Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 46 'Why This Urge to Possess?'
IT HAD BEEN raining for days, and it still didn't look as though it were going to clear up. The hills and the mountains were under dark clouds, and the green shore across the lake was hidden by a thick fog. There were puddles everywhere, and the rain came through the half-open windows of the car. Leaving the lake behind and winding its way into the hills, the road passed a number of little towns and hamlets, and then climbed the side of a mountain. By now the rain had stopped, and as we went higher, the snowclad peaks began to show themselves, sparkling in the morning sun.
Presently the car stopped, and you walked along a footpath that led away from the road, among the trees and into the open meadows. The air was still and cold, and it was surprisingly silent; there were not the usual cows with their bells. You met no other human beings on that path but in the damp earth there were the footprints of heavy shoes with rows of nails. The path was not too soggy, but the pines were heavy with rain. Coming to the edge of a cliff, you could see far be- low a stream flowing from the distant glaciers. It was fed by several waterfalls, but their noise didn't reach that far, and there was complete silence.
You couldn't help being quiet too. It wasn't an enforced quietness; you became quiet naturally and easily. Your mind no longer went on its endless wanderings. Its outward movement had stopped, and it was on an inward journey, a journey that led to great heights and astonishing depths. But soon even this journey stopped, and there was neither an outward nor an inward movement of the mind. It was completely still, yet there was movement - a movement wholly unrelated to the going out and the coming back of the mind, a movement that had no cause, no end, no centre. It was a movement within the mind, through the mind, and beyond the mind. The mind could follow all its own activities, however intricate and subtle, but it was unable to follow this other movement, which did not originate from itself.
So the mind was still. It was not made still; its stillness had not been arranged nor was it brought about by any desire to be still. It was simply still, and because it was still, there was this timeless movement. The mind could never capture it and put it among its remembrances; it would if it could, but there was no recognition of this movement. The mind did not know it, for it had never known it; therefore the mind was still, and this timeless movement went on beyond recall.
The sun was now behind the distant peaks, which were again covered by the clouds.
"I have been looking forward to this talk for many days, and now that I'm here, I don't know where to begin."
He was a young man, rather tall and lean, and he carried himself well He had been to college, he said, but didn't do very well there, only just scraping through, and it was thanks to his father's wire-pulling that he had managed to get a good job. His job had a future, as every job had if you worked hard, but he wasn't too keen on it; he would stay on and that was about all. What with all this mess the world was in, it didn't seem to matter much anyway. He was married, and had a small son - rather a nice child, and surprisingly intelligent, he added, considering the mediocrity of his parents. But when the boy grew up, he would probably become like the rest of the world, chasing success and power, if by that time there was still a world left. "As you see I can easily enough talk about some things, but what I really want to talk about seems so complex and difficult. I have never before talked about it to anyone not even to my wife and I suppose that makes it all the harder to talk about it now; but if you have patience, I will come to it."
He paused for a moment or two, and then went on.
"I am an only son, and was rather pampered. Though I am fond of literature, and would like to write I have neither the gift nor the drive to carry it through. I am not entirely stupid, and could make something of my life, but I have one consuming problem: I want to possess people, body and soul. It's not just possession that I seek, but complete domination. I can't bear that there should be any freedom for the person possessed. I have watched others, and though they also are possessive, it's all so lukewarm, without any real intensity behind it. Society and its notion of good manners hold them within bounds, But I have no bounds; I just possess, without any qualifying adjectives. I don't think anyone can know what agonies I go through, to what tortures I subject myself. It isn't mere jealousy, it's literally hellfire. Something will have to snap, though so far nothing has. Outwardly I manage to control myself, and I probably seem normal enough; but I am raging inside. please don't think I'm exaggerating; I only wish I were."
What makes us want to possess, not only people, but things and ideas? Why this urge to own, with all its struggle and pain? And when once we do possess, it doesn't put an end to the problem, but only awakens other issues. If one may ask, do you know why you want to possess, and what possession means?
