Monday, January 6, 2014

Mindless Accumulation

"Generous Beauty"

Many years ago an elderly couple were members of a parish I served. They were nice, if not eccentric people, who lived in relative poverty- a run-down old house badly in need of repair, always cold in the winter months, a dilapidated old car, their meals were meager at best, all sorts of health issues. 

After the old man died, his wife was about to move out to a nursing home and their creaky old house was placed on the market for sale. As relatives went through the old man's possessions to pack things up for the move, to their amazement they discovered socks stuffed with money in his dresser drawers, not just a few dollars, but hundreds of thousands of dollars accumulated over the years - all squirreled away in socks, never to be used. 

To this day, I think about those socks of money in the drawers of that "poor" family - it constantly reminds me of the sadness and suffering brought about by living a miserly and stingy life. 

A few days ago, The New York Times reported on some very interesting research recently published in the Journal of Psychological Science. The study concluded that people today are victims of what the researchers called "mindless accumulation." 

"There is a deeply rooted instinct in human beings to earn more than can possibly be consumed, even when this imbalance makes us unhappy."

Researchers in the study concluded that the desire to accumulate more and more is a weakness inherent in the human condition (rich or poor it makes no difference).  People always want more sutff-more money, more things. Even when they know they have enough, even when they realize they don't need more, even when they even stored away enough as a protection for a "rainy day," even when they know that they can't take it with them when they die, they still want more. They still accumulate more.

And so people obsess on accumulating- always working, plotting and planning to accumulate more and more - "mindless accumulation" even if this accumulation gives them little or no happiness in life. 

The image of socks stuffed with money in a drawer of a run-down old house quickly came to my mind when I read this report in the "Times" the other day.

I am reminded of a great wisdom - one of the "four noble truths" in the Buddhist tradition: 

Desire is the cause of all suffering

"Desire" is always an act of the ego. When we succumb to the desire to accumulate more and more stuff - more things, more money, power, status, more influence, we pull life "into" our self. 

And when we live in the ego and when we pull life into our "self," we will indeed always suffer - cut off from others, chained and locked up within its walls - a lonely, sad place to be. 

It may well be that "mindless accumulation" is instinctual to our human condition, but we don't need to become victims of our natural instincts. The antidote to mindless accumulation is to curb "desire" and embrace a life of generosity, allowing the movement of our life to flow outward rather than pull inward. 

Today I will look at my own life and be sure there aren't any untouched, stuffed socks lying idle in my own life-drawer. 


  1. This is a thought provoking post. As a matter of fact both suffered a lot and ruined themselves.Today the picture is the same, if we, glance,around us. A SIMPLE FOOD,CONTENDED MIND,will ensure peace of mind , and healthy life.This greediness spreads as a cancer and causes several incurable ailments.

  2. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment


    On the other hand there is abundant that some people come to church to round out their food with something healthier than the cheap grain poverty forces them to eat. I am thinking of a neatly dressed elderly couple that I met at the Holy Cross open house that said (after I heard the stomachs growl and smiled) we heard there was going to be "good" food. I know at convention this year we all voted yes, yes yes and one of the things we voted was to serve nutritious food at Episcopal events. That message sure did not reach my church kitchen staff. They are on "treat" mentality. In a church of mostly elderly people actual hunger is most likely a problem.....even in "nice" neighborhoods.
    The reason we ponder on socks full of money is because it is so rare. The more common thing is a lack of enough food of quality. Well, we seem to have Religion of quality.....there is still work to be done.