It’s Mine!!!! Reflections on possession and ownership and how they impact our relationships and our experience of who we are.
Today it’s different story. Currently every square inch of earth that covers the globe is either in ownership of a state or own privately, be it to a person, corporation or charity. Land is fenced, gated and lines are drawn to demarcate, where one owners property begins and the other ends. Ownership means possession and possession infers control and dominion. This land is mine, therefore I can do what I want and treat what I own, as I see fit. This ownership is real, in the sense there is legal frameworks that are collectively agreed and followed,with law enforcement to ensure its adherence. Yet as many Palestinians discovered in 1948 when Israel “re-possessed” land it is said to have “owned” 2000 years ago, their title deeds and proof of ownership meant nothing. As dominance through violent force, supersedes any legal documents, as all property owners discover as invading armies take over. Suddenly possession appears to be a very fluid thing.
So it’s real but only to the point of being maintained and upheld by external force. Yet this no different to the value of money and many other things we uphold in our current society. Their reality exists on the basis of some collective understanding. Yet is easy to forget this, to forget that we don’t really “own” land we just have a piece of paper, that we all are agreed that says we do. So the question what possession really means is of vital importance as ideas we have and believe vehemently in one part of our lives. The way we view something has huge impact on the way we approach it, understand it and make sense of whatever it is.
Our right to possess and own property, comes from the same legal understanding on owning cattle, furniture and other goods. Ownership laws have become so entwined in our relationship with each other and our environment, we now inhabit a world that has things like copyright law, patent law and other weird and strange forms of legal possession. I make up a melody, I add words to it and I become the owner of those combination and fluctuations of sounds over a period of 2.30 minutes. It is my song and you need to pay me if you use it. Unbeknown to me until recently, if you use the song “Happy Birthday” in a movie, song or any other commercial media you have to pay a royalty to someone who invented the song. I can take a seed, a seed that’s taken possibly millions for years for nature to shape, create and bring to life and twist its DNA a little, or add some DNA from salmon and I am then the owner of that seed and all who use it, grow it will give my company money for that right. What that company pays to Mother Nature for giving them the seed and salmon in the first place I am not sure.
Up until not that long ago in history people also owned people. Slavery enabled people to be bought , sold and treated no different to cattle. Things are now are not so brutal, yet certain principles remain. Now being employed many bosses see no problem I thinking that as a result of paying someone, say £3.00 per hour that , that particular unit of time is theirs. In exchange for money, they own and control how you spend that time. As long as they are not asking you to break the law, you have forfeited your right to determine how that hour is spent. That hour of time is theirs , not yours. They paid for it, you agreed, now do as your told .The fact money is required to feed, clothe and provide shelter to someone and their family makes it less of a free choice than it is portrayed.
Being so pervasive to how we think and understand our interaction and relationship with the world, its comes as no surprise that the feeling of possession filters into how we see our romantic and family relationships. Kahil Gibrain in the beautiful passage from “The Prophet” brings to our attention
Your children are not your children./They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself./They come through you but not from you,/And though they are with you yet they belong not to you….