"To possess property is different from possessing people. As long as our present government lasts, the personal ownership of property will be permitted - not too much, of course, but at least a few acres, a house or two, and so on. You can take measures to safeguard your property, to keep it in your own name. But with people it's different. You can't pin them down, or lock them up. Sooner or later they slip out of your grasp, and then the torture begins."
But why this urge to possess? And what do we mean by possessing? In possessing, in feeling that you own, there is pride, a certain sense of power and prestige, is there not? There is pleasure in knowing that something is yours, be it a house, a piece of cloth or a rare picture. The possession of capacity, talent, the ability to achieve, and the recog- nition that it brings - these also give you a sense of importance, a secure outlook on life. As far as people are concerned, to possess and to be possessed is often a mutually satisfactory relationship. There is also possession in terms of beliefs, ideas, ideologies, is there not?
"Aren't we entering too wide a field?"
But possession implies all this. You may want to possess people, another may possess a whole series of ideas, while someone else may be satisfied with owning a few acres of land; but however much the objects may vary, all possession is essentially the same, and each will defend what he owns - or in the very yielding of it, will possess something else at another level. Economic revolution may limit or abolish the private ownership of property, but to be free from the psychological ownership of people or ideas is quite another matter. You may get rid of one particular ideology but you will soon find another. At all costs, you must possess.
Now, is there ever a moment when the mind is not possessing or being possessed? And why does one want to possess?
"I suppose it is because in owning one feels strong, safe; and of course there's always a gratifying pleasure in ownership, as you say. I want to possess persons for several reasons. For one thing, having power over another gives me a feeling of importance. In possession there's also a sense of well-being; one feels comfortably secure."
Yet with it all there is conflict and sorrow. You want to keep on with the pleasure of possessing, and avoid the pain of it. Can this be done?
"Probably not, but I go on trying. I ride on the stimulating wave of possession, knowing perfectly well what is going to happen; and when the fall comes, as it always does, I pick myself up and get on the next wave."
Then you have no problem, have you?
"I want this torture to end. Is it really impossible to possess completely and forever?"
It seems impossible with regard to property and ideas; and isn't it much more so in regard to people? property, ideologies and deep-rooted traditions are static, fixed, and they can be defended for long periods of time through legislation and various forms of resistance; but people are not like that. people are alive; like you, they also want to dominate, to possess or be possessed. In spite of codes of morality and the sanctions of society, people do slip out of one pattern of possession into another. There's no such thing as complete possession of anything at any time. Love is never possession or attachment.
"Then what am I to do? Can I be free from this misery?"
Of course you can, but that's entirely another matter. You are aware that you possess; but are you ever aware of a moment when the mind is neither possessing nor being possessed? We possess because in ourselves we are nothing, and in possessing we feel we have become somebody. When we call ourselves Americans, German, Russians, Hindus, or what you will, the label gives us a sense of importance, so we defend it with the sword and with the cunning mind. We are nothing but what we possess - the label, the bank account, the ideology, the person - and this identification breeds enmity and endless strife.
"I know all this well enough; but you said something which struck a chord in me. Am I ever aware of a moment when the mind is neither possessing nor being possessed? I don't think I am."
Can the mind cease possessing, or being possessed by, the past and the future? Can it be free from both the influence of experience, and the urge to experience?
"Is that ever possible?"
You will have to find out; you will have to be fully aware of the ways of your own mind. You know the truth of possession, its sorrow and pleasure, but you stop there and try to overcome the one by the other. You do not know a moment when the mind is neither possessing nor being possessed, when it is totally free from the influence of what has been, and from the desire to become. To inquire into and discover for yourself the truth of this freedom is the liberating factor, and not the will to be free.
"Am I capable of such difficult inquiry and discovery? In a curious way, I am. I have been cunning and purposeful in possessing, and with that same energy I can now begin to inquire into the freedom of the mind. I should like to come back, if I may, after I have experimented with this."
Commentaries on Living Series 3
Commentaries on Living Series III Chapter 46 'Why This Urge to Possess?'
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