Once, in my hay day of materialistic devotion, I was struck with a sudden realization that still guides many choices of consumption in my life. I was in my mid twenties, relatively successful, handsome, drove a BMW, and was on a path towards accumulating MORE to be happy. The main difference between a Beamer and a cactus? The pricks are on this inside... Ok, on with the story!
One day while eating lunch outside Whole Foods, I watched as my minds image of the perfect car pulled up. It was probably a quarter million dollar Porsche turbo, but I don't quite remember and that's irrelevant. I was initially hit by a sudden wave of envy. Jealousy poured through my veins and I felt like I could literally pop. This guy had it and I didn't!
The man rushed out of the car, it was clear he had only a short amount of time to grab a bite to eat before rushing off to the next meeting. Intuitively I got up and walked around the parked car, appreciating every detail of the craftsmanship. The body's impressive lines and flawless paint job, the interior's fine materials and stitching, an overall sense of wonder for the power under the hood. In that moment of utter appreciation, I felt like I was staring at a work of art in a museum. The whole rarity and elusiveness only added to my enjoyment.
When the man came back we locked eyes for a moment. A quick head nod indicated he was too busy to chat as he jumped in cockpit holding a sandwich with his mouth. I sat down and resumed my leisurely lunch and was hit by an equally intense wave of gratitude. I relished hearing the engine purr as he drove off. Waves of pride washed over me. However, this pride was free of ego, I was proud of what the human race could create and for this simple recognition of beauty. I chuckled to myself thinking "No monthly payment needed!" It's like I felt pride in ownership, but I didn't own a thing. What did I own? I looked down at my clothes and shoes and they seemed like temporary travelers, soon to meet their fate at The Goodwill. I became immediately comfortable with the truth that I didn't even "own" them, all matter was being recycled and repurposed in this eon or the next.
I began experimenting more with this idea that I own nothing, yet everything in this universe is here for my enjoyment. Clearly we can't take any "thing" with us when we die, so what's all the fuss with possession? We must live within a system of ownership but we can choose to be free from it. So, logically, I started living minimally and purchasing less. I relished opportunities to practice cultivating feelings of appreciation. Fancy houses or public parks, wherever I went, I pretended that I owned the earth and all that rested upon her. The same waves of enjoyment only required a few silent moments of meditation.
All was fair game, all was for me to acquire in my mind. Shortly after acquiring this abundance, I imagined giving it all away to friends and acquaintances. I'd walk into someone's house and feel the pride of ownership and then the joy of giving it back to them. At this point you probably think I was going insane, but I knew that most people play stranger games in their own heads. My mind-monopoly-charity game was harmless.
The final stage of maturity has come several years later. Now, I "technically" own several properties and some nice "things". My roots are deep. I have a wonderful partner, whom I love. Life is now somewhat centered around the structure of relationships and obligations to land and business. I am no longer the minimalist that I once prized myself to be, floating with the wind. Yet, a new understanding has come, largely based on a simple Buddhist saying; remain homeless and single, despite your life in a homestead with a spouse.
To me this means, go ahead and have anything you want as long as you can hold the truth in your heart that you have nothing and possess no one. This is the contemplative balancing that I need now. Pretending I own the entire universe also still serves me well. I come back again and again to balance, and realizing that companionship is a beautiful way to see everything in our life. Yet, our lover, our friends and our family, are not our only companions. Sometimes it's a car. Sometimes it's our favorite jean jacket that we've had since college. Sometimes it's a favorite song to sing. Sometimes it's that necklace that we've been wearing so long that we forget we're even wearing it. Can we put a price on this companionship? Choose what you celebrate; create the meaning and significance for all that is in your life.