Monday, October 07, 2013

Impressions of vanity

In recent days, my wife and I tried once again to see if we could catch a live HD TV signal from an HD antenna we got from Best Buy. Once again, I tried the antenna only to be reminded that the only channels we could receive were one English shopping channel and three Spanish channels. It was an inconvenient reminder that the big four networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, don't make enough money from advertising anymore. They make their money from selling retransmisison rights to the cable networks, so they have no incentive to broadcast HD TV at a power high enough to be received by most people in their service area.

As I scanned the four available channels, I got a taste of the of uber-bravado/feminism and macho-heroism portrayed in Mexican pop culture. Sure, we have it in our American pop culture, but the Mexican culture portrayed by their television shows seems so overwrought, almost like a caricature. That impression has left me thinking for a day or so.

I look around and, seeing a continuum of satisfaction in the human condition, am left to wonder, how much is enough?

I live in a humble little pink house. It has a lawn in front and a lawn in back with little white fences on either side. I have an attached garage with a garage door opener. I have some 1300 square feet to work with, some of which I do not venture into too often. I take a certain pleasure in seeing the sunlight stream into the house during the equinox at sunrise and sunset. I am, in a way, satisfied with the space available to me. It is enough.

My car, small, nimble, light, and easy on the gas, gets the job done. I have a short, 18-minute commute and I stream music through my phone when I go to work. I do some shopping. I might run an extra errand or visit friends and family. But I usually get by on about $15 to $35 a week on gas. It's enough.

I have a decent LCD TV, a computer, a cell phone with a spare, a refrigerator, a washer and dryer and a few other amenities. I don't need to buy another one of any of them. My 5 year old computer was ready for replacement, and that has recently been replaced, but once the excitement of building a new operating system is over, I'm back to the routine again. With every new thing we get, the excitement only lasts a little while and the routine returns. I have enough and buying more or better isn't really going to make me feel better.

I've seen wealth in houses and cars. I've seen Armand Hammer's mansion in Beverly Hills many years ago, a posh little palace with a Rolls Royce in a stuffed garage, gathering dust with a dented fender, long forgotten. I've seen millionaire homes with the best of everything. Stainless steel appliances, rooms dedicated to home theater, opulent bathrooms, and big garages filled with shiny, alluring, brutally fast cars.

I've met celebrities and at once became aware that they are really just human beings in the often very awkward position of having to be available to everyone, even when they don't want to be there. News anchors have the most interesting arrangement of telling the most awful stories in cold, neutral details, without flinching at all about their personal lives or dramas therein in front of the camera.

Everyone has a different path, so envy does not a whit of good. We don't know how much suffering has been invested to acquire all that wealth, even for people who love what they do. Does all that material wealth make anyone feel any better? How much is enough? Is wealth accumulated and displayed for personal enjoyment or to give just the right impression of exclusivity? There's an interesting meme floating around on the internet:

“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.”

Some have attributed that quote to George Carlin. That wouldn't surprise me, but the the concept does bring up the point I'm driving at in this here article.

I'm not saying that everyone should consign themselves to a life of poverty to achieve enlightenment. That's been done by the Buddha and even he found asceticism wanting. Money doesn't bring happiness, or even cause it. It merely facilitates happiness. Even people who have money, a lot of money, have to make a choice to be happy with it.

Trying to satisfy the heart with money doesn't work. The heart is only satisfied with love. I know from personal experience. I've seen people with plenty of money who are miserable. They try to find ways to satisfy their hearts with it, but the heart doesn't see it, because the heart is in an entirely different dimension of reality than money. The heart, in all its glory, does not know money. The heart only knows love.

The heart sees things that all the other senses cannot see. You can dress up, dress down, drive your fancy car, serve the most expensive caviar and the most expensive champagne at your party, and host it all at a big fancy house you happen to own. It won't matter to your heart. Sure, you might have moments of fun and laughter. But none of that grandeur matters to your heart. The heart only knows how it is being treated by other people. That's it.

The Beatles said it best: All you need is love. Every attempt I have ever observed to demonstrate wealth, pomp, circumstance and bravado, are at best, a way of saying "I'm fine. I don't need (your) love" to the world. But deep down, no matter how tough you are, or how rich you are, or how successful you are, there is nothing quite as satisfying as a warm smile with a big hug, a kiss and a "hello" when you get home.

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