Why I Don’t Own Anything

By | August 8, 2012

I recently got a birthday card with an illustration of a monk exclaiming as he looked into a box he was just given by his fellow monks: “Just what I always wanted—nothing!” The card sender knew me well: I am a joyful pauper—I don’t own anything other than some clothes and a few personal items.

When I was a young man, I had successful businesses, retail property, and hundreds of acres of land. I may have been rich, but I didn’t feel wealthy. Every morning I woke up knowing that I was going to be doing something business related, that continually sapped my vital energy. One day I gave it all away, and I have yet to regret it. My life was again mine—I woke up nearly every day feeling lighthearted, and when issues came up, they were usually within my immediate realm to take care of.

Perhaps the greatest gift that came from shedding my possessions was the transformation of anxiety and fear into gratefulness. My mate Lety clearly described my new outlook on life with the dream message she woke up with yesterday morning: When I don’t own or think I deserve anything, everything is a gift. I embrace a simple smile as a cherished gift when I’m not expecting exclusive attention, and I cherish a bowl of fresh-picked wild berries as a perfect breakfast when I don’t have a basket full of store-bought fruit beside me. Now I not only understand, but feeling my heart what my elders call the Gifting Way.

Not long ago I interviewed Robert Wolff, author of Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing. “There are a lot of countries where you can’t say you own anything,” said Robert. “In Malay and some Polynesian languages, there’s no word for my. You can’t say ‘my wife, my children.’ The very idea of owning is completely foreign to them. As long as we think we own the world, each of us will want a piece of it for him/herself. The whole idea of property and owning is an evil idea—it’s the worst thing we have invented. ”

Story is the original way of sharing knowledge, and I think it’s still the best. I’d like to close with one from John Heckewelder, that I found in his book published in 1819: Account of the History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations, Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighbouring States.

Some travelling Indians having in the year 1777, put their horses over night to pasture in my little meadow, at Gnadenhutten on the Muskingum, I called on them in the morning to learn why they had done so. I endeavoured to make them sensible of the injury they had done me, especially as I intended to mow the meadow in a day or two. Having finished my complaint, one of them replied: “My friend, it seems you lay claim to the grass my horses have eaten, because you had enclosed it with a fence: now tell me, who caused the grass to grow? Can you make the grass grow? I think not, and no body can except the great Mannitto. He it is who causes it to grow both for my horses and for yours! See, friend! The grass which grows out of the earth is common to all; the game in the woods is common to all. Say, did you never eat venison and bear’s meat?—“Yes, very often.”—Well, and did you ever hear me or any other Indian complain about that? No; then be not disturbed at my horses having eaten only once, of what you call your grass, though the grass my horses did eat, in like manner as the meat you did eat, was given to the Indians by the Great Spirit. Besides, if you will but consider, you will find that my horses did not eat all your grass. For friendship’s sake, however, I shall never put my horses in your meadow again.”


1 Comment

Rick W on August 8, 2012 at 10:45 am.

Charles Eisenstein has written a book, Sacred Economics – http://sacred-economics.com/read-online/ . He also talks about the Gifting Way, and loss of the Commons. If you’ve read it, what do you think of what he says?


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