Since moving out of the home at 18 until moving to Topeka in 2015, my life had been a roller coaster ride on repeat. The long slow climb to the top of acquiring more and more material goods, before plunging down the track with arms up purging much that had been acquired. Then the process would start over again.
Then, with help from Erin and the book Minimalism by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, I was able to put a name to an innate philosophy of mine, and put a stop to the roller coaster.
It takes work, however, and I constantly have to assess and review where both of us are in our lives, and if we are living up to the tenets we have adopted.
In reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse recently, I encountered something that made me dive deeper and think more on this 2nd Noble Truth of Buddhism.
Desire and ignorance is at the root of all suffering.
That’s not to say that all desire and ignorance leads to suffering. A desire for health, happiness, and general comfort is probably a good thing. Also, I’m fine with being ignorant (in this sense of the word, not knowing) about a neighbor’s fetish of stepping barefoot into ground beef. To each their own, but I’m perfectly happy remaining blissfully ignorant of something like this.
To keep it in a Buddhist context, the desire they are referring to here is that of material goods, pleasure, and immortality. While on many levels, I agree that the desire of material goods does lead to suffering, I wanted to dissect this desire in terms of happiness and freedom.
When a desire for a material good awakens, and we have the resources to acquire that material good, many of us would not balk at obtaining such a good. Those of us that are disciplined take the time to ask questions like
- How much joy will owning such a material good bring me?
- How much grief will it bring me in maintaining this material good?
- Where am I going to put this material good?
- Can I purge 1 or 2 material goods from my house with the entrance of this new material good?
- Can I do without this material good and be just as happy?
That last question can be a tough one. We sometimes have the false belief that simply eliminating the desire to have something will make us happy, when in fact, that desire is quickly replaced with a desire for the next thing. Indeed, you continue into never ending desire (suffering).
If you read much about happiness, you will find that it does not grow linearly with income (which is directly related to the amount of stuff that you can acquire), and that instead, it plateaus.
Accumulating more stuff, or bigger and better stuff, doesn’t seem to rid us of desire. We simply desire more bigger and better material goods. At some point beyond the plateau, others begin to covet and desire your stuff. Your bank account is more likely to get hacked. You are more likely to be robbed. You need more protection, have to pay more bills, and have to worry about other things you didn’t have to before. Your suffering increases, and as a direct consequence, your happiness begins to decline.
Combat your desire in more fruitful ways, since we’ve learned that satisfying your desire is not a way to defeat it.
How free is a person who can fit all of their possessions into a single bag?
How free is the person who can fit all of their possessions into a single vehicle?
How free is the person whose possessions fill an apartment or house? Is there a difference if they are renting or owning?
True freedom includes your freedom of mobility; freedom to go anywhere you want on this earth. That freedom comes when you can free yourself from desire.
Erin and I own our home, which is filled with our possessions, so we’re nowhere near the freedom that we both have our eye on some day. We both think it would be neat if we could simplify our lives down to living out of a tiny home or tiny RV.
Whether you agree with the 2nd Noble Law or not, it is definitely worth pondering. The exercise is worthwhile, and can potentially lead to a little more happiness.