and suffering.
We invite you to notice or reflect if you have experienced craving like this before. What images or desires arise? Is there a feeling under the craving? How does craving feel physically in your body? How has it felt to acquire an object with this feeling? Instead of acting, have you ever sat with the craving until it gradually goes away?
Perhaps in the next couple days you’ll find yourself wanting some possession badly, and you’ll have a chance to observe this in yourself.
For the session, we invite you to bring an object or a representation of the object that may help you reflect on this. Baird will be leading a guided meditation at the beginning of the dharma discussion.
Maria Sgambati and Baird Straughan
Excerpt from 5th Mindfulness Training
I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.
Link to New York Times article on “What Could You Live Without”
Stop Shopping and Other Buddhist Practices to Save the Planet