What makes this passage such a powerful and insightful understanding of parenting is that it goes against what many people would naturally feel. It poetical remind us that our kids are not in fact “ours”. Yet our language retells us something different all the time, this is my daughter, these are my kids, mine. Although not many would interpret that literally, or see it as the same as my car, it still is loaded with all the feelings and power that comes with anything we say mine and my, how can it not? When I think of possession of a person in an emotional sense, not as slave or as an employee but as child or spouse, I think of all the things that goes with it, rights, control, determination, power ,entitlement and so on. If I really think my daughters are really mine or Susana my wife is really mine, what thoughts and action flow from that? Or another way to look at is, if I don’t think she is really mine or my kids are not mine, like Gibran says “they are the sons and daughters of life..”, how does that shift the way I see or relate? Now that I have two daughters ,I understand that passage not just intellectually but as a father .It reminds me that they both are their own unique persons. They have not been born for me, to shape and mold as I see fit. I can care for them, support them, give them all they need to grow and thrive but continuing re-remembering they are not mine .The fact is it is needed to “re-remembered” as it’s so easy to forget. The fact they need me so much, the fact they will in fact do as I say(some of the time), the fact I think of them as “my girls” means I need reminding .They are not here for me, as they are in fact not mine. That they day they can head off into this world, confident, happy and resilience young women, no longer in need for of support, advice or encouragement, is the day I have succeed in what my job as a father is. They may still get my advice, support and encouragement but they don’t need it. This doesn’t mean they coldly disembark without care, rather a relationship then goes based on dependence to independence. Not having my own biological children I can’t compare it to the adoption process. As a father of adopted kids that feeling they are “my girls” didn’t happen the day I lay eyes on them .It took time, lots of love and patience and when I started to feel “Hey these are my girls” that was a good day and I didn’t think “Shame on me, Kahil Gibran said they were not mine, how dare I think they are my girls” .So as contradictory as its sounds , I like the fact they are my girls. As it’s a nuanced thing I guess I am trying to share. They will always be my girls, in the fact I love them immensely and they really are part of me somehow .I just have to keep in mind these two kind of “my girls”, let say. Mine with a capital “M” or mine without. There is the they are mine to love and let go when needed, or then they are Mine to hold on to, Mine to keep as Mine .I would like to nurture the former and lean less to the later.
At the heart I am not attempting to answer these question, rather is more reflection on pondering of the nature of possession. It’s so common place and so prevalent we don’t even question it or ask, can we really, truly posse anything? Is anything in this world truly mine? Can anything else really be someone else’s? I look at the look and our paradigm of ownership of the earth, it has given us a sense of entitlement and power that rationalises extracting, digging up, drill, chopping, burning, blowing apart anything and everything we want. Resources that have taken millions of years to take form, we consume and throw away in just a matter of years. The shortsightedness and disconnect of that attitude that is now unleashing devastating consequences in the form global warming, ocean acidity, water shortages and so on. On a personal level how much sorrow, hurt anger and anguish arises from feeling possessed by others, or feeling we poses others? How many potentially good relationships have ended up being poisoned by jealousy and possessiveness?
I think sometime questions need to be explored, discuss with a view that the answer is an unfolding one. I would to think I can love my kids and wife wholeheartedly without having to feel they are capital “M” Mine .I would like to think I could love them even more fully without that empty and insecure part of me that needs to own, control and have things all for himself. What would a world look like where there was no possession? What would our relationships look like without ownership, possession and control? To conclude leave you with the full Kahill Gibran passage I wrote about earlier “On Children”
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
It’s Mine !!! Reflections on possession and ownership and its impact on how see ourselves.
When I think I mine, I think of no one else’s, it’s just all for me. Its mine, I can share it if I want, but I decide, as its all mine. If it’s mine, then I own it, I control it, I am the god of what’s mine. So, what in fact is mine? What about my life? Is my life mine? Mine to have, mine to control? The being born part we had no choice or control over. Who we were raised by and where we were brought up, we had no choice or control over .If that history left us wounded or confident we had not choice over. Our bodies we inherited from our biological parents, again, we didn’t choose or control. Our need for food and water, we didn’t choose. Actually all of our needs we didn’t choose, they just seemed to be there, crying out to be meet. So if this is “my” life, when did it become mine? When did I truly take possession of myself? When did I over take ownership? When did I take control? Was it 18 or 21 years of age? If someone is possessive of me and controls me, does that mean I am not longer in possession of myself? If so much of what’s happened to me and gone into the making of me, I had no choice about, then why do I see my life it as “mine”? The part that I do choose, are they real choices or just a set of options set within a series of parameters, like a hand is free to be open or closed. I would like to explore these question and share some insights and feeling that I have been having recently around this subject.
Oddly our current society in addition to place a large value on possessions, we also a place lot value on the term and concept of freedom. We want to have things, but we don’t want those to have us. We like doing the owning but not the feeling of being owned. We want to have and be free. For freedom to have any meaning it has to be defined in relationship to what we are free from. So, what are we freed, unburden or unbound by? Aging? Unforeseen calamity? The need for food, clothing and shelter? From our past? Gravity? Dumb choices? Death and Taxes? Ok ok, but hey there, I am free .I am free to stay and watch TV or go to sleep. I am free to eat now, or later .I am free to live with the woman or man I see fit. I am free to stay inside or go outdoors. So I can see we often go about thinking my life is my own and I a free person, living a free country, without asking the question, is it true? These basic core beliefs, like many things we inherit, absorb and internalise as a personal truth, without any really examination of what being free really is and what it really is to own or have possession over one’s life.
