08 November 2011

Focusing on what you don't have, volume 1

Wealth is indifferent.  It falls into the lap of some, while never coming near others.  It can bring misery to those who live for it, and be ignored by those who can't be bothered with it in the least bit.  All of that wealth, and most other things in life to the Stoic, are like dust or dirt on a mirror.  The practice of philosophy is the careful wiping clean of our mirror, the attempt, repeated over and over throughout our lives, of trying to see ourselves for what we really are.  This is a lot harder to do than it is to say.

Growing up, I lived a life of what seemed like deep poverty, but that poverty was only relative.  I wasn't India poor, Africa poor (this link is pretty disturbing), China poor. I never missed a meal and always had a roof over my head.  I had books, video game systems and a computer.  I started working when I was very young, and have pretty much worked ever since, but up until my early 20's I was filled with the resentment of being born poor.  I saw myself as a product of events, as a part of a statistic, as a representative of some idea, rather than just as myself.

When you're poor, it's easy to imagine that the lives of even middle class families are Leave it to Beaver style smilefests.  If you didn't have to worry about wearing old shoes, how could you be upset?  If your family went on vacations, what could you ever have to complain about?  Needless to say, I had little to no idea about anything, but that never stops any of us from thinking that we do.

I had a sense of that idea of Kahlil Gibran's, that "poverty is a veil..."  It wasn't that the world couldn't see me through that thin veil, it was that I was blinded by it, unable to see the world for what it truly was, and unable to understand myself in turn.  Even worse than not being seen for what you are is to not even know what you are without the labels that you've given yourself.   I had confused the good things that you could do with money with happiness, and in so doing I'd lost a multitude of chances to be live a good life with the people who surrounded me.I had taken poverty as an identity, along with all of the other external trappings of identity that we confuse with our selves.

As in most cases, many other people have expressed this idea far better than I could ever hope to, so I quote others only in order to better express myself :

"Whoever does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, even if he be master of the world." - Epictetus

"How can you sing if your mouth be filled with food? How shall your hand be raised in blessing if it is filled with gold?" - Kahlil Gibran

"...we see that a clean environment, wealth, or democracy mean little in the face of war, especially nuclear war, and that material development is not sufficient to ensure human happiness." - Tenzin Gyatso

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also...You cannot serve both God and Mammon." Matthew 6:19

"Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go." -Marcus Aurelius

ad infinitum...

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