Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When Gifts Turn Into Curses

"Simple Elegance"
- in my meditation garden -

Yesterday I received an ad from our local satellite TV provider depicting a family, looking very unhappy as they sat in front of their TV set. The text of the ad read: When 500 channels just aren’t enough!  

The ad was designed to promote an “exciting new package” of available stations – more sports, more news, more music, more movies and entertainment channels. I guess a lot of people must feel that the 500+ stations currently available just aren’t enough, and so the promise of something more and better may well be fairly enticing.

Since I can remember a time not all that long ago when we used an antenna and the only channels on our TV were three or 4 network stations, this advertisement was quite provocative to me and really got me into thinking about the question: Just how much is too much?       

A little while 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." The study concluded:

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

Researchers in the study concluded that this desire to “accumulate” is a weakness inherent in the human condition (rich or poor it makes no difference).  People always want more stuff - more money, more things, a place higher up on the ladder of success.  Even when they know they have enough, even when they realize they don't need more, even when they have 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.

Yesterday I came across this piece of wisdom from priest and author, Richard Rohr:

Excess turns all gifts into curses.

I couldn’t agree more.

A glass or two of red wine may actually help to control diabetes but a bottle or two presents a great health risk, food on the table is a gift but eating in excess makes you sick and obese, the gift of clothes on your back or shoes on your feet can quickly turn into curses when the shoes are collected in boxes and clothing is stuffed into closets where they are never seen and rarely used.

I even remember telling some people that they should probably spend less time at church and more time at home with their family – in many ways you can even say too many prayers.  

As I think about it, there is almost nothing in life that we may consider a gift that can’t be turned into a curse by excess.

When we succumb to the desire to accumulate more and more “stuff,” more things, more money, more power and status, we pull life "into" our isolated ego where we will always suffer, cut off from others, chained and locked up within its walls - a lonely, sad place to be. 

And when we are always looking for more we will have a hard time making ourselves available to the gift of what is; but the wonderful surprises of life only come to us when we can be available to the present.

The ancient Taoist, Lao Tzu, once offered this simple yet profound wisdom – good spiritual advice for living in today’s world where 500 TV stations are just not enough:

Manifest plainness
Embrace simplicity
Reduce selfishness
Have few desires

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