The picture above courtesy of Discover Magazine and FermiLab bubble chamber. (its a neutrino)
Traditionally speaking, materialism means liking things, stuff or material possessions.
Possessions is a funny word.
Can you actually truly possess something? Maybe for a moment in time but not indefinitely. Is the idea of possession exerting control over something to limit its ability to interact with other things?
Possession is control.
The idea of control is a farce that many of us subscribe to in our daily activities. Control is the cause of much of the anxiety that we all experience. Releasing the need to control what is uncontrollable can actually bring more opportunity.
While possession and materialism remain strong bedfellows, I think we have embraced a false definition of materialism.
excessively concerned with material possessions; money-oriented:“we’re living in a highly materialistic society”synonyms: consumerist, acquisitive, greedy, worldly, capitalistic, bourgeois
Materialism is actually the love of the material and resources that build other things. It is a true respect for raw materials, the processes and the energy required to transform them into something entirely new. Perhaps using consumerism in place of materialism would better explain how we find ourselves entwined in these brief relationships with cheaply fashioned items that are used and discarded as readily as they are acquired.
Having recently completed an exercise in minimalism (see #31 – Simplification Through Subtraction), I’ve found new visibility into the limited life span of items acquired through undue influence and the manipulation of the human decision making process. The uncontrollable desire to consume is fashioned through a framework of manufactured enthusiasm toward a physical object. The idea of the next new thing also tends to sever our ties with its incumbent. As we are bombarded with these messages, we often select the path of least resistance even if we aren’t aware of it. These decisions lead to the accumulation of things that are eventually categorized as clutter. In an effort to balance this egregious acquisition of future junk, we find ourselves identifying and removing certain objects after the initial enthusiasm has transformed into overwhelm.
Another unfortunate repercussion of this behavior is losing the intimate connection with the things that make other things.
We can find ourselves so far removed from the source of creation that we take the ingredients and the act itself for granted. At my house, the time between my kids finishing homework and getting them in the bed can be compared to trying to put a saddle on a tornado and guiding it through a single line mountain bike trail at midnight. Needless to say, this is an example of a moment when getting food on the table occasionally supercedes thinking about the origin of the tomato that I am slicing.
What if I did think about its origin and the path to its existence?
It came from a seed grown from another tomato that was grown from another seed. The seed lived in an environment of things that used to be other things, which are now serving a new purpose. Water, sunlight, the attention of a caretaker and time produce the future ingredient of something else. Respecting objects individually as ingredients, and as a whole, leads to the appreciation of how smaller objects aggregate to build larger things.
Meet Joel Salatin.
He is a farmer, brought to the masses by Micheal Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the documentary film Food Inc, with a beautiful approach to the symbiotic relationships that grow something out of nothing. Polyface Farms runs on the principles of transparency, grass-based, individuality, community, nature’s template and earthworms. They are in the earthworm business because the nature of their soil is the basis for growing healthy food, and they are intimately aware that their success depends on the success of smaller things. Salatin also refers to himself as a grass farmer, because without the grass, nothing else can happen. Earthworms and grass are the foundation for this fresh food ecosystem supporting over 2,000 families, 25 restaurants and 10 retail outlets near Swoope, VA. At Polyface Farms, chicken run free across the vast fields of the Shenandoah Valley feasting on juicy bugs and grubs, while leaving behind nitrogen rich excrement that feeds the vitality of the grasses that serve the cattle. By respecting the small ingredients that build the larger things, Salatin’s philosophy rings true and can apply to things far beyond earthworms and grass.
Small things feed big things.
Let’s stay with the Shenandoah Valley theme for the moment …
When I am in Winchester, VA, I always start my morning at Shenandoah Crossfit and Hopscotch. Hopscotch Coffee and Records combines two of my favorite things in a small, vibey building that always proves to be an inspiring backdrop to think and write.
