My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Here we are in the middle of one of the major shopping periods – the January sales – in many parts of the world. So maybe it might be useful to count all our belongings.
What really belongs to us? How much of our “stuff” is really ours.
First. Nothing belongs to us for as long as we have any debts. Our creditors can force the sale of all our possessions in order to recoup the loans we used to pay for anything.
Second. If you own antiques or family heirlooms, you may already feel that none of these objects really belong to you; that you are only looking after them for the next generation. When I sold (almost) all my possessions, people asked, ‘Aren’t you sad to be parting with this or that item.”
And I could answer them honestly, “No. I’ve enjoyed this table or this chair, but now the time has come for someone else to enjoy these things, to care for them and to cherish them as I have done. I hope they will get as much pleasure as I have done. They never belonged to me. We were only sharing our lives together for a while,” I always replied. What did upset me were the claims a few people made on some items which they only wanted in order to “have”, not to look after, not to clean and polish and ensure they were treated properly and to enjoy for themselves – whether a beautiful table or a really comfortable chair. That kind of blind consumerism has always angered me. (It’s not even blind materialism – because a materialist would surely value the materials an object is made from, rather than leaving polished wood to be bleached by the sun, for example.)
Third. we don’t really own the “things we couldn’t bear to part with”. The truth is – they own us. How much stuff have we got that we don’t use, pay to store yet don’t want to let go of or allow someone else to use or enjoy? We don’t own those things, they are making claims on us. They own us.
The reality is – each individual person only ever owns one thing.
Everything else will go out of our lives at some point:
– we downsize,
– we lose in a fire,
– it gets stolen,
– it gets lost,
– we give it away
– we finally agree to sell it.
We came into this world emptyhanded and we will leave this world emptyhanded. And while we’re here, we only ever have one belonging. And that is our action. What we do, how we react to the people and situations we find ourselves in – these are our only true belongings. They are the only part of us that cannot be taken away or lost, even if we want to forget them sometimes.
“My actions are my only belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.” These are the words of the 5th Remembrance of the Buddha. And I would suggest (and certainly from my own experience) they are as true today as when they were first spoken 2500 years ago.
So what do you hang up in your closet every day?