"...Consciousness tends to focus upon what we lack rather than what we possess. From the moment we are born we struggle to achieve the things we lack , or think we lack: food and drink, possessions, the esteem of other people, security, personal fulfilment. It is only when we are faced with some threat or crisis that we grasp how lucky we are, how much we already possess. Then, suddenly, consciousness ceases to focus upon what we still want and focuses upon what we already have...."--Colin Wilson
I remember when I was a freshman in high school I embarked on the writing of a Lord of the Rings inspired fantasy novel. My brother and I conceived the characters and story together, and we called it Goldfire. It was pretty much what you would expect such an effort to be; although in light of the flood of other such works that have come out since then ours was not too bad. It is one of many unfinished novels of mine, but the thing I remember most about slogging through the 500 some odd (some very odd) handwritten pages of Goldfire was the intense longing I had for a manual typewriter to help me in my efforts. I got a job at a local supermarket bagging groceries, and eventually saved up enough money and purchased the much anticipated typewriter. You would think I was in heaven. Well, I was. For about two days. Then I started thinking about how I really needed a good desk to work at. After much begging and wrangling I was able to talk my Mom into letting me use a dresser as my beloved desk. Then I needed a good light. Then a good workspace. There was always something else that I needed to acquire in able to become the successful author I so longed to be.
Well , my dissatisfaction kept me acquiring until I had everything I should need to do the job, but somewhere in the chase I lost the fire for Goldfire.
I realized then that no matter what I was able to acquire or achieve, I would always be unhappy, because I was more focused on doing the next thing, rather than making the most of what I actually had. I had unwittingly stumbled on the Buddha's Second Noble Truth, Samudaya , the origin of suffering is craving.
Certainly an argument can be made for the dynamism of consumption being the dynamo for effort, warding away stagnation; etc. After all, we must provide what we need to survive.
The moments that we are able to see what we do have, and we are able to count our blessings, are typically rare and usually a peak moment of bliss or produced by the threat of losing what we have.
I'm certainly not going to be a hypocrite about it. I haven't changed much since my Goldfire days. I just got through badgering the same brother that collaborated with me on the book into getting me a leaf blower ( that I had no money myself to purchase but just had to have) as a late Christmas present, and am already contemplating what I will just have to have next.
But I think almost everyone can agree that 2008 was a pretty rotten year overall. The economy is in a shambles, the globe is still inflamed in turmoil, etc. Today is New Year's Eve, and we are about to put this terrible year behind us, and at least embrace the perception that with a new year comes new opportunity. The truth is, of course, that every day is a new opportunity, but we, as a species, take this day to contemplate our lives and progress as a civilization.
There is no telling what we might be saying about 2009 at this time next year. For now, I think it is good to take stock of what we have, what is worth fighting to keep, and what we can afford to get rid of.
The main thing I could afford to get rid of is my desire for new stuff I cannot afford. Oh, and about 75 pounds...