On this particular day, I overheard the owner talking about her upcoming wedding held at her family farm in the magesty and wonder of this particular pocket of Virginia. The farm, which has operated for generations, raises cattle, pigs and chicken. We talked about the origin of food, and that most of the world doesn’t see the chicken. They see a pink chunk of flesh wrapped in plastic wrap and Styrofoam that simply appears in the meat section of the local grocery store. Its actually the manifestation of multiple efforts and ingredients, beginning with the careful attention and focus to raising something from nothing, keeping it healthy as it grows and then committing to an action that results in something ceasing to exist. I haven’t killed a chicken before, but I probably should. All the guests at this wedding will be treated to food completely sourced from her family’s farm. Sharing food is one of the most connected experiences that we can have, and this culinary experience is the culmination of years of energy, love and focus on the smaller things that build bigger things.
Things are built from other things that combine to build new things.
These are the pieces to your puzzle and the words on your page. As essential sections of the whole, they should be valued equal to the whole, because without them there would be no whole. These pieces are made up of even smaller pieces, which in turn are built from even more miniscule masses. This beautiful journey continues down to the subatomic level of quarks, neutrinos, gluons and electrons. Just as a star is formed when atoms of light are contained with enough pressure to generate fusion in their nuclei, vast and varied combinations of ingredients congeal to form the most awe inspiring creations. These creations are nothing without their ingredients, those ingredients are nothing without their ingredients, and so on until the limits to our grasp of the subatomic world are surpassed.
Creations are the sum of their ingredients, and we are the sum of our experiences.
Those moments in time forge our concept of now and bend our perception of the future. With a great respect for these puzzle pieces, we are able to see the ties between them and other experiences. We can see how some of them, while at first glance seem at odds, are just waiting to be connected and folded into something new that nobody has experienced.
How do these connections come about?
How can we predict which of these unlikely collaborations will turn into something of an exponentially extraordinary nature?
The short answer is I haven’t found a way, yet. The long answer is to understand as much as you can about the various components that interest you, and let your subconscious generate interesting associations. That’s how I’ve done it, anyway. If you have the discipline to learn the ingredients and explore them deeply, your subconscious will start to make these connections. Plus, the experiments are the fun part, and failure leads to further understanding.
A subtle movement during an intricate dance can provide the catalyst for the story arc of the entire performance. What about the single rivet that connects two pieces of metal supporting the most pounds per square inch on an airplane’s wing? How important is that single Kevlar stitch in the astronaut’s suit protecting her from the vacuum of outer space? Think about a single blade of grass in one of the fields at Polyface Farms. What about a single F# note from the oboe player that creates the tension necessary for dramatic resolution in an orchestral movement? The solitary zero in a long string of ones and zeros that made up your last email message. The water molecule that is the ocean. The grain of sand that is the desert. The planets and stars in our solar system. The galaxies in our universe. The universes in the multiverse.
Ingredients are just gradients of other things.
The F# note from the oboe player is a combination of synapses firing telling his lungs to exhale, place his fingers on the instrument to redirect the air, sustain the flow of air as directed by the visual stimulation of the sheet music and the motions of the conductor, not to mention the culmination of years of instruction, practice and failure.
All great things are made from other great things that are usually smaller only in physical stature. In some ways, these small things are greater than the larger things, because without them there is nothing larger.
Pay attention to each ingredient understanding its independent qualities, as well as grasping the undiscovered possibilities in the endless corralling, shaping, grouping and intermingling that can result in something altogether mind-blowing.
Be aware of the subatomic particles that continue on their combinatory journey to produce breathtaking architectural wonder, grand symphonic works that pull on every human emotion, computers that solve the world’s most complex equations, and virtually every unexplainable natural phenomenon.
Appreciate these infinite tools of creation at your disposal.
You can’t control everything. Its not about possessing something. Its more about recognizing the potential in something and the exponential possibilities generated by connecting it with other things. Even then, you don’t really possess it. Its out there for someone else to recognize the possibilities within your new creation and take it somewhere altogether new.
Most things cannot survive without connection to other things.
Here is to the small things.
Respect the ingredients.