Today while walking through the park I saw a little road-sweeping truck crossing my path ahead of me, kicking up a huge amount of dust. I stopped in the middle of the road I was walking along to let it pass on its way, and to wait for the dust cloud to clear.
I stood there, nothing to do, nowhere to go for a bit, and noticed ahead of me a vast tree, one of the park’s giants. I remembered how illuminating that tree had been for me in the past, such a masterwork of nature, but I never see it any more. But now I’d stopped I’d seen it again, and marvelled once more at its size and beauty.
The Great Unfolding of the Energy of The Universe as I like to think of it.
Only when I stop can I see anything. Not just physical things, but other realisations or insights too. Nothing becomes clear until I stop, then things have time to appear with clarity on their own.
But seeing as we humans rarely stop these days, it’s usually hard to see anything clearly at all.
So I’m stopping more. Observing. Enjoying the view!
Yesterday I walked past a huge electronics store in the center of town, a place I’d bought a computer and endless peripherals years ago. And I found myself automatically thinking “there must be something I need. What could I need that they’ve got?”
And then I remembered, “I have everything I need, I don’t need another thing in my life!” It felt like an old habit had been clicked into action, a pavlovian reaction - see shop, must need something! We are trained to buy!
I’m finding that the truth that I already have everything I need to be happy can be applied to so many different areas of life. There’s no need for more of anything. No more things. I have everything I need to be happy already.
In fact I’m releasing things again as much as I can. Stashes of old art materials, more books, projects, plans, old ambitions… I have an idea about reducing everything I personally own (not including shared family items like our car, just my stuff) to what fits laid out neatly on our dining room table, clothes included, and I think that would be about the right amount of stuff to own.
Less stuff, less plans, less running around, gives me more space. And I’ve discovered how much I need space to feel calm. A long time ago my wife and I made a decision never to put more than one plan into a day. Like going somewhere, eating out, meeting friends. Whenever we break that rule and fit two or three things into a day, we are overloaded again!
But back to things… I have been reading about non-hoarding in the anthology of Ghandi’s writing, Soul Force. His ideas are very strong:
In observing the vow of non-hoarding, the main thing to be borne in mind is not to store up anything which we do not require.
…Non-hoarding refers to stocking of things not needed. Non-stealing refers to the use of such things. If I need only one shirt to cover myself with but use two, I am guilty of stealing one from another. For, a shirt which could have been of use to someone else does not belong to me. If five bananas are enough to keep me going, my eating a sixth one is a form of theft. Suppose we have a stock of 50 limes, thinking that among us all we would need them. I need only two, but take three because there are so many. This is theft.
…The principle underlying all these vows in truth. By deceiving oneself, one may refuse to recognize an act of stealing or hoarding as such. Hence, by taking careful thought we can ensure at every step that truth prevails. Whenever we are in doubt whether a particular thing should be stored or not, the simple rule is not to store it. There is no violation of truth in renunciation. When in doubt about the wisdom of speaking, it is the duty of a man who has taken the vow of truth not to speak.
This seems terribly fierce to our western eyes, so used to abundance. But it reflects so clearly on a global scale. So much over here, so little in developing countries. The more I take, the less someone else has somewhere else – it all seems to me to be an obvious matter of equilibrium. Ghandi seems so fierce because his version of truth makes me feel uncomfortable.
But putting it into practice makes me happy. Giving away my hoard of unused art materials to the old ladies that collect and redistribute things at the local church, and thinking that someone else is using them, makes complete sense.
And from there it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion not to buy and hoard anything unnecessary in the future. I discovered that one of the books I had given to the homeless guy who sells books in the park had ended up being bought by a friend of mine who had enjoyed it. My wasted hoards become someone else’s pleasure.
This is a line of experimentation that I have a long way to go with, I still hoard many things and it will take a long time to release everything I don’t really need (and I come from generations of hoarders, so the habit-energy is very strong!), but it feels like a healthy way of life. Non-hoarding, and Not-needing. With very little I can be very happy.
Finally, I was at first amazed to find reference to hoarding in Lao Tzu’s wonderful Tao Teh Ching, but then I wasn’t surprised at all – as Ghandi says, these truths ‘are as old as the hills’:
…The sage does not take to hoarding.
The more he lives for others, the fuller is his life.
The more he gives, the more he abounds.
- Tao Teh Ching, Lao Tzu, Translated by John C. H. Wu, Shambala Dragon Editions
And now to stop writing for a while. It’s very hot, and the season dictates a slowing down…
Breathing in I know it is hot…
Breathing out I smile at the heat…
I leave you with two great reading recommendations:
1. The above mentioned Tao Teh Ching, by Lao Tzu, Translated by John C. H. Wu, Shambala Dragon Editions. So perfectly brief, such wisdom.
2. Two Treasures, by Thich Nhat Hanh – which includes and comments on two fantastically named texts: The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, and The Discourse on Happiness.
And a contrary recommendation that I will be taking up myself – read less, practice it all more!