Consciousness, paper collage, 2022
It is not your job to acquire belongings; it is your job to figure out what belongs to you and create extensions of its light.
Some of you may remember this statement from a post (two posts, actually) I published back in June. I woke up one morning, and this sentence was my first thought of the day—fully formed and begging to be analyzed. Intuitively, I believed it then, as I believe it now, to be true; although, the idea, perhaps, needs some working through. This post picks up where the last one left off and assumes that we have a fundamental human need to feel something belongs to us. It’s a bit of intellectual free play and also a bit stream-of-consciousness in style.
We do have an innate need to feel something belongs to us, much as we need love, acceptance, food, water, shelter, etc.
In its highest form, I would suggest that our “belonging” need manifests creatively. That when something “belongs to us” in a higher, non-ego-driven sense, it is not a possession but an extension of self. It is not to be coveted, strangled, consumed, acquired, or controlled. When something belongs to us in the highest sense, we love it in such a way that we want to increase its presence in the world. It is both ours and not ours. It flows through us and, in the process, becomes something new. In effect, we create extensions of its light, or essence.
But, it’s not enough, I don’t think, to suggest that the need to acquire possessions is a lower, ego-driven manifestation of this belonging need. It is, but how does it work?
Here’s what I think:
It isn’t a stretch to suggest that consumption is a cheap substitute for creativity. It’s often easier to buy than it is to make or do, if one has the means. It is also true that our possessions serve a variety of purposes in our lives. They can be functional, expressive, beautiful. They can serve as status symbols, as tokens of memory, or as daily reminders of the people/places/ideas that inspire us. But, they can also act as defense mechanisms, as buffers against reality, and prevent us from experiencing ourselves fully. The latter is what I want to talk about here: a trading of the impulses of our creative spirit for stuff.
In lower, egoistic expressions of our belonging need, I believe possessions serve as a protection from consciousness—as defense mechanisms against the complex, irrational, and instinctive elements of the unconscious that are required for healthy creativity to take place.
Why and how does it happen?
The creativity of the spirit does and must threaten the structure and presuppositions of our rational, orderly society and way of life. Unconscious, irrational urges are bound by their very nature to be a threat to our rationality, and the anxiety we experience thereupon is inescapable.Rollo May
Those of us who tend to be creative by nature—or who tend to access our creativity more easily than others—know that creativity requires a certain letting go, or a surrendering of our defenses from the unconscious. This is what allows our imaginations to take flight. What enables us to envision the world differently, to dabble in the absurd, in the world of make believe, or primordial images. Most of us, I imagine, also know the feelings of freedom, increased awareness, soulfulness, and even love that may accompany creative activity. In those moments, the world belongs to us in the highest sense.
It is my opinion that many people never access (or even acknowledge) their own creativity because they can’t let go. And for that reason, they’re probably also incapable of experiencing firsthand what it means to have something belong to them. When subject to the ego’s defenses, the desire to feel something belongs to us manifests paradoxically through the accumulation of stuff. What we really want is the ecstasy of the creative encounter, of having something belong to us in an almost Taoistic sense, of experiencing that which we love as an extension of self. Of giving back to the world by exercising our creative spirit. What we end up with are a lot of things. Instead of giving, we acquire, covet, and control. We may go about our entire lives consumed by the lower possession need: constantly working to accumulate but never experiencing the innate, soulful satisfaction of having something belong to us in a higher sense.
But in order for a thing to truly belong to us, we can’t meet it with our defenses raised. We have to meet it courageously and honestly, with our whole being. That’s a big part of what May calls “the courage to create” and also the courage to be.