Chapter 22: Reflection on Human Wretchedness
“If you have eyes for heavenly things you will perceive that all temporal goods are mere trifles. They are unpredictable and highly troublesome because you can never possess them without some anxiety and apprehension.”
I went shopping today, mostly to replace my housemates’ Wheat Thins that I scarfed down during Finals Week. I decided to go to Target, where I could also buy some last-minute Christmas gifts and check out the new CD and DVD releases. Even though these megastores threaten the livelihood of local mom-and-pop businesses, I admit that I find Target extremely convenient for my shopping needs. Of course, more than a hundred million other people also find Target extremely convenient and it felt like it was about that many who decided to shop at Target today. It took me about fifteen minutes to find a place to park and it would have taken me twice as long if I didn’t finally settle for spot a half mile away from the entrance.
Inside the store, the stress and anxiety were palpable. A seething cauldron of humanity and red shopping carts, the store sucked me into its exciting and tantalizing chaos until I found myself caught up in the holiday rat race. Now that I was drugged with the consumer’s holiday spirit, I remembered a particular DVD that came out today and knew there would only be a few copies. I wanted to buy it for my brother, but I also wanted to see it myself. As I headed towards the multi-media section, I began to rush, worried that they might sell out before I got there. The slower people in the store, that seemed to purposely walk right in front of me, made me frustrated and antsy. And then I imagined seeing the store’s final copy of the DVD. I imagined reaching it for it at the same time that another customer reached for it and wondered, “Would I let the other customer have it?” When I started seriously thinking about flipping coins and playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” in this scenario, I finally caught myself and gave myself the invitation to just let go.
All the mystics I studied this semester wrote about detachment. Kempis writes about it in this chapter and speaks of the “anxiety and apprehension” that we connect to these “trifles.” One of my Jesuit friends is traveling to South India in January to the Bodhi Zendo Zen Center to meditate for eight hours a day for several weeks. He invited me to join him, but I couldn’t afford the airfare. Instead, I said I would practice a milder form of meditation while here in California. (Yeah, right).
The purpose of this meditation is detachment from what Kempis calls “all temporal goods.” I started practicing this detachment today in Target and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. However, the flashy advertisements and sales persistently placed that weight back upon me. I had to consciously ‘let go’ several times in the store. It’s one thing to talk about detachment as I did last semester while studying the Christian mystics (and as I did while reflecting on Chapter VI), but it is quite another thing to practice it. I find Kempis’ call to detachment wonderfully pertinent to this hectic time of the holiday season when I so easily get caught up in the consumer chaos and overdose on attachment. Most of my frustration and stress, I have realized, stem from hyper-attachment. Buddha’s Second Noble Truth (“The origin of suffering is attachment”) definitely has some…truth. When frustrated and stressed out, I hear Kempis and, I think, Christ gently saying to me, “Just let go.”
It turned out that Target didn’t sell the DVD. I checked Rasputin music and Borders bookstore as well, but it was sold out.
“Just let go.”