The I Ching uses the metaphor, “progress like a hamster”, to illustrate an attitude too focused on accumulation. The fact that hamsters like to hoard shows how old the instinct is in our evolution. The emphasis on things embedded in noun-based language underlies the materialistic attitude toward living. If things are all that matters then success is based on how many things you have.
Erich Fromm wrote, “The nature of the having mode of existence follows from the nature of private property… It transforms everybody and everything into something dead and subject to another’s power.” Consumerism is the pathology. Because so much of the vital experience of living is left out, we cure our emptiness with consumption. Introspection is reduced to tabulation of what we’ve accumulated. Not only do we amass things but also nouns that aren’t really things. We accumulate achievements, degrees, honors, awards, promotions and results in general. The attention to outcomes rather than process, of accomplishments we can quantify rather experience as it unfolds, is part of the having mode. Dissatisfactions arise because we don’t have as much as someone else. Comparison to others takes attention away from the unfolding process of our own life. Vitality is sucked from the moment when attention is focused on results. The self is just another possession. Thinking of the body as something we have creates anxiety about losing it.
Activity is the mode of being. Doing is feeling alive. Peak experiences occur when the involvement is so complete we lose consciousness of the self. Full attention is absorbed by the activity itself. Being happy is immersion in the act of living. Stretching out into the world is the action of growth, whether it’s learning or making, or listening or appreciating. Images for growth can direct attention to the richness of being and our interconnection to larger patterns. Awareness of the dependence on so many other factors that support our flourishing enlarges our sense of connection to the larger whole. We are not separate. We’re woven into the network and participate in it.