So I hear you thinking , if we don’t own our own lives then who does? Maybe the answer is no one other person owns your life but maybe neither do you .Maybe our lives, anyone ones lives can’t ever be possessed or owned. The nature of nature is ceaseless and unbroken change, flow, passage, movement , infinite cycles with cycles. Life can’t be held, grasped, reigned in or controlled .As you can’t take a bucket of water from the river and say “look here I have the river in this bucket”. What you have isn’t the river, but water from the river, the river can’t poured into a bucket .Even if you made the world’s largest bucket and pour all water into that gigantic bucket, upon doing so it would cease being the river.
So maybe the concept of possession itself is part of this web of illusion that we all collectively go along with .We think that if we all agree, we tell ourselves and each other, that yes, we can possess things, be it land, objects, oneself or others, then it must be real. We set up elaborate and complicated legal frameworks to uphold this idea and then state violence and coercion to enforce it. The dictionary definition of possession “is the state of having, owning, or controlling something” .As you could say our individual lives we do have them, as in I am living it, but to be in possession of our lives we not only need to “have” life but to own and control it. That being the case, do we own and control our lives? I think you can easily frame one’s life in a way that you could persuade yourself that, you do in fact own and control your life.Yet you wouldn’t want to venture too far in examining that belief, as you soon may end up seeing and finding things that don’t match that understanding. For instance, so much of life, just on purely physical level, endures on the continued and uninterrupted supply or gravity, air, water, food, sunlight and a host of other things .We live only as result of the earth gives and provides us with what’s required .The life we have coursing through our veins is a gift, that’s precariously upheld by a unique set of elements that we interact with and exchange .None of these fundamental elements or processes we invented or manufactured. As Alan watts said “We were not born “into” the world, rather we are born “from” the world”. As the moment we think that we can possess , own or control our lives, we immediately separate and divorce ourselves from a fundamentals understanding of what life really is, what our lives really are.
Our lives are not living objects just walking the earth, we are not separate blocks of individual desperately trying to work out where our particular me-block needs to go. Even though it is easy to look at it that way, remember our eyes may deceive us. Like seeing the earth was flat , knowing that they knew then, made the most sense and appeared to be true. For the truth is, our life, is a brief spark of universe in jubilant flux .We are this forever exchange and relationship with the “other”, the “other” being what’s not us. Yet we built from the other, sustained by the other and then rebuilt, sustained some more, in millions of ways, over millions of times, that we can’t really say anymore, what’s other and what’s really us. As our bodies are the one concrete thing we feel we can affirm is ours, we do have possession of and some control over it. Yet how can we have and hold something that continuously moving, blending, leaving, arriving, decaying and regenerating the way our bodies do. As the moment you say “Hey this body standing here, this is mine” your breath has already left your body, new air has arrived, cells have died , new one been born .Already what was yours is now something else’s and what was something else’s is yours. At the fundamental level the looking at our bodies in such a way, shows us we can’t hold on because in fact we are being held. Knowing life holds me, rather than I am holding on to my life invokes a completely different way seeing and experience what it is to be alive .It centres us firmly in the knowing that I don’t have life, rather I am life .All that magic and mysteries we see across starry sky, all that beauty and magnificent we feel as we enter a forest, all that depth and pathos we feel as we dive into the sea, all this becomes our body. Yet also applies to the ugliness around us, this means all damage done to nature, all suffering and aguish perpetrated upon others, is owned and lived by us all.
As it is weird kind of feeling to sit with, to think I don’t own my life, I don’t have possession , control or dominon over myself. Having so little of it outside of selves anyhow, it seems crazy to then relinquish the last vestige of “me-ness” inside ourselves. Yet as you relax into it, there comes this serine feel of wanting to be in harmony or to be more attuned to the life to which I am. As if having, controlling, possessing and owning no longer constitute my fundamental drive of being alive, so to do all the limits that come with it, the fears, anxieties and suffering. As when I see that my life is mine, that I “have life”, then I must protect it, advance it, improve it, change it, prolong it and so on. When life holds me, it feels humbling and kind. When you reflect on all multitude of elements, variables, combinations that need to arrive and be received, in a certain exact way, for each and every second of life to continue, and all that happens without will or want, struggle or planning, it shows us “life” really does “do life” pretty dam good.
