Q: It probably isn’t spiritual, but I just love stuff. We need stuff. How can we strike a balance between “too much” and “just enough?”
A: I’m probably not the best one to write about this, because I’m one of the stuff-lovers. I should ask my daughter – she seems to have found that balance you’re talking about.
It’s the balance between not wanting to be so stingy that you never have any fun or treat yourself, and being so overwhelmed with material things that you can’t walk a straight path through your house and have a huge credit card balance. Neither attitude brings much joy to your life. Worrying about money or things isn’t very helpful, either, so that’s the energy I would like to focus on first.
Think about the last time you went on vacation. Chances are you didn’t take that much stuff with you. A few changes of clothes, your toothbrush; you’re good to go. So you’re living your life with the bare basics and you manage just fine, right?
So now think of your home and everything in it. A little much? If you’re like most people, probably. Just for a minute, take a mental inventory of all of your possessions. What do you have a lot of? What don’t you have that you think you need? This exercise may give you some clues as to what’s going on in your life.
I looked around our house. I’ve got a lot of blank journals and pens, blankets and dishes. What can those things symbolize? Journals and pens speak to my love of the written word and need to communicate, blankets represent my need for comfort, and dishes speak to my love of entertaining and nurturing people through serving them food.
Try it – maybe by making the unconscious conscious you won’t need to keep surrounding yourself with those symbols. Your awareness is enough. You know you love the written word – you no longer need outward proof of that. It may just be your soul wanting you to understand yourself better by giving you those longings.
Another aspect of materialism is the theory of “not-enough,” the illusion that you are always lacking something. If your neighbor has a bigscreen TV, suddenly you feel a void in your life. You’re now convinced that a bigscreen would make your life worth living.
How did you ever function without it? But as soon as you get it, your friend buys a new car. And you’re off… after the next thing that will make your life complete.
There’s only one trick – you’re searching in your outer world for that which probably can only be found in your inner world.
Here’s another thing you might want to think about: imagine that half of your life’s energy flows to your outer world, while the other half flows to your inner world. What is your balance between the two? I think they need to be balanced, or you will overcompensate in the physical world if your spiritual world is lacking.
You can ask yourself what feeds your soul, what makes your heart sing? It can be dancing, or singing, or laughing, or being with friends, or reading, or meditating, or yoga. You get the idea – the list is endless.
If you find yourself spending most of your waking hours working, running errands, cleaning, cooking, taking care of others, WITHOUT any of the spiritual activities, you’ll probably feel tired most of the time, resentful, crabby, and blah.
So you may try to lift your spirits by buying things – after all, you deserve them – look how hard you work! But you are finding that those things that feed your soul are mostly free and don’t involve bringing things into your house or going into debt.
Again, I want to be crystal clear that in this particular instance I am working with all of this right alongside the majority of Americans – it’s a really tough one to get a handle on. Stuff is so much fun! But if it’s too much for you, it’s just too much.
Our culture traditionally doesn’t help nurture our inner world. As soon as we begin to meditate, we are inundated with meditation catalogs, full of colorful zafus and zabutons, prayer beads and metal Buddhas. Great! Enlightenment through shopping! Be spiritual and get more cool stuff. Win/win. Not so much. Just more of the same.
To get off the road that leads you to the same destination, you need to… get off the road. The first step is awareness, I think. Become aware of your attitude toward things, and money, and desire for things. Try just sitting with those feelings without judging them. Just sit, stay, and breathe, focusing on your possessions.
Who would you be without your things? How would you feel if you were to come home and find that a fire had destroyed everything? Would you still be you? Think about it – a lot of times we’re defined by our surroundings. The size of our house, the make of our car, the brand of clothes we wear, what art we hang, what kind of food we eat. To separate ourselves from those trappings may be an interesting thing to think about.
So now you may have some tools to help you become more aware of your habits and attitudes toward material things. That’s great. But I think there’s another layer I’d like to add to the mix. This is the thought that things ARE meaningful – they represent aspects of you that can be seen by others.
When they see what books you read they get an idea of your beliefs. When they see the beautiful painting in your front room, they can be moved by its beauty you have chosen to include in your life. When they hear the music you love, they can love it too.
You’ve shared your inner life with them through your outer life. And that’s really important as well. It’s not to be totally dismissed as frivolous and fake and not spiritual. I think everything is spiritual – it all just depends on your attitude toward it.
If there’s a lot of energy that goes into just the acquiring of things, or acquiring of only certain things based on their value (or the value that others have placed on them), then that may not be the most beneficial attitude you can have, but only you can figure that out.
For me, I love beautiful things, and would rather have one really spectacular thing than a house full of things that I feel mediocre about. The other balance for me, also, is being blessed with abundance.
I feel it’s my responsibility and duty this time around to help others, so giving is an important part of my life. I have a lot of things, so I can give to others who don’t have ENOUGH things. Through the physical world I can also help bring balance in the physical world. If everybody who has a lot of things would give to people who don’t have a lot, we would ALL be a lot better off.
It gives you a new perspective on the world. Giving of your time, money, talents and things becomes a part of your spiritual work, and affects your inner world as well. It’s no longer JUST about acquiring as much as you can. As the bumper sticker says, “Whoever has the most toys at the end of his life, wins.” I don’t think that’s true, so I’d re-write it to read, “Whoever has helped the most people by the end of her life, wins.”
Change your focus, learn more about yourself, learn to just sit, learn the beauty of selfless giving. And learn about the balance, and what that means to you. Then your life won’t be “just enough” – it will be simply perfect.
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