Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gadget Goodies 35 - The Zen of Things Gone

image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of, picture from user MikroLogika
As we've talked about various aspects of downsizing, we've looked at various reasons why downsizing is a good idea. Reiterating those might be a good way to start, then move on to some final thoughts.

Our illustration is a pile of recycled cellphones.  If we think of our own use of electronics, it might surprise us to discover how much our electronics usage compares to that.  And we're not talking about what we throw out.  In some ways, modern marketing has turned first world countries into nations of hoarders.  The result is a combination spare units, broken devices, extra batteries, a few parts, maybe some cases we can no longer use, etc.  You get the picture.

We started our bouncing series two weeks ago, with Gadget Goodies 33.  It was a "catching up" post about my own electronic life and experience.  That evolved into a series that included some deeper insights and continued on both blogs, plus dragging several LifeNotes.

As we engulf ourselves in our electronic life, a number of things are the result.
  1. We're spending money on duplication and upgrades that may not be necessary.  Money that could go toward food and shelter or helping others.
  2. It sticks us with extra "things" that may or may not be problems for travel and moving.
  3. Electronics can create a sense of difference between us and those who aren't as electronically well heeled.  That sense of difference may be in our own outlook or in that of those around us.
  4. We can be distracted from fully experiencing real life.  Our possessions and electronics may give us a sense of status and having a handle on life.  But, if we're not careful, we can easily go from owning our stuff to being possessed by it.
  5. We can become distracted in our spiritual life by our possessions and electronics.
Our #1 is a result of our business/profit oriented society.  Marketing tells us that not only does each device have special features that differentiate it from other devices, but they're features we can't possibly do without.  The reality is that many of these features are things that are useful, but we don't really need.

We've pretty well covered #2.  Too much "stuff" makes travel and moving more difficult, at the very least.  Downsizing becomes imperative.

Our #3 highlights a cultural reality.  In previous posts in this series, I spoke of my plans to go onto the international mission field.  When our lifestyle and possessions are noticeably different from those around us, there's a mental and psychological barrier that seems to magically grow.  It doesn't matter whether you're the one who is "rich" or has less.  There's suddenly the idea that the other party can't possibly understand you because the experiences are so different.

I don't think I really got into #4 much, previously.  But think about it.  There's nothing wrong with entertainment and information gathering.  We all need some form of downtime and we all need to learn.  The latest TV show is a very different experience from enjoying a spectacular sunset.  That favorite talk show isn't the same as the interaction of a real conversation.  That newscast or news magazine program isn't the same as actually living life.  I'm not saying we should be on the scene of some of these shootings we hear about.  But real conversation is far more envigorating than being talked at via the media.  Experiencing a real hug is WAY better than listening to a discussion about what love is supposedly about.  Our things tend to get in the way of real experience.

And then there's #5!  There are a lot of different disciplines that tell us there are benefits to spirituality.  But add possessions, and specifically electronics, and we find ourselves diverted away from spirituality.  I've mentioned that I'm an evangelical, born again Christian.  But I've studied psychology, among other things.  And I've experienced Zen Buddhism.  On some levels there's a mutuality of experience, a convergence.  There are also huge differences.  But the one area of really common ground is that distraction can eliminate or diminish our spiritual experience.

Having said all of that, I'll admit that I've fallen prey to some of those, not to others.  Through that, I've realized that taking full ownership of my life is essential.  While input is essential to making good decisions, it can't be the overriding rationale for what I buy, do or think.  That marketing guy is trying to sell me an idea or product.  It's how he makes his living.  But only I know how that fits (or doesn't) in my own life.  I/we need to own that aspect of life.

I have to add here that I love electronics and gadgets.  If phone makers and electronics manufacturers sent me free devices, I'd be doing regular reviews, here.  And, while there are many who'll praise the virtues of turning the pages of a real book, there's something to be said for being able to carry a small library to the local coffee house or across borders in a device no bigger than many paperbacks.  That can include spiritual volumes.

The hedonist says anyone and anything is good.  The ascetic tells us it's all a distraction.  The reality, for most of us, is that there's a balance point somewhere between those two extremes. While there are gadgets that can and do make our lives easier and more enjoyable, we have to decide we own them, they shouldn't control us.  Where that balance point will be different for each of us.  

Even though Jesus led a life that was more ascetic than most, He never suggested that wealth and possessions were bad.  Rather, the problem was allowing them a priority position in our life and thinking.  And that could equally apply to the ascetics, with their focus on a perceived need for removing everything from their lives.  So, while things can become a distraction, it's balance, not removal, that eliminates the distraction.

With all of that in mind, my aim in downsizing is to get to a point where I'm not hindered in any way by what I own.  While I feel a need to cut back to something less than what I now have, I'm definitely still avoiding ascetic monasticism.  I think it's important for each of us to periodically evaluate what we have and determine if we really need it or not.  Have our goodies taken over our lives or are they still our servants?  The answer to that will be different for each of us.  How about you?  Are you possessed by what you own or are you the captain of that ship called life?  Are you really overwhelmed by your possessions or are you experiencing the Zen of things gone?

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