As the process of decluttering, downsizing and general cleaning continued this week, I reflected upon a truism: “Possessions are generally diminished by possession.”
I had just finished washing and carefully drying a vintage Mikasa food tray. The ornate plate is hand painted in the traditional Japanese decorative style. My friend Thomas and I noticed it a few years ago when we had been browsing through a second-hand shop in Yankton, South Dakota. The tray was especially appealing to me.
Thomas noticed how much I admired the piece and tried to convince me that I should own it. I replied that while I think it’s a masterpiece, there was no space to display it in my house. Thomas said the price was right, so he purchased it instead. Fast-forward to a month later–Thomas gave me the tray as a birthday gift. So, the beautiful tray now has a charming back-story.
What brought the truism about possessing possessions to mind is that the tray had been stacked at the back of a cabinet for approximately a year and I had nearly forgotten about it. I felt a twinge of guilt over putting Thomas’ gift out of sight. On the other hand, I’m glad to have rediscovered the tray because it is a reminder of my friend who has moved to a small apartment a few hundred miles away from me.
Desire for even the simplest luxury is a feeling to be observed because it can devolve into greed. It can further morph into selfishness. This is not a complicated process–many young toddlers naturally display this as an aspect of young childhood. The degree to which we carry over this behavior from childhood into adulthood is one measurment of maturity.
Selfishness and greed are black holes in that selfishness requires endless justification and greed temporarily satisfies desire without providing lasting satisfaction. The seeds of selfishness and greed are present in every one of us. Most likely, we can all remember when these impulses manifested in our lives.
The ancient sages from cultures around the world, taught that freedom from greed and selfishness was a precious commodity. Such freedom promoted their philosophical and spiritual explorations. They had learned that even a small measure of greed and selfishness turned care into cruelty, wisdom into ignorance, strength into weakness, and purity into defilement. They understood that such a state of mind was self-centeredness run amok.
Selfish, greedy attitudes have been present from prehistory into the present day. No epoch requires special notice. The main differences are in the manner in which the attitudes appear. The suffering caused by greed and selfishness is ever-present in the world. There will probably always be people who knowingly or unknowingly inflict pain on other people as they selfishly pursue their own happiness and satisfaction. All one needs to do to see this, is to pay attention to current events that are happening domestically and internationally.
One of my psychology professors once mentioned in her lecture about greed, that selfish individuals are incapable of authentically loving and caring for others. This is because they cannot authentically love themselves. Instead of love, they salve their emptiness by acquiring and hoarding. When we understand this, it is a little easier to feel compassion for self-centered people. This can be done by also recognizing the harm they cause to those around them. Such compassion and empathy allows us to remember that we all contain the seeds of similar behavior.
We can remember the germane teachings of the elders from civilizations long past. Authentic happiness arises from a place of inner contentment and peace. This is accomplished by cultivating altruism, compassion, generosity, gratitude and love. This is greatly aided by keeping watch over anger, greed, and selfishness.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Oscar Wilde. “There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”