"One of the most basic levels of identification is with things: My toy later becomes my car, my house, my clothes, and so on. I try to find myself in things but never quite make it and end up losing myself in them." ~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
To extend upon our recent discussions of life, death and the ill-fated, ego-centric human obsession with things, I thought it valuable to add a few more thoughts on the perils of materiality.
Even if you are not a parent, you may recall or intuitively understand this simple progression of attaching and identifying with things outside of the self:
- A baby identifies itself as one with the mother: Think of separation anxiety. For most babies, it takes a few years to realize, "I am a separate being; I am not my mother." Until this realization takes place a baby can get extremely distraught when separated from its mother.
- A young child identifies with toys: Starting at the "terrible twos" one of the first words a young child learns is "mine." The child identifies herself with toys. Try taking a toy away from a two-year old. The result is often screams of protest. The child actually feels as if you are taking a part of her away.
- The adolescent and young adult identifies with things: My clothes, my iPod, my iPad, my car, my house, my money. The self-worth is interchangable and indistinguishable from the financial worth. If I have things, if I have money (or at least if I can make people believe I have them) I have created the image that "I am good" to others. By virtue of having (or at least showing) monetary and material wealth, one's social status is raised.
Displaying wealth and identifying with material objects is as old as humanity. Yesterday, I was helping my 9-year old son study for a Social Studies test covering native Americans in the Northwest Pacific region of the United States. A common custom of the region's people, dating back hundreds of years, was a celebration called a Potlatch, where a host demonstrates their wealth and prominence through giving away goods. While one might consider the Potlatch a demonstration of generosity, there is little doubt that the Potlatch result, and therefore the host's underlying motivation, was to raise social status by displaying wealth.
"Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest." ~ William Shakespeare
Demonstrating wealth is a manifestation of identifying with things outside of the self. Certainly, having things and displaying them can put forth to others the illusion of success, which can lead to greater social status. The risk with this behavior, however, is that the identification of self with things, and the more this behavior continues, the false rewards of greater monetary, materiality and social wealth have the cumulitive effect of burying the authentic self with layer upon layer of junk and stuff.
In a similar sense, although a topic for another post, the displaying of knowledge can be false and ego-centric. "Look at me, I have knowledge" is not different than "Look at me, I have a shiny new car." Both are pretentious and serve the wants of ego.
"I love to go and see all the things I am happy without." ~ Socrates
As I have said before, there is inherently nothing wrong with wanting more things. Where people lose themselves is in the perpetuation of a carrot-chasing, rat-racing mentality that is the pursuit of happiness, absent of contentment.
Do not seek more until you can be happy with what you have now. You'll save yourself, your money, and your sanity.
Rat Race Image by Polyp