Very Zen story about possessions

mommabirdSeptember 2, 2008

I think I read this in "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle but it could have come from another similar book - I'm usually reading 2 or 3 at the time and get them mixed up. Anyway, the story went something like this:

A Buddhist monk studdied under his master for many years. Finally, the master told the monk he was ready to take his final vows, but first the monk must give his master his most loved possession.

The monk went away and looked through his things. Every time he though he'd found his most prized possession, he would think, "I don't love this possession more than my master - it's not a gift worthy of my master." The monk worked his way through every possession he owned and was sad that he could not find anything he loved enough to be a worthy gift for his master.

The monk returned to his master and told him that he could not take final vows because he did not have a possession he loved enough to be a worthy gift for the master. "Child," the master answered, "you have already attained enlightenment. You have passed your vows."

When I read this several weeks ago, I started thinking about my possessions and what would I present to the master? I've come to the conclusion that there are still a few things I would "love" enough to present to the master - my mom's wedding ring, my grandma's tea set, my kids' artwork with "I love you Mommy" on each page, a few items my best friend gave me over the years, the quilts my mom made, my sewing I guess I'm still pretty far off. But the story did make me realize that about 95% of the stuff in my house is just stuff. I would not consider it worthy to give the master - I don't love it. And that realization has helped me get rid of it (like the scrapbooking stuff I gave to my friend today).

I'm sharing this in the hopes it makes others think about their stuff, too. I just wish it would sink in to DH - I read him the story and he said "that's nice" which means "I didn't hear a word you just said."

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Mommabird, what a beautiful story and a way to look at every item in our home.
About fifteen years ago I had a cancer scare. After an out patient surgey I found out it was only precancerous cells and no cancer was present. I was so happy I went to Hallmark in order to buy myself something I'd been wanting as a celebration. Once there I realized I had already received something more precious than anything or everything in the store. Life. I left there without purchasing a thing, but felt fullfilled.
Thanks for the reminder.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 11:03PM
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I guess I don't see how it applies to organizing.
So, nothing was loved enough to give to the master, but he kept it all for himself. Things he does not love.

"I would not consider it worthy to give the master - I don't love it. "

If I don't love something or find it useful, I get rid of it.
Why hoard things that are 'not worthy'?

IDK - maybe I should just go to sleep....

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 11:56PM
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The story doesn't say that he didn't find his 'not worthy' possessions useful, only that he didn't love them enough for the gift to be sacrificial. *It is* possible to have a number of needed things and not be attached to them.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 7:18AM
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Beautiful story. I heard one once. Imagine you were packing to move out quickly. What possessions would you take? Which would you leave behind? I imagine if I were leaving my husband (which won't happen, but sometimes he makes me so mad), I'd take some clothes (not all) bedding, cookbooks and photos. Notice I leave the kids with him!

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 8:01AM
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My husband and I were discussing disasters recently, in light of the hurricanes down south. Suppose there were a fire at our house. What would we grab as we fled? Our two cats, and their crates to keep them inside safely. If everything else -- including my wedding ring -- were to be destroyed, I'd be satisfied to be left with only my husband and our pets. (We never succeeded in making any children.)

Yes, the wedding album cannot be replaced. But I can live without it! I can get new pots and pans. I can even make more quilts! It is very, very nice to possess all those sentimental and useful things, but I am not firmly attached to my stuff. I'd be a bit bummed at the inconvenience of missing so many useful things, then begin to gather the essentials for my physical existence.

Before FlyLady and decluttering, my loathing of the clutter made me crazy. Was the loathing a form of attachment? It certainly was a type of involvement. Now that the clutter is nearly all gone, I don't feel trapped. I know the way out of the mess. I am lighter and happier.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 10:03AM
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Maryliz, I have a solution to the possible loss of photographs. My sister and I live 450 miles apart. whenever I get my photos developed, I mail her the negatives. She keeps them safe in a box under her bed. I do the same for her. We figure no natural disaster would hit both of us! (Except maybe nuclear war, and I don't think I'd want to be a "survivor").

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 6:32PM
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I feel like it's more a story about how much you love others, or whatever is "master" in your life.

But I think it also has something to say about whether things truly are beloved. And those are the things you keep, even if you sacrifice something else to make room.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 7:48PM
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I also remembered another story from _The Journey_ by Brandon Bayless. Her house burned to the ground in a CA wildfire. She describes standing by the smouldering ashes and feeling such a joyful sense of release that she cried tears of joy, not tears of loss.

These have to do with organzing because the first step is to get rid of the clutter. As Flylady says, you can't organize clutter. Meditating on these helps me release attachments to Things.

I discussed the first story with my friend Walter this morning. He pointed out that all of my "beloved possessions" have to do with other people. What a moment of clairity! Flylady also points out that the Things are not the people. My mom's ring is not my mom, Grandma's tea set is not Grandma. His insight has helped me start to release these beloved Things.

