I’ve been thinking a lot about things in the last few weeks. Not just “things” in the most general use of the word, but actual physical things. You know, objects, stuff.
I have long had a dichotomy within me that means that although I have certain hoarding and collecting traits (books, CDs, films, trainers, notebooks, pens), I often wish to cast aside all possessions I have and live like Thoreau in his little shack by Walden Pond.
In fact it was one of Thoreau’s observations that I first came across a decade or more ago that sums up the root of this idea of material burden.
He saw a man passing by, with all his worldly possessions tied up in a small bundle and carried over his shoulder. This was everything the man owned in the world, upon his back. Thoreau felt sorry for him, not for how few possessions he had, but for how many.
So why do “things” give us comfort, and promise, and hope?
Physical possessions don’t have a mind and a will of their own. Owning stuff, and organising it around us exactly as we please makes us feel powerful, in control, safe even. In a world that, according to the media, is almost entirely unsafe and out of control, and where we often feel completely powerless.
This overrides what we may actually know deep down – that true comfort and security comes from an internal faith or belief that you can overcome adversity, that you can look after yourself, that life will work out ok in the end, and so on.
A new car may promise us happiness, or that we will be more attractive, or we will feel better driving it. It may well do, in the short term. But it won’t last. And if you had to stretch your means to fund such a new possession, that will only add to your stress or dissatisfaction, not bring happiness.
But still, shiny new stuff allures us. My head is easily turned by new gadgetry! Surely this is more about the doctrine of advertising we’ve been fed for so many years, rather than a natural instinct? Or is it?
Sometimes, things give us hope. A new notebook gives us the hope that we can fill it with wonderful flowing writing, maybe the best writing that’s ever left our mind. A new book might give us hope that we can escape to a fairytale land or that somewhere far better exists.
New equipment, a new studio, new materials, gives an artist that amazing, invincible feeling, that anything is within her reach, anything is possible, and potentially only moments away.
In all of these, once we delve a little deeper, as you can see, it’s not about the stuff at all. It’s about the feelings stuff gives us.
What if we could bring these kind of feelings to ourselves – feelings of hope, happiness, power, comfort – in another way?
Or, maybe even more important a question, what if we could evolve to a place where we didn’t NEED to feel these feelings so desperately as we think we do now?
What are your own thoughts on “things”?