Taking an Inventory

Being Thanksgiving, I figure that most of us probably played the “What am I thankful for?” game today, so I want to do something a little different here tonight.

Instead of listing the things that I’m thankful for, I’d like to talk about the difference between what I have, what I want, and what I need. And let me start by saying that most of the “What I’m thankful for” lists are typically dominated by what people have and want, rather than what they need. (This post is going to get a little preachy- I apologize in advance for that).

What I have:

Put simply, way too much stuff. From all the camera gear to the car, the books, guitars, backpacking and camping gear, and all the assorted collectibles, knick-knacks, trinkets, and souvenirs I’ve accumulated over the years, I’ve got far more than I could ever use, and really entirely more than I deserve.

I’ve got so much stuff I hardly even have room for it all, and compared to most of humanity (that vast majority of us who live on less than $2 a day), I’ve ever got too much space to fill- not that Americans, Westerners, or so-called citizens of “industrialized” nations would agree with that statement.

And do I need all this stuff? Absolutely not. Why do I own so many t-shirts, so many pairs of pants, so many camera lenses, and three guitars (of which I only regularly play one)? Why do I own so many books, when I can obviously only read a single piece of literature at a time? Why have I collected so many things over the years, when all that they do is sit around gathering dust and taking up shelf space (and making me think that I need even larger digs just to hold it all!)?

Like most of us, (and this time by “us” I mean those of us living in consumerist societies- not the $2 a day types), I’ve fallen victim to that all-too-common burning desire to acquire possessions- so heavily promoted by marketing and advertising agencies, pop culture, and society at large. Even though I detest the idea of it, I’ve certainly done my own “keeping up with the Jones’s”. And my debit card statements can certainly attest to that.

Yet most surprising of all (to me at least) is that each purchase I make seems to be “the last and final piece of the puzzle”- that last piece of backpacking gear, last camera lens, last pair of pants, or last book which I so desperately “need”. That last item, which after acquiring, I’ll never have to purchase anything again. Each and every time I buy something, I tell myself- “This is it! Now my collection is complete!”

And yet, it never is.

What I want:

Fortunately, the things I want tend to be immaterial, and unrelated to worldly possessions or societal status. I’m not sure why, but some mix of genes and environment has led me to focus more on existential conditions (like “freedom”) than the types of things that most people seem to desire.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big time possession guy, (a quick browsing of my backpacking and camera gear lists proves that), but my material desires stop far short of where I think most people’s continue to run. I don’t want the gigantic house, the fancy car, the immaculate wardrobe, high-powered job, or social status that everyone else seems to crave.

Unfortunately, one of the things that I do want (especially in moments of weakness or insecurity) is a beautiful, intelligent, kind, and loving woman to share my life with. And I don’t mean to be stereotypical, pessimistic, or sexist (even though I know that’s what I’m doing here), but most of the females I’ve met tend to want exactly those things that I’ve outlined above (in addition to the one other thing that I really want to avoid: kids).

Perhaps it’s because I’m only 26 and just don’t have enough life experience under my belt, perhaps I’ve just run with entirely the wrong crowd (the college educated tend to be far more desirous of these types of things), or perhaps it’s just that I’ve always lived in Southern California and have absolutely no idea what actual human beings are really like, but the vast majority of people that I’ve met (and females in particular) seem to crave mostly material possessions and those things typically associated with society’s standards of what it means to be “successful” (a respected career, home ownership, a nuclear family, etc.).

Now, while most people are unlikely to admit that their hopes and dreams lie in a acquiring the newest Mercedez Benz, or the gigantic house overlooking the ocean, isn’t that how most of them actually behave? Isn’t that why most people sit in offices every day, slaving away the best years of their lives, and the vast majority of their waking hours? Again, it could just be a Southern California thing, but it seems to me like this is pretty much universal human behavior, based on what I’ve seen throughout the United States, Mexico, Thailand, and China.

And when people talk about “being happy”, I will be first to admit that they tend to say they want to remain healthy into old age, raise a fully functional, emotionally stable, tightly-knit family, and live out a modest life of leisure- eating good food, owning nice things, and basically pursuing their interests, passions, and hobbies- but is that how those very same people act?

Which brings me to the real point of this post.

The other night I came across a Tweet by Sabrina (happinessfresno), which I’d like to share with all of you:

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a person and the life they lead?~Albert Camus”

I immediately thought of the incredibly simple, yet beautifully elegant concept that Psychologists refer to as “Cognitive Dissonance“, which I can honestly say is single-handedly responsible for having the largest impact on my life out of everything that I’ve ever been exposed to.

What I need:

What I need is to find that “simple harmony” in my life which Albert Camus refers to in the above quote. What I need is to be able to put aside the complicated and intricate self-image which I’ve been constructing for these last 26 years- the desires, the attachments, and the clinging to self importance and personal history.

What I need is to live a life of total and complete freedom, unattached to any person, place, posession, or concept.

And what I hope is that somehow the rest of humanity wakes up one morning with the full realization that this is both entirely possible, and in fact, absolutely necessary if we’re to make any progress as a species and a civilization.

And that’s why I continue to write posts to this Blog, and share my inner thoughts with all of you- no matter how scary that might be.

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2 Responses to Taking an Inventory

  1. Cody Schaaf says:

    I found your blog while looking for pictures and information on the Big Pine Creek area; although I’m just a senior in high school, backpacking and the outdoors have become my passion over the last few years and I am overwhelmed by the freedom and escape it offers from our dysfunctional world. After reading through a few more of your posts, I must say, you have become somewhat of an inspiration to me. Your takes philosophy, religion, and life in general blow me away and let me know that I’m not the only person on this planet who feels that there’s something more to life than making money and accumulating “stuff.” Not many kids my age seem to understand this and I constantly have trouble finding people who actually like spending time in nature and talking about truly important issues. So if you ever are in need of a backpacking partner or someone to go on an outdoor adventure with, shoot me an email at codyschaaf@cox.net. Thank you for this blog and for expressing such an eye-opening message through it. I’ll be sure to keep on reading.

  2. Tim says:

    Hi Cody! I’m glad you were able to connect with some of my posts – that’s the whole point of them, to help foster creativity in others, or to make people think outside the box! You’ll find people who think you do in college, as long you don’t give up on the search. There are lots of seekers out there, you just have to know how to spot them!! I hope you’re still enjoying the outdoors, I haven’t been able to get out much lately because of work duties, but I’m trying to get back into the swing of things here. I’ll let you know if I get any upcoming adventures planned!

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