Monday, March 18, 2013
Living in a Material World
“People” often say that material things don’t matter. But, once again, “people” are wrong. That’s because, many material things are not just material things. It is very difficult to separate so arbitrarily the material from the spiritual. By “spiritual” I refer to the less tangible aspects of reality: emotions, value, purpose, beauty, love, relationships and so on. I am not referring to anything specifically religious.
The material and the spiritual cannot be so easily separated, because material things are often invested with spiritual qualities. A souvenir, even a cheap, tacky souvenir, is not just a thing. The very word “souvenir” indicates this: it is the French word for memory. A souvenir is worth more than its dollar value because it is a link to a place and time which was important to us. It is the physical hyperlink to our memories. And our memories are more than just factual recollections. They are those, but packaged with emotions and sensations and relationships. So if we lose or break a souvenir, although we might say that it doesn’t matter, that it was only a silly, worthless, material trinket, it was, in fact, no such thing. We say this precisely because it is not true: we are trying to protect ourselves from a deeper, more significant loss.
Material items can also become the link between us and a person from whom we are separated, or who has died. The loss or breakage of such an item touches us very deeply, as much as we might try to convince ourselves that it doesn’t.
Finally, an item for which we have worked and saved very hard to be able to finally buy is, again, worth much more than its mere monetary value. Into that item has gone our investment in time and energy. Attached to it is the anticipation of its final acquisition, and the joy of that long-awaited moment of ownership. These things are not only “things”. They are a projection of ourselves, our effort, our history, our life, into the world. This is not materialism. This is not ownership and possession for its own sake.
Someone I know received a small amount of money as an inheritance when her mother died, and with that money she bought an item, a “thing”, that she treasured. When that item was broken, this broke more than a “thing”. Don’t ever tell me that material “things” do not matter.
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