So what would happen if I just let life do its thing, without me trying to master it, control it and better it? What would happen if I actually let myself feel life holding me? What weight would that lift? What pressure would it relieve? In the same way animal just do their thing, dogs just “dog it”, cats just “cat it”. So what is me just “humaning it”, or me just “Ewaning it”?).What is my natural state when I take away the entrainment to try force, control, push and make my life what I think my life should be? The answer I don’t have but they are answers I would love to explore and deepen my understanding of in some way. This understanding of life not being mine, haven’t fully fleshed out or have some kind of 100% clarity .Rather it comes from that awareness that perspective matters and the perspective we have of ourselves in this world matters a lot. As the view we take is often the reality we live and share .I think to see life as “having us” and “being us” needs a lot of unlearning and questioning basic assumptions to be integrated. I think it takes time to really listen to what it is we are meant to hear, to really pick up on those whispers in which life shares its secrets to us.
What I know is many of the beliefs I have about myself and the world at larger don’t invoke serenity and calm .That feeling that I am small, insignificant ,separate piece of person, living life and just struggling to make a decent of go of it, is a view that wears you down after a while. As that feeling of” being breathed, rather than breathing” or “I don’t hold on to my life, rather life holds on to me”, for me has comes from something experiential rather than some I have read or intellectually grasped. The challenge then is to take that type of experience and integrate and make sense of how it informs my view of myself and the world and to be able to communicate what that means in articulate and clear manner, which in essence what this article is an exercise in. In “Part 1” on possession, I looked at the idea of ownership and its impact on our environment. We then look at how impacted us in our relationship, be it children or romance. This article has been about turning that light inwards and seeing how it is the concept or idea of possessing, owning and control applies to oneself. In attempting to answer that question we head down the inevitable rabbit hole of what is the “I” we are asking about .Where does “I” start and “other” begin? What I see discovered in that question is the” I” that I see as being “ourselves” is not fixed static being, encased in flesh a with few vital organs shoved in, that lives on earth whilst bumping into others on the way somewhere. Rather this “I”, is more a unique expression of relationship .This relationship is forever flowing, changing , exchanging and is in a permanent state of flux. To own our lives, control our lives and possess our lives ,we are attempting to hold that which cannot be held and by doing so, we become blind to the fact we are “being held” by life. As we see this, the emphasis of our focus moves away from getting, having, acquiring and surviving to one that becomes about the quality of that relationship, that conversation of exchange, that we are ceaselessly moving in. What am I taking in, what do I give back, how attuned I am to the seen and unseen forces that “gift” life to all of us? As we find out we are, “our relationships”. The “I” of ourselves is but fluid expression of I and other, the dance it makes, those notes it creates, is the song both of life and our life. How those interactions take place, what they birth, what they allow, how they shine, is the astonishing and everlasting narrative of life. This incomprehensible mass of relationship, of which each of us contributes and is moved by, is both one moving part, as well the whole dynamic itself. Like the violinist is both playing the violin separately but is also playing with and as the orchestra. When we see this, the question of ownership or control is mute. Who would bother evening trying to possess it? If anything, we want to know better how can we participate? How are we already participating? We can’t own or control this song of life, we can only sing it. If there ever comes a point in human history, that we are able to join in and sing the song together in unison, we may discover that it’s not us singing the song but the song that is singing us. It always was and, always will be.
UPDATE: November 13th 2015: I have been taking break from covering some of the more heavy subjects and focusing solely on satire.
I have no doubt I’ll come back to the serious but feel the need to be a bit more playful, silly and of course scathing on those worthy of it.
I am taking shots at inane articles you see on relationship advice, looking at absurdstories in the news, highlighting the opinion of people I would consider morons and just getting stuff off my chest like I do here.
So please check it out and see what you think.