Muchness: A Modern Pathology

posted Jul 22, 2012, 4:52 AM by Interfaith WS

Nadine wrote articles and gave workshops on journalism throughout the United States. She came to my workshop on "Creative Problem-Solving" because of a problem she called "muchness."

“It's like a disease," she told us. "Before I give a lecture or write, I prepare for it with every book I can find on the subject. Sometimes I have fifty to a hundred books on my desk, most of them saying the same thing. “Nadine said that the "disease" manifested in many ways in her life. Three-quarters of the clothes that hung in her closet she did not wear. Yet she couldn't throw them out. "When I cook a meal for myself there's enough food for three people. I eat more than I should, but I still have to throw away a lot. Is there a spiritual approach to this problem?"

Darshani. Muchness as a value clutters many lives. Our culture prescribes it. Television, radio, the press, billboards, shopping malls, and conventional education tell us over and over again that "more is better." More possessions, more wealth, more distraction, more activity, more food. Muchness cuts deep grooves in our minds. "Much" means success-"little" means failure. Muchness is a device born of contemporary society to give us a false sense of security. Having much does not minimize the risk of insecurity. Risks come from everywhere, and they come all the time. Security lies in strengthening our tolerance for insecurity. Insecurity is the nature of life. Most of us know this at heart. If we did not, we would not seek spiritual experience, nor would you be here.

It seems to me that the way to cope with this “disease" is the way we cope with any transformation. What you want is a different value by which to live, a value that makes more sense in your heart than the one that has governed your life thus far. Next, you want to transform your habits of body and mind to correspond with it. I would call this value "the law of absolute necessity."

Here is how you can do it. For years you have meditated unconsciously on muchness. Change your meditation. Meditate consciously instead of unconsciously, and switch the object of your meditation from muchness to absolute necessity. A good way to begin is by reflecting on this law as it applies to your profession. I am sure you know The Elements of Style, the classic on how to write by Strunk and White. Strunk wrote that a sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

I heard a well-known writer say that he never uses a reference book for his first drafts. He writes "from the inside out." Before he touches the typewriter, he sits in his meditation room and asks his higher self. "What is it that needs to be said?" Not until he receives complete guidance does he get up. By doing that he finds the germ of his message first, and adds the hay later. Using so many reference books to begin with, you are piling up the hay first, and trying to find the germ within it. That is the outside-in approach where muchness is the law. This is like going from store to store to find out if they have anything you need, instead of deciding what you need first and going to buy it. You want the inside-out approach, which is always governed by the law of absolute necessity.

Let's apply this law to food. Every spiritual tradition stresses the need to waste nothing, to cook and eat only enough for the body's requirements to perform its work. More than that becomes toxic because the body cannot handle it. Spiritually speaking, too much food relegates the act of eating to sensual pleasure rather than to survival.

The key to making the law of absolute necessity an integral part of your life right now lies in the Biblical axiom: As you believe, so shall it be. Picture yourself and believe yourself already living by the law, living it in your kitchen, your clothes closet, your study, in sleep, and in speech. Meditate on the law with a silent mind every morning, before retiring, and as often as you can throughout the day. In the East, it is said that whatever you do for forty days in a row becomes a habit. Give the exercise forty days of your life. When the new law becomes habit, you will discover a spiritual truth. Muchness distracts, destroys, and gets you hooked on quantity. The law of absolute necessity keeps your priorities right and gets you hooked on quality.

The law of absolute necessity reminds me of a framed poem I saw on the wall of a doughnut shop in New York City:

As you ramble on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal,

Keep your eye upon the doughnut,

And not upon the hole.