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Living In The Material World

Updated on May 6, 2015
The Old Man when he could still make things happen . . . Munich, Germany 1984.
The Old Man when he could still make things happen . . . Munich, Germany 1984.

"Green is good!"

The Reverend Ike said that.
Now, for those either too young to remember or who are old enough to remember but can’t because they spent the Seventies discoing away or in a haze & daze provided by their favorite drug du jour, Reverend Ike was a high-profile, TV-friendly preacher whose message was based on the premise that there was nothing wrong with being wealthy or wanting to become so and never mind that business likening a rich man’s chances of entering the Kingdom of Heaven unto the odds of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. If God had anything against people making bags upon bags of money, it simply wouldn’t happen. So, make hay while the Sun shines, brothers and sisters, because green is good!
And you know, I can’t argue with that. I like having money. Not for itself, of course (bits of paper and debased metal), but for what it allows me to do not only for myself but for those I care about and on occasion, total strangers. But it shouldn’t be the focus of your life, and I’ll go so far as to say there are some ways of building up your bank account that are flat-out wrong. Naturally, not everyone will agree with this point of view and that’s fine. This is America, after all, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and so forth. But as this is my blog, what I say goes. Dissenters are certainly free to write their own blog and to do so with my blessing.

Today's title was taken from a song by one of my major musical and personal influences, George Harrison, in which he chronicled his early days with The Beatles, as well as warned against the trappings of fame, fortune, and the world in general. I had to smile a bit when I first heard the song because George wasn’t exactly strapped for cash at the time. I later realized I had missed the point of the song, which was really the sequel to a tune from his first post-Beatles album, All Things Must Pass, “Beware of Darkness" in which he warns the listener to "beware of Maya." Maya, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the cosmic illusion. It’s everywhere and you have to learn to recognize and not be taken in by it which, as you might imagine, isn’t always an easy thing to do.
For the purposes of the blog at hand, we’re going to focus on the belief that the more you acquire, the happier and healthier (both mentally and spiritually) you will be which, quite frankly, is your basic LOC, which stands for Load Of Crap. If that were indeed true, the psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors of the world would have gone out of business shortly after the invention of the credit card. Don’t get me wrong: I like having a nice car and while I’m a firm believer you can never have too many guitars, books, albums or CDs (things like furniture and clothes - apart from snake-skin boots - have never mattered that much to me), I have also sold or given away those same things (with the exception of the snake-skin boots) and managed to survive without any lasting psychic or spiritual damage because when you get down to it, it’s all just stuff.

Here’s the first part of a useful quote from Oscar Wilde:

Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man, real riches cannot.

It seems you can’t watch your favorite TV show without being told that true freedom is owning
a particular pick-up truck or car, that the way to show The Real You to the world is by wearing some new designer cologne or drinking a suddenly fashionable (alcoholic or otherwise) beverage. And don’t forget the must-have plasma/High Definition/Super Rhomboid TV, the latest gizmo-packed cell phone, and the cutting-edge music system.
It’s hardly an original thought, but at some point you have to ask who owns who, here?
As nice as those things may be, they remain, well . . . things. How many times have you seen on the news where some palatial home has burned down (think of the yearly wild fires in California) and all the reporter talks about is how much the house cost and all the valuable possessions that tragically went up in smoke. That the family survived is treated almost as an afterthought: “The owners escaped unharmed, but . . .” They’re still alive but as all their stuff is gone, their life must be over, right? No point in carrying on, now. Family heirlooms, works of art, designer clothing, hi-tech gotta-haves, on and on. Yes, unfortunate losses to be sure, but life goes on. Human beings are remarkably resilient creatures, capable of overcoming the greatest of misfortunes.
(From the Sometimes Life Should Imitate Art file: at the end of The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges’ character - The Dude - is asked how he’s doing after being nearly drowned in his commode by some hired muscle then having his rug peed upon by same, watching a friend die of a heart attack in a parking lot after a rather comic battle with German nihilists, being slipped a mickey by a producer of pornographic films, seduced by a woman who wants a child by him but nothing else, and is soon to be faced with the pressures of a bowling league tournament. His reply? “The Dude abides.” But that’s a movie, not real life. Yeah, well . . . so what? Since roughly one-third of far too many people’s mannerisms, poses, attitudes, and speech are lifted directly from television or films, objection over-ruled.)

For an example of a more personal nature, let's take the case of my Dad, affectionately known as The Old Man, who slipped this mortal coil some eight years ago. He wasn't rich, but he was wonderfully successful, one of the top people in his profession, and from all appearances had all a man of his times could reasonably ask for: financial security, a nice house with a pool, a vivacious and supportive wife who was successful in her own right, loving friends and family, a high-end stereo system and other "quality of life" necessities, a motorcycle, on and on. From all outward appearances, The Old Man had it all and thensome. He was even audited by the IRS, not once but twice, and if that isn't a sign of success I don't know what is. That he was also smart, entertaining, talented, and handsome should go without saying (such qualities run in families, you know). Not bad for a Depression-era kid from the north side of East Chicago, Indiana. And then, one day over lunch, he announced he was retiring. Yes, he'd worked long and hard, and now he was going to Enjoy Life. Which sounded great, but that's not how it worked out. True enough, he'd acquired the symbols of material success, but there seemed to be no real enjoyment for him in them. Being able to throw a party to show your friends your new pool table or imported, hand-carved furniture is swell but when the party's over, then what? I'm not a psychiatrist but even I could see he was slipping into a deep depression and understandably so: when you've hustled and cut deals and made your own way on your own terms your whole life to reach a level of success you could only dream about as a kid, and you look at that success and its trophies (trappings?) but they just look back at you . . . what then? He had, seemingly, everything. He was, as they say, "living the dream." How could it not be enough? He tried to stay active for a while, took cooking classes, worked out, but no dice. He rarely smiled and could be difficult to be around, was often uncommunicative, so somber were his moods. The marriage went south and slowly but surely, the hard worked-for and long sought-after acquisitions began to disappear, as well. He decided to relocate to the area he grew up in, buying a bar to be run by his brother and oldest son, because "that's what I've always wanted." That may have lasted two years or so - I don't recall the exact time frame - before he sold the place and moved to Arizona where, from what I could tell from a distance, he did little more than pass the time because there was little else for him to do. After all, when having "everything" proves to be less than enough, what can you do?
What I’m trying to get across here is that you shouldn’t define yourself by your possessions and bank account any more than you should by what you have to do to pay the bills. By all means, treat yourself and your friends, loved ones, and even the occasional stranger to something special when and as you can. See: I’m not saying you should renounce all creature comforts and follow the Zen maxim of “one cloak, one bowl,” only that while you can cuddle up in front of a plasma/High Definition/Super Rhomboid TV, the person you cuddle up with - even if it’s yourself - is far more important than either that technological marvel or its price tag.
And now, here’s the second part of that useful quote from Oscar Wilde:

In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious
things that may not be taken from you.

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