“You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be.”Chuck Palahniuk
The thing about accumulating nice things and expensive tastes is that we have more to lose.
One bad house fire and everything we own turns into firewood. One unfortunately accurate tornado will take everything you own with it. A downturn of the market, or a new technology could make our jobs disappear. Of course, we shouldn’t spend our days worrying about natural disasters and others things that aren’t in our control. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca once taught, “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” Worry sucks the energy out of our ability to do anything about it. Disasters may come, and all we can do is prepare for risks, prepare for the worst and put the worry away so we can go on with our lives.
Our stuff is so much more than just things too. It’s our memories, our expectations and ideals. It’s our desire to change and be better. Which is fantastic and beautiful, but can also hold us back if we aren’t paying attention.
And that’s the hardest part about losing nice things, we aren’t prepared to let them go.
Not letting things go is another form of worry. It holds us back from doing what we really want to do in life.
I recently read a short Zen Buddhist story about a guy named Badhiya (no idea how to pronounce his name. Bad-hi-ya?). He was a governor of a province wealth beyond imagine — soldiers at his command, money and power —but his friend persuaded him to leave it all behind and was ordained as a monk, with nothing but a mat, one bowl and three robes to his name.
One night Badhiya was meditating at the foot of a tree. Suddenly he uttered, the words, “Oh my happiness, oh my happiness.” It happened that another monk was sitting nearby. The other monk thought that Badhiya regretted having abandoned his position as governor.” The monk reported this to Buddha, thinking Badhiya has a problem, so the Buddha sent his attendant to invite Badhiya to come by. In front of a group of monks Buddha said, “Badhiya, is it true that last night during sitting meditation you pronounced two time the sentence, ‘Oh my happiness, oh my happiness’?” Badhiya said, “Yes, noble teacher, I did pronounce that sentence twice.”
“Could you explain to us why you have pronounced these three words during the night?” the Buddha asked. Badhiya said, “Dear teacher, when I was a governor my palace was guarded by hundreds of soldiers. But I was still very afraid. I was afraid robbers would come and kill me or at least take away all my valuables. So day and night I lived in fear. But last night I realized that now I have nothing to lose. I was sitting out in the forest at the foot of a tree, and never in my life have I felt so safe. Nobody wants to kill me anymore because I have no power, no wealth, and no jewels for anyone to take. I have nothing. Yet I finally have everything. I am touching such a great happiness and freedom. That is why I have pronounced the words, ‘Oh my happiness, oh my happiness.’ If I have disturbed someone, I am sorry.”
By having everything, he was afraid of losing it all. But by having nothing he was free.
Now, I’m not advocating for us to get rid of everything that we own and not enjoy the fruits of our luck and opportunity. I’m just suggesting that it’s unwise to be reliant and beholden to what we own and what tastes we build.
Here’s an example: Can you go even a day without coffee? I couldn’t. A few years ago, I even went on a trip to Thailand and brought mostly coffee supplies with me! I had the works: an electric kettle, a french press… you name it. I wasn’t always into coffee, but now all of a sudden I couldn’t live without it. Until last year. Last year I went off coffee for a full year.
I think it’s healthy to live without the unnecessary things we think we need to be normal and happy. What do you think you can’t live without? Nice clothes? Spotify and Netflix? Expensive wine or cocktails? None of these things are bad per se, but if they are controlling you, especially in negative ways, then they might be.
I still enjoy coffee and tea. I’m not going to forgo drinking it. I love the ritual of making it in the morning and sipping it slowly while reading. But I know now I can stop when I want to and I’ll keep testing what’s good and not good for me for the rest of my life. It reminds me of a quote from Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”
Action Step: What nice but unessential things can you practice living without?
The reason we might have more to lose is because we can end up letting our things own us.
Can we have nice underwear and a new iPhone while also having a ‘nothing to lose ‘ mindset?
Yes, but it requires thoughtful ongoing work. If we can take care of the abundance of things we have around us, while not being afraid to lose them, we can not let the unimportant things hold us back and keep us from living the life and impact we dream of achieving.
STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #722