Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.

~ John Ruskin ~


For every possession, there is another place. Another placeholder that can be misremembered or forgotten. Another “thing” whose location must be recalled if the “thing” is to be put to use. Possessions are both anchor and water into which the anchor drags us. We drown in overabundance. We confuse ourselves by overloading our memories with unnecessary rubbish that sullies what should be bright spots; the rubbish causes blemishes on the bright spots. Ashen residue of smoldering rubbish. Nothing matters much anymore because we possess too much. We cannot spread our gratitude equally among all our possessions, so we pretend everything either is equally and absurdly important or base and with no value whatsoever. We tell stories about value and meaning, but even the stories are too plentiful, too copious to retain their significance.

I doubt most of us have sufficient discipline to be ascetics for long. An ascetic is one who pursues contemplative ideals and practices extreme self-denial or self-mortification for personal, “spiritual” reasons. Many dictionaries insist ascetics behave the way they do for religious reasons; some ascetics may be driven by religion, but I believe most are motivated by non-religious spiritualism that defies definition. One either understands the concept or claims it’s religion masquerading as deep intellectual exploration.

People who addictively collect unnecessary luxuries are hedonists , but most of them would reject the title. They do not like be labeled with terms that might challenge their compassion; even while surrounding themselves with the accouterments of royalty (while commoners suffer the absence of food and water), they identify as caring, giving people. The extent of their blindness is staggering. Could it be that the owner of a spotless automotive garage filled with expensive collectible automobiles sees no disconnect between that luxury and the family of six living in the shack behind the garage; the one-room shack with no plumbing and no electricity?

I am conflicted between, on one hand, wanting to understand and appreciate deep minimalism and, on the other, hoping that everything I desire will magically appear at my fingertips or in my possession. It is a shameful conflict; one between greed and indifference. It is shameful, too, because desiring an absence of desire is tantamount to declaring war against the aggressors who oppose one’s pacifism.  Hypocrisy woven into the fabric of one’s trustworthiness. Or vice versa.


I put off seeing a doctor for so long that, if I were to see the doctor now it would seem silly. Why didn’t I just wait until the annual physical, I can imagine the doctor saying. But that’s the way it is with me. I delay seeing a doctor, expecting my physical complaint to diminish of its own accord over time. No point in seeing a doctor, I reason, because my complaint is not sufficiently precise to enable a doctor to use it as a clue as to its etiology. On a couple of occasions, though, I’ve discovered that what I thought was the underlying cause had nothing to do with the symptoms. So, I should put my health in the hands of people who are trained professionally to determine causes and to prescribe cures or, at least, symptom relief.

It is impossible to compare one’s own level of pain with the levels experienced by others. It would be rather like attempting to understand how someone else perceives the color blue. We can pretend we know what blue is like to someone else, but it’s entirely possible that the way I experience blue is the way another person experiences green. That’s true of pain, as well. It could be that you experience pain the way I experience pleasure and vice versa. My reaction to pain and your reaction to pleasure may look exactly alike; how would we know that the experiences are so dramatically different?  Perhaps it’s easier to understand the concept with a hypothetical example: imagine that you experience an orgasm the way I experience a thorn puncturing the sole of my foot. And vice versa. I know, it’s hard to imagine. Try to do it anyway. Okay, let’s try another one. Imagine a child enjoying an ice cream cone. Now, imagine that the child’s enjoyment of that ice cream cone was identical to your experience of having molten lead poured into your mouth. Each of us may measure life’s experiences using very different scales. Still, I should call my doctor to see if there’s something he or his staff might be able to do for me to relieve the pain.


Time to solve the world’s most vexing mysteries.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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