Friday, November 11, 2011

Different Meanings of Possession

Blue and white convertible car at beach

There are many things we can possess, ranging from the tangible, such as property, cars, shoes, and jewelry to the intangible, such as status, reputation, success, and ideas. There are other things that are a little bit of both, for example, a bank account with money in the form of numerical statements, credit card bills or electronic money and credits. But we are led to believe that we can possess all of these things and much more.

Regardless of whether it is tangible or intangible, to possess is an active verb. It denotes ownership, that something is mine and that this is, at least conceptually, in opposition to ideas of any notion of "shared" ownership. One may possess "part" of something, say a shared business venture or you may even “share” your possessions with your wife and family, but at its core most of us prefer sole ownership and we may even extend this idea to people, such as possessing a family inclusive of wife and kids.

But we refrain from using the verb possess here, which may appear too aggressive and uncompromising. So instead we use the verb to have. We then have a family, a car, a business, a job. It can even be extended to include rather abstract ideas, such as time. To claim that you “have no time” implies that time is something that can be possessed and not be possessed at different times. 

Similarly, it may be commonplace but equally bizarre to state that your body is yours. Is your body your possession? Is your mind, for that matter? Can you lose ownership, let's say in terms of “losing” your mind, which once used to be yours but now is up for grabs? Or what about selling, renting or sharing your body with others?

This leads us to another matter, that although we may possess objects and people, we can also be possessed by them. The verb to be possessed has now become passive and we turn into victims because it is the thing itself that is driving us. In such terms, to be possessed is similar to be haunted or obsessed in the sense that you are about to lose or have already lost control. For instance, you can be possessed by certain ideas so that it becomes more difficult to think clearly. The idea that you "possess" can come to haunt you and you will "be possessed" by it.

In other words, you need to be careful. The things you claim to possess can, in fact, take over and possess you. Think about money, for instance. Most of us may work hard to get our hands on a little bit of this sought-after and -- more often than not -- elusive item. At first, we may be aware that money is nothing but paper which, nonetheless, gives us the means to have financial transactions. We can buy this and that, and it will become ours then.

However, once you start collecting money as paper or as growing numerical figures on electronic screens, some people lose control. Instead of possessing it, they become possessed by it, or at least the idea of money. We then forget that money is symbolic and that it is a means not an end in itself; in our confusion, we cannot think clearly (obsessed as we are) and may spend years, even a lifetime, seeking it. 

In the same way, we may be possessed by fixed ideas, which can include religion for that matter. People can become so possessed with this subject that they lose sight of what it really was that attracted them to religion in the first place.

And it is only a small step from possession to obsession. If you are aware that whatever you have, tangible or intangible, is nothing but a loan, including the most precious of them all, your own life, then you may be able to see the fallacy of any type of so-called ownership. Yes, we may own cars and computers, but they are impermanent things and will break down sooner or later. And then we are left with nothing.

PS: Dear Readers! Sorry I have been rather absent here lately. I have been possessed by work and have possessed very little time for writing. On the bright side, I have possessed ideas so soon there should be a more steady flow of writing again.