The frustration and emptiness so many people feel at this time of year is not an objection to the abundance per se, nor should it be. It is a healthy hunger for nonattachment. This season, don’t rail against the crowds of shoppers on Fifth Avenue or become some sort of anti-gift misanthrope. Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide. But then, ponder the three practices above. Move beyond attachment by collecting experiences, avoid excessive usefulness, and get to the center of your wheel. It might just turn out to be a happy holiday after all.
I normally flinch whenever pop Buddhism rears its head, but this is a better-than-average example of same. It isn't having things that creates problems; it's when the having becomes more important than anything else.
When I moved cross-country earlier this year, I got rid of about two-thirds of everything I owned. Most of it was books, some electronics, tons of DVDs I'd never even watched, a bunch of clabber I don't know why I ever accumulated in the first place. Moving gave me the freedom to ditch it once and for all, and to not start forming new attachments I couldn't manage. It wasn't just the cleaning-out that was healthy; it was the new mindset that came after the cleaning-out. By the end of the current year, after I'd spent about nine months in my new place, I'd set aside another eight boxes or so of things to cycle out. I didn't even try to wring money out of them, as I might have in a previous lifetime; I just drove them over to Goodwill and let them go. Plus, I had far less of an interest in having things just for the sake of knowing they were sitting around, so to speak, and within arm's reach.
This turnabout at the seat of my thinking, where I let things pass casually through my hands instead of finding creative justifications for keeping everything, had been gathering force for some time. I think the real seeds of it were sown back when I was working on Flight of the Vajra, when I had the quiet — and scary — realization that nothing I really wanted in this world had a pricetag. I couldn't go out and buy the things I most wanted to see exist, because they didn't exist. I had to go through the tedium and difficulty of bringing them into existence.
Once that clicked, it actually became difficult for me to form the kinds of attachments I used to create quite casually to things that crossed my path. But I also don't doubt for a moment this kind of turnabout is exceedingly rare. For most people, there's a whole world full of reasons not to develop that kind of insight — and from what I've seen, that includes other creators. This is not so much me wagging my finger at them disapprovingly as it is noticing how being a creator doesn't automatically give a person a leg up in seeing their attachments for what they are.