THE MYTH OF POSSESSIVENESS by Lloyd Thomas

One source of great unhappiness is a false belief that we “own” things. When we believe we possess something, or can acquire something, we become fearful of loss, or driven by desire. If we believe we own material possessions, the reality of death certainly proves otherwise. If we believe we “have” other people, such as children, a spouse or friends, the reality of personal choice and control clearly demonstrates otherwise. It is a delusion to think we possess parents, spouse, children or anyone else. Yet, I work with many people who honestly believe they own, and therefore can control others.

This same delusion even applies to information, opinions, and belief systems. How many conflicts have occurred, when someone else is believed to hold a different belief or opinion than those we “have?” Throughout human history, people have killed each other based solely on the assumption that the others “held” a different set of religious or political beliefs. How is it that we believe to know what others think or believe? How do we know others’ opinions are different than those we have? And even if they share with us those differences, why should we become angry or anxious? Do we own their minds? Do they own our minds? Do we ourselves actually possess the thoughts, beliefs, opinions we experience as our own? Can somebody steal our thoughts? Can others change our beliefs? Can anyone else possess our opinions? To believe so is actually delusional.

We often maintain the delusion of possession, in order to keep our own anxiety in check. We believe our bodies and minds to be “ours” to avoid the panic of believing they are not. We lay claim to our minds and bodies as though we could control what arises within them. Knowing about “our” digestion, does little to modify how it works. Our bodies and minds have the audacity to change, to seemingly obey their own laws, to function beyond our will or intention. They even have the ability to deteriorate and die without our consent or control. That anxious childhood delusion that if we “owned” something, we could control it, simply doesn’t hold true.

When we think of ourselves as possessing others, the desire to change them in some way, and the consequent feelings of betrayal can be especially strong. Sometimes I fall into the delusion I am in a helping profession. I often believe I form a healing relationship with others. When I fall into such a delusion, it is very easy for me to become frustrated when people don’t get better. When others don’t do the very things we talked about as improving their health, I feel betrayed. I could even become resentful if they didn’t do what they promised they would, especially when to do so would make their lives so much happier. From such a perspective, people often do not seem to want to be happier or healthier. I feel betrayed or resentful. Such is the personal consequence of believing I have control over others because we “have” a relationship.

The truth is there is absolutely nothing we can have that we will not lose eventually. So there is always fear. We cycle around and around, trying to gain possession of more and more…then we die. Talk about betrayal of our delusion!

Craving and anxiety circle around each other like a dog chasing its own tail. Fear gives rise to greater desire for something.  Intensified desire strengthens the delusion that “having it” will make us feel secure. Attachment to security increases our fear that it will be taken away. And the circle is complete.

Sharon Salzberg writes in her book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, “Attachment, which is based on desire,…is the root of suffering because of its two accompanying qualities: seeking and guarding [defending]. Seeking is endless. It never comes to a state of rest; it never ceases. Guarding involves trying to hold on, and this creates fear and anxiety, because everything we can know with this body and mind is in constant change.”

Happiness is rediscovered when we realize that states of mind are actually a function of our being, not a function of how much we have or even what we have. Inner qualities such as love, faith, wisdom, and peace are not created by feverish seeking. They arise from the quality of our inner being…from the choices we make…from the behavioral habits we’ve created, and from the beliefs we hold about ourselves. Separate who you are from what you do or what you have, and you free yourself to experience greater happiness…your natural and genuine state of being.

 

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