In this age where a materialistic mindset remains the primary motivating force an urgent necessity arises for awakening awareness of what is truly valuable in life. Possessions come and go. Everything decays and eventually dies. But developing character uplifts the soul, and the qualities accrued in the spiritual bank account are the only things to accompany us when we depart.
The only assets we can acquire in this world that can never be lost or stolen are the wealth of inner values that provide philosophical, spiritual and ethical enrichment. The ability to apply these values enables us to maintain equanimity of mind in any circumstance.
While Global movements for change, like Arab Spring and the current Occupy Movement protests, are important, urgent and relevant issues, I believe for necessary changes in the paradigms of our global culture to occur, we require a phenomenal shift that would redefine wealth–literally.
My parents, and others who lived through the Great Depression, gained a wealth of insight due to their experience. I asked my mom to tell me how it was for her during the Great Depression. She conveyed how lucky she felt to have grown up in a world where character and values held primary importance and possessions and comfort were secondary.
What brought joy and satisfaction during her childhood were meaningful interactions with family members. As there were six children, dinner always felt like a party. Neighbors and family friends often joined their supper-celebrations. Laughter filled the dining room, daily.
They often shared moments of creative entertainment that relied on inspiration from within rather than from an external source, like television, computer/internet, Wii, I-pod or I-Pad. Even when they listened to stories told on the radio, the mind had to engage itself to form mental pictures of the tale.
Having grown up in an affluent culture, living on Central Park West in New York City, I remember how as children we tended to wish for something new and different. When my brothers and I complained to my parents that we were bored, my father would say, “You can only be bored if you’re boring.”
Fortunately, my parents did not spoil us like so many of the kids I knew. They limited the amount of TV we could see, monitored what we saw and also made us write a book report a week to hand in to my father, independent from school. We resented it at the time. In retrospect, I have my parents to thank for my love of books, writing and the art of communication.
Children, by nature, have an innate capacity for creative imagination. When there is no external distraction available, the mind becomes a magic wand of spontaneity and joy. This aspect of childhood is crippled when the child is used to the crutch of interesting ‘things’.
I remember an incident I witnessed in Nepal when visiting Kathmandu in 1989. Some street children hung about the main square in the center of town. I watched with delight as they romped with each other, sharing avid and animated smiles, even though they had no toys to play with.
A street vendor threw a broken plastic-gallon-water jug into a pile of rubbish on the side of the street next to some grungy-looking cows. One particularly impish child laughed gleefully when he spied the jug. He raised his eyebrows with dramatic interest, and ran to get the jug, which proved a source of intense amusement. Thus was born the spontaneous soccer team of Kathmandu.
I wondered if a group of wealthy American children would have had the capacity to find such joy in a broken plastic jug. I doubted it. Most likely, if there was ‘nothing to do’, they would do nothing but complain about it.
So, which kids were actually rich?
No amount of material wealth will ever bring inner happiness. But that does not mean we should reject it. The point is that we should not be defined by it.
Technical toys available to the youth of today tend to distract from interactive-life, and may also limit or deter the ability to develop character through relational circumstances. We need not disregard the value of computer wizardry. Indeed, the swift advancement of Internet opens vast new educational avenues and experiences. But we must take care not to lose sight of the gems of non-virtual life experiences.
Precious qualities like compassion, patience and contentment become drowned by their polar opposites: competition, incessant ambition prompting self-centeredness, and the perpetual desire for ‘more’, which engenders a feeling of automatic dissatisfaction with what one has.
I had an opportunity, recently, to share a traditional Sabbath dinner with my friend’s family. Her father is a well known Rabbi, Joseph Telushkin. From start to finish, the evening unfolded with a warm and glowing communal energy. We shared group ritual and prayer, spiritual discussions, congenial story-telling and a general ambiance of joy and fervor. Of a party of almost a dozen people, not a single person looked at an I-phone, I-pad, computer, etc. A synergy of joyous communal celebration seemed to ignited the hearts of all guests and family members.
What a blessing it would be if all people in the world would awaken to the riches of shared gratitude and love-infused spiritual aspirations.
Cultures are defined on some level by what they value most. The accumulation of capital wealth has been a persistent prime directive for the modern majority.
Witnessing established systems beginning to break down sparks a hope that a thirst for spiritual transformation accompanies (and enhances) the growing alertness to the need for political change.
If people learn to treasure the art of living, financial greed would diminish, as new perspectives on what’s truly worth striving for would find fertile soil to flourish for a fantastic future.