Saturday, 26 March 2016

Can Stuff Bring Joy? My Buddhist Perspective

Yes.  It can.  Some people proclaim that they prefer experiences to things but quite often these experiences require things.  If wandering the world with nothing but a backpack and a few possessions is your idea of bliss and you can do this forever, then you may be one of the few people for whom life is truly about the experiences.  For most people, I would suggest it is finding the right blend of possessions and experiences that is the key to enjoying life. 

Know yourself and where you find meaning, what activities lift your heart, what makes you feel energised and what makes you feel relaxed.   While these may be activities, chances are they require a bit of stuff to support them.  This is the stuff to focus on, to put money towards, to consider accumulating. 

I spend a lot of time at home, in part because I have a restricting illness but also very much because I prefer it.  I prefer time alone or one on one with certain people.  I like to feel rooted to a comfortable and comforting place, whereas some people like to feel unrooted and free.  One is not better than the other.  I have other ways of feeling freedom. I am sure we all like freedom, but how we define it and experience it is probably quite varied.  I typically don't like rules imposed from the outside but will often make rules for myself.  Since I am a benevolent dictator I am quite free to break, bend or change these rules.  In my time alone at home, I want and need to feel cosy, to be surrounded by things I appreciate and enjoy,  I like certain colours and textures and patterns, I like books and plants in abundance.  I have more purely decorative items than your typical minimalist and yet I do use some of the same principles minimalists use to guide their lives. 

My Buddhist practice reminds me constantly that it is attachment to these things, to my life as it is, to the life that I want, which can potentially bring me suffering instead of joy.  I make it my practice to emotionally let go of them, to remind myself that I could lose them at any time and life would still have to go on.  I do not wish to carry on in misery so how can I prevent the chances of that misery?  I must not identify myself with these things.  They are things I like, enjoy, some of them have sentimental value, but they do not define me.  When I left my husband several years ago, although he was mostly amenable to the process of dividing up our belongings 50/50 I knew I could not actually take 50 percent of what we because I was going from a large house to an apartment and I did not know what my future held.  I left behind things that had sentimental value to both of us, because it would not be fair to take them all.  Because I did take some that means he also experienced loss.  We had begun with the idea that anything that came from one person's family (heirloom and antique pieces of furniture or other items) was rightfully that person's but most of what we had came from mine, and I just could not take it all.  There are things I regret not taking sometimes but I can't wallow in regret.  It's pointless.  My garden was full of trees, trees which I had carefully chosen and typically received as birthday or Christmas gifts.  I miss my trees very much, but I could not take them with me. 

I do not have to toss out everything I own in order to immunize myself against suffering, and Buddhism does not teach that this is the right strategy.  I need to maintain awareness that there is always the potential for loss and it will hurt.  I can minimise this potential by having fewer things and being mindful of my emotional attachment to them.

I made a list of what brings me joy.  I'm sure it's not complete but these are the first things that come to mind.  Some are experiences, some are possessions, and often the two are intertwined.

People I love
Close Friends
Good conversation
Quiet alone time
Quiet time alone with a special person
My home
Reading
Writing
Painting
Cats
Books
Specific Art Supplies
Browsing in Book Stores
Buying new books
Feeling comfortable in my clothes
Good food, prepared with love
The view out my windows
A walk in fresh air
The seaside
Birds
Flowers, trees and shrubs
Clouds
A fire in my fireplace on a stormy night
Being alone in a smallish crowd of happy and friendly people
Singing
Avocados
Pine nuts
Goat cheese
Sun-ripened tomatoes


The more I put on this list the more I think of, but making it also made me think of some things I can no longer put on it.  Having celiac disease and a strong sensitivity to cross contamination there are some foods that I love which are off limits to me. The gluten-free replicas frankly do not match the original no matter what people say.  Real bread, including pizza dough, pie, oatmeal-raisin cookies.  But the list of what brings me joy is long and could get longer.  Most of it does not require much spending or accumulating though there is certainly some of both involved.  It's clearly the list of an introvert with a comfortable, if not abundant income.  I've faced starting over and while I always had a safety net in the form of family I also faced much uncertainty about my health, abilities and income.  I made it through that time and learned much.  I value my independence highly but I have also learned to value and appreciate having people in my life who want to help and I have learned to sometimes let them.  It's not a flaw to need others sometimes, it's a gift.  What better way do we have to connect with others than to help each other.  Sometimes you pay it forward instead of paying it back.

There is no living without pain and suffering, but I am determined to survive, learn and grow from it as well as minimalise it.  A great deal of luck is involved and I can take no credit for the country I was born in or the parents I was born to.  I am not a Buddhist who believe in reincarnation and the associated karma.  I am a person who believes in the effectiveness of Buddhist philosophy, and in that sense I walk the middle path, I am a mediumist and not a minimalist or maximalist.  This is the way that works for me.  If it can work for you I am happy to share my experiences and thoughts.  If it isn't right for you, let's just have a cup of coffee and talk about our different experiences.  No agenda, other than such a thing is on my list of what brings me joy.

2 comments:

  1. I like your list of what makes you happy! You have good things on there.
    I wish having things didn't make me happy but they do a lot of the time!xx

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  2. It is lovely to catch up with your blog. I remember reading about the middle path a while ago (on your blog) and I think I understand what you mean by it. Who says you have to believe in reincarnation? From my understanding of Buddism, it seems to focus less on belief and more on 'finding out for ourselves', because beliefs by themselves don't amount to much.

    There were times in my life when I believed in it (reincarnation) and also times when I wasn't sure....right now, I don't care. To be honest, none of that matters to me. I think about many spiritual concepts, but I'm aware that I don't have all the answers and that doesn't frighten me.... Whether I was born before or not, I couldn't care less. The only thing I'm sure of is that I wouldn't like to be born again. Like Frida said: " I hope that the end is joyful and I hope I won't return.' One life seems more than enough for me...and hard enough.

    There isn't much difference between believing in paradise, reincarnation or just afterlife (in the sense that energy can't simply disappear, it must be tranfered into something- that is one of the law of physics...and some people said to me they do believe in some kind of afterlive even if they don't do religion). I do think about this concepts sometimes....It would be lovely if one could somehow achieve paradise (eternal happiness) without achieving perfection and enlightment but somehow I doubt that is possible. Anyway, I don't think that it is important what religion or philosophy we believe in, what kind of afterlife we take for granted etc...what is important is that we believe in something greater than ourselves, that we take responsibility for our actions (at least some of them) and that we learn from our mistakes....as I read in one book, we create ourselves with our choices.

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