The Things You Own End Up Owning You

By Anthony Gold

I first encountered this thought as a young teenager reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. In her fascinating tale which I recently re-read, she contrasts two fictional societies – one very much like ours and another described as an ambiguous utopia.

In the world that mirrors our own, citizens are concerned with possession and the striving toward increased wealth in order to purchase more things. Class hierarchies, competitiveness, and power struggles are the norm of everyday life. Most poignant and central is the belief that happiness comes from externals such as possessions, stature, and health.

In the utopian world, inhabitants are focused not on ownership, but by how they relate to others and what they can do for them. In fact, there is no ownership. Everything is shared. “All you have is what you are, and what you give.” In this, they are free.

When we own things, attachment naturally follows. Pronouns like “mine” and “yours” frame our possessive communications, and in some cases we go to great lengths to “protect” what is “ours”. Homeowners and parents know this very well.

In the 1999 anti-consumerist hit film Fight Club, Tyler Durden cautions the unnamed narrator played by Edward Norton, “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

Of course, the ultimate possession is what we call “me”. The attachments we form to our body and our self drive nearly all our actions and our sense of joy (or lack thereof). We define happiness by what we have (money, friends, partner, possessions, health) and how it relates to our position in society. And much of our definitions of good and bad are tied to the (potential) impact on that which we call “me”.

The dreaming of the world takes many forms, because the body seeks in many ways to prove it is autonomous and real. It puts things on itself that it has bought with little metal discs or paper strips the world proclaims as valuable and real. It works to get them, doing senseless things, and tosses them away for senseless things it does not need and does not even want. It hires other bodies, that they may protect it and collect more senseless things that it can call its own. It looks about for special bodies that can share its dream. Sometimes it dreams it is a conqueror of bodies weaker than itself. But in some phases of the dream, it is the slave of bodies that would hurt and torture it. (T-27.VIII.2)

With this eternal ego focus on “me” (my needs, my family, my life), the thought of a “shared oneness” is impossible. We own and are owned by the ego. And it isn’t until we withdraw our belief in this extremely limiting thought system that we can experience a true happiness – one that is dependent on nothing but the awareness of the divinity within. From such a state, indescribable joy naturally flows.

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore this concept of being owned by our possessions and how we can begin to see things from a completely new – and liberating – perspective. I look forward to seeing you then.

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