I had a conversation with a friend and fellow meditation practitioner yesterday about material possessions – and attachment to them. We both are fairly minimalistic in our actual felt need for stuff, but we also have a few things we’re pretty attached to. For me, the laptop I’m writing this on has become pretty important in my life. I felt a lot of concern when it was on the blink a month back, and wondered if I’d have to get a new one. There are a few other things, objects attached to memories, that I’d certainly have a hard time parting with. And some of my books – I’m definitely into books. When I think about most of the things I have some attachment to, it’s the lack of replace-ability, or difficulty to replace, that seems most prominent.
A letter or gift from an old friend, family member, or lover. An autographed book by a favorite author. A live, bootlegged recording of a concert. All of these things, once gone, can’t come back. And yet, when you consider it more closely, they are merely symbols for what is already gone, already lost in a certain sense. The value to us is in the ability the object has to make us recall, to experience again what we once experienced. But this re-experiencing is itself different, and although it may feel wonderful, or bitter-sweet, it can never be the same as the original.
So, there’s something curious about attachments to objects. And I think those of us who live in wealthy nations, and have a lot of stuff, are highly prone to having lots of attachment to many objects. And it’s causing a lot of misery, don’t you think?
People can, and often are, attached to objects that have zero monetary value. The three sentence letter my grandfather wrote me about his pocket watch a few years before he died wouldn’t get me a single slice of bread in a trade. I’d rather not lose it, at least for now. It’s probably not something that will cause me great misery if it is suddenly gone, however if a building fire took away all such things in my life at the same time, I certainly have enough attachment right now that I’d feel pretty damned miserable.
And maybe that’s okay for a short period of time. However, there’s a difference between healthy grief and the madness that comes from over-identifying with objects that ultimately can’t last forever.
In the end, material possessions aren’t really “ours” anyway. They come and go, just as each of us come and go. So, it seems wise to not hold too tightly to any of it. Easier said than done though, isn’t it?
Old Letter by Umbrella Shot @ Flickr