Possession is a fruitless pursuit.
(e.g., you shouldn’t try to possess things, for your own good.)
We may put our hand on a thing, run our fingertips over it, or take it from place to place, but that does not mean it is really ours.
We may try to lay claim over a thing, but that does not make it our own.
Some people spend their whole lives busying themselves with these sorts of pursuits – the accumulation and possession of things. They waste themselves away in the frustration of trying to own – and then “losing” – what they can never really have. There is a paltriness to this sort of pursuit of pleasure – something always disappointing when we define this as our idea of how to live – because life itself is always in flux and things, fundamentally, are always fleeting. As such, the very idea of “ownership” is a root cause of a lot of conflict.
My motorcycle is by far my favorite thing. Ever. And the happiness I derive from it is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.
Having recognized this, it would be easy (instinctive) for me to try to cling to it a little bit; to try to lash it to myself in some way; to protect it from external forces in an effort, really, to protect myself from losing it. But the reality is that I have no control over that.
“Possession” is a construct.
(e.g., you can’t possess things, because they exist independent of you.)
I am better off not trying to control the bike because, in the grand scheme of the universe, I really can’t – it is not really even mine. I can use articles like “my” and “mine” when referencing it, but I still understand that it does not really belong to me.
I don’t “own” the motorcycle any more than I “own” a mountain.
Both existed before I came to know them; both came to be through forces independent of me. And, most importantly, both could change or cease to exist without my consent or permission.
The time that I spend with things is only in passing. It is something to be enjoyed only as I have it, without imposing expectation or control.
The bike could cease to exist altogether. It could be destroyed, could break down, could disappear overnight – I could walk out tomorrow morning and find that it’s been stolen. The more accepting I am of this truth, the easier it is to foster a sense of happiness that is independent of things, so that it remains more constant when these things inevitably change.
This concept does not belong to me, either. It existed already before I found it, and there are schools of thought and many people within them who already knew what I found out. Some of these people even ride motorcycles. They cherish the bikes and the experiences they yield, but still they agree:
I don’t really own [the motorcycle], I’m just using it until it’s taken away by theft, rust, accident, or my old age. It’s really more about not being attached to the stuff you use and think you own.” – Ven. Kusala Bhikshu (Thich Tam-Thien)
Our relationships with everything in our lives is fleeting; we only have each moment and we have our own reaction to it. And any attempt to tether or tie – any imposition; any dominion – is fabricated and false.
There’s nothing wrong, however, with having things and even cherishing them. In fact, they can yield a tremendous amount of happiness – if viewed fairly.
Possession and happiness are independent of one another.
(And, in fact, believing that you “own” something can prevent longterm happiness.)
Knowing I do not really have dominion over the bike does not inhibit me from cherishing it. On the contrary, approaching it as something fleeting – something impermanent – fosters a deeper appreciation for my experiences with it.
When I am honest about this and approach it in the right way, I am able to operate with more freedom, especially emotionally.
Believing that you can lay claim to something in its entirety is a delusion. Things will move away and out of your life regardless of your preferences, and unhappiness is rooted in the misunderstandings that (1) one’s own individual existence is more important than those of other individuals, and that (2) fulfillment can be achieved by acquiring and owning property.
Living a life of trying to contain these things set us up for an existence of unnecessary “loss.” One way to “life” appropriately is approach each element of your life as being independent of you. The point here is to understand the difference between sharing an existence with a thing and deluding yourself into thinking that simply because you have it, it will always be tethered to your side. That it cannot and will not cease to be there until you give it permission to leave – and that you somehow control that, when you don’t.
And not just with things – lamps and laptops and clothes and cars – but with all kinds of other things, too.
We cannot – and should not try to – possess anything.
Possession of Place. Within the context of the universe’s truths, we can exist in places only through presence – not possession. We can draw connections and experiences from a space and the time we spend there, but that does not mean that place is ours. In the grand scheme of existence, nobody really owns a land. You may press your hand into it, cut into it and blow parts of it away, erect structures on its surface, and you may hold a paper stating your legal right to do so, but all of that is only true within the limited, constructed context of (human) social life. In reality, outside a law we create and our shared subscription to it, the land belongs to everyone as much as it belongs to anyone, and it cannot belong to everyone in their own disparate way. A place can never truly be “ours.”
Possession of People. Relationships give life such richness – they are the undercurrent of what gives our existence meaning. Rightfully so, we develop relationships with the people in our lives and make emotional investments in them and, in turn, enjoy an existence with compassion and love. But sometimes, we may start to lay claim over parts of people; feel entitled to things that are not ours. When this happens,we feel helpless and hurt when people choose to walk away. We are rendered devastated by divorce or death. Nobody owes you anything, and you are not entitled to any part of anybody that they do not freely offer – and only for the time it is offered. Your partner and your children do not belong to you – they are people that you offer support and compassion, but only for as long as they accept and embrace it.
Possession of Situations. Life is always in flux. This is a basic truth – something that will always be outside of our control. Those who try to commit their lives to preventing change are inherently framing it up for disappointment. Those, on the other hand, who accept this can absorb the shifts in stride. They understand that once the circumstances of a period of time shift and a transition is taking place, it is right to let it go; to “give it back to the universe.”