As Thoreau said, "If I own so much as a stone, it owns me." I am sooooooooooo tired of being owned by Things - clutter, unloved items, etc.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 9:31PM
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I loved the story and very recently came to the realization that my house was full of "Stuff & Things" that mean very little. I just wish I could have a bulldozer knock everything down and take it all to the dump. My daughter will be moving out within the next month or so and I plan on going from room to room and cleaning the place out. Right now as I look around there are some solid pieces of furniture I'd keep (bedroom set, kitchen table) but the rest of the crap can go.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 3:41AM
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Oh boy oh boy, so many thoughts swirling here. Twice in my life, I have had everything I own taken away from me by Nature - both times due to flooding. (Yes, we are finally moving to higher ground - you don't have to hit me over the head with a hammer TOO many times to get the point across! LOL)

First of all, the original story posted - "no gift was worthy." It seems to me that this is also the theme of the Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy." I have no gift to bring / that's fit to give a king, etc. Well the simplest gift - the drummer's talent, his "here's what I do, only now I do it for you"... WAS the gift. The monk story didn't go quite far enough - no earthly gift was worthy, so he... gave nothing. Whereas in the song, no earthly gift was worthy - so the drummer gave of himself. I like both stories - but the theme of the song leaves me feeling more satisfied somehow.

Not loving an object makes it easier to get rid of - true, unless it's useful. "Have no object in your home that isn't useful or that you do not believe to be beautiful" - or something like that, famous old quote.

"Packing to move out quickly" - ohhhh, been there, done that, recently in fact. :) The first time our house flooded, we literally had 15 minutes' warning - we looked out the back door and water was rolling into the back yard. What did I grab? I stuffed some clothes into a pillow case, grabbed the stack of unpaid bills (??? LOL, yep - the BILLS... didn't want to get behind don't-cha know), and herded the dogs to the car (no kids yet). So even if you think about what you'll grab - the only way you're going to grab it is if you have some time to plan. Second time we flooded, we had several days to decide - packed mementos, genealogy research, family heirlooms, lots of clothes, etc. - but no furniture.

"Bummed at the inconvenience..." - believe me, that is so much easier said if you haven't gone through it. Even though they are just objects, they have meaning. There is no sound sadder than the piano on which you learned to play as a kid, being crushed in a garbage truck. In our case, every single thing we lost, we had to personally pick up and throw away, covered as it was in disgusting river muck. It is easy to say, I wish it would all disappear - but when you see it like that, and you are forced to get rid of it, it is a lot harder than you think it's going to be. It is so much more than inconvenience - it is real, deep loss and sadness.

Finally - regarding objects that have meaning. I am among other things a genealogist. I have found objects among my grandmother's things that are priceless to me because they connect me to my past: the shoe-button hook handmade by my blacksmith great-great-grandfather... the stirrups from the saddle used by my Civil War veteran great-grandfather... Grandma's class ring from high school... my mother's report cards and bone-china animal toys... sure they are "just things," but they quite literally connect me to my past. Do not cheat everyone who comes after you out of the opportunity to cherish something that belonged to you. You dont' have to keep everything... but don't ditch everything. Leave something for the future so when a descendent comes upon your name in the family record book, they can marvel at something you personally touched, or owned... I don't think this point is making much sense... I hated that episode of "CLean Sweep" where the guy made someone get rid of a painting that his mother had done when she was dying of cancer - she had always wanted to paint, and this was the only picture she ever painted, and the show's host told him, "It's not your mother, let it go..." And I just thought, what's the harm in keeping an object that reminds him of his mother and the fulfillment of her lifelong (and end-of-life) dream to be a painter?

My advice... not that anyone asked :) If you want to purge, do it while it's still your choice to do so - before Nature takes it from you involuntarily. But, don't let others talk you out of keeping stuff that means something to you, just because it falls under the umbrella of "it's just stuff."


    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 5:13PM
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I agree with Janet that sometimes those organizing shows go too far. Often they are right on too. One great hint I got from messies anonymous is to take pics of things that it really isn't practical to keep but that you want to remember. I used to work for a non profit with a thrift store as manager of the store. Once an older wealthy woman wanted to give us a bunch of nice stuff but she wanted help packing it and writing a list for tax purposes, so I went over. When we came to her late mothers beautiful old fashioned brush and comb set, and something personal of her late husbands (I dont' remember what), she waivered and looked sad. She said that her daughter insisted that she get rid of these things because they had no use to her. I encouraged her to keep them. Its nice to have something person that belonged to someone you loved. Its not like she kept all their clothes and every piece of paper they ever touched or anything! I think she really appreciated my support and she did keep them. There's a place for sentimental attachment, as long as we know the objects are not the most important thing. And we don't get sentimental about too many things.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 4:53PM
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Several years ago, my basement flooded. I rushed around, carried everything wet outside to the garbage, and had the whole thing done in half a day. I don't miss any of it. I think most of what I was "saving(" down there was useless, and I'm glad to be rid of it.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 9:14PM
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Mommabird, thanks for the enlightening story! And Becky, I'm so happy for you! What a great thread this has been. We live in such a consumer driven society we need to step back occaisionally and see if "stuff" serves us or enslaves us. Thanks for the reminders.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 2:27PM
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