Wisdom Cookie:
Minimalism – Being vs Becoming

By Rachna Chopra

Have you noticed a spike in talk of minimalism these days? Sounds contradiction in terms, but the sheer number of books that are being written, videos being created, podcasts being recorded, minimal gear being sold, mini-homes being constructed and minimalist designer brands that are mushrooming is astounding. So much talk of something that needs so little—its almost become about acquiring more of less!

The sacred spiritual practice of non-ownership that was to be gestured by a way of living is being sold so people can buy more and more of it. Sadly, the essence of the teaching is getting lost in translation. People can lure you into a monastery but that wont turn you into a monk. The switch has to happen inside first, before the symptoms appear outwardly.

Minimalism is a state of being, not becoming. It is a revolution in the spirit that springs from a radical disinterest in ownership, to finally realizing the myth of ownership. Its about seeing how things impinge upon you, and how our attention (every ounce of which is needed for our spiritual quest) gets trapped in objects. How innocent things appear, yet how powerfully they exert control on your life by their mute presence. Its about realizing that things are as much a part of the web of relations that you have, like your partner, siblings, kids or jobs. And they leave an equal vacuum when discarded, akin to death of a loved one.

Its when you begin to notice that when you bring a chair into your room, how you start interacting with it, investing in it. You start flinging things on it, start sitting and musing on it, brooding on it, laying books on it, associating memories with it. You may even start talking to it if the need arises! And thats a simple chair. What to speak of the bed (the greatest object of one’s attachment), the bookshelf, the watch, and that coffee mug! Oh and those clothes hangers; do one day without em and you know what piece of the puzzle they control.

If one fine morning you arrange a free pick up by St. Vincent de Paul and donate all that you own under a spell of experimentation or sudden detachment, for a brief moment (and that could be months) you feel stripped till your soul, like an orphan who does not belong to anything! Thats right—its you who had belonged to them; not they to you. Thats the power we accord to objects we own. We start belonging to them.

Not without reason do saints and sadhus give up things—they are awake to their impact, the nostalgia they awoke, and the warp and weft of attachment they spin around us. Monks living in caves live on the threshold of life and death, so when the moment to depart comes, they are not recalled to be flung back on the wheel of saṃsāra by the warmth of their blanket or the love of their pet. They are at the ready—thats minimalism.

Certain sects of Jain monks carefully analyze each thing they own, and evaluate its usefulness, before they give it room (real-estate) in their lives. Eliminating the unnecessary is a great start, even for commoners. Many layers have to be shed before we can arrive at the discernment of what to retain and what to un-acquire.

Yet, at some point in this journey (after you have given up near everything besides your underwear and toothbrush), you realize the futility of it. You see that no matter what you give up, you are still in possession of the biggest object of delusion you own—your body! Even if it were to die, it would spring back up again, wearing another name and form. It is the mother of all belongings.

Beyond this point of realization, there is no more passage. The situation demands resolution. Now the real enquiry begins—where did this body object spring from? How can one get rid of it, rather how to stop its recurrence? Now owning or not owning things, big or small, makes no difference. All that is left to do is to drop the load of false identity, and simply stop belonging.

The author of this holistic wellness blog is a modern mystic, fire worshipper and spiritual travel guide. She guides self-discovery journeys to places of power and pilgrimage in American Southwest and South Asia. Web: www.rachnachopra.comEmail: [email protected]

Images courtesy of (Mahatma Gandhi’s meager belongings picture courtesy Reddit) and thesatimes |

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