Sunday, July 17, 2011

Less: overcoming the tyranny of more

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the concept of less. I live in clutter as does everyone else I know. Our society encourages more and I fall into that trap. Right now I want more watermelon twizzlers, more water, a glass of wine (more since I’ve had none), more time outside in the beautiful and sunny weather, more time reading, longer hair and more time socializing. More.

We even use the phrase that “less is more” which surely must be insulting “less”. Shouldn’t the point be that less is less (hence better than more)?

Regardless of how spare may be the homes of my friends (or not), we all encounter cluttered roads, stores, offices and schools. Ads bombard us with the message of more and better (the latter being a different form of more). I have cardigans and shoes in most colors. Many in black. My books cascade and clothes are stuffed. Make-up tumbles. My refrigerator is crowded. Still, I troll the Internet for other options.

All major religions recognize the importance of renouncing worldly goods, wants and desires. A few of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, wrath, envy, sloth, greed and pride) deal with want, which is directly related to more. The more we want, the more we’ll try to get and then we’ll have more. In Buddhism, Siddhartha renounced his wealth, leaving everything behind to find enlightment. One of his four noble truths addresses the misery brought about by craving, and hence attachment. Hindu and Buddhist monks wander the streets with little but a bowl and their robes. Jesus gave away everything he had. Two of the five pillars in Islam are fasting and alms, both of which are a renouncement of something (your food and money). Less is holy; most of us aren’t even aiming to achieve that level of renouncement (too monastic!).

So why do we all seem to have more? I don’t think it’s a distinctly American phenomenon and we can see the ease with which our consumerism has conquered much of the world. I’m contemplating a personal pilgrimage through the history of renouncement, especially in a holy or literary context, and the ideas of less versus more. An interesting topic to continue writing about or a distraction from finishing the next novel/thriller? Thoughts? Reading recommendations? The more the better.

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