You must let go of a thing for a new one to come to you.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whether you have been affected by the current economic downturn or not, you - like many people - may be reacting by fearfully guarding your existing resources. This may seem reasonable, given current uncertainties, however we all need to ask ourselves if we have taken this beyond levels of reasonable precaution. If so, it may constitute hoarding, which would inhibit your happiness and spiritual growth. It will certainly inhibit your ability to be open-hearted and generous.
According to Andrew W. Lo, a professor at M.I.T. and director of its Laboratory for Financial Engineering, our reaction to a general economic crisis stems from both neurochemical and physiological processes:
…the threat of financial loss activates the same fight-or-flight circuitry as physical attacks, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, which results in elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness.
Hoarding has actually become a medical term. Walter A. Brown, MD and Zsuzsa Meszaros, MD, PhD state that hoarding is “explicitly mentioned in DSM-IV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and it is seen as well in a raft of other conditions, including traumatic brain injury, Prader-Willi syndrome, tic disorders, mental retardation, and neurodegenerative disorders.”
This level of hoarding is a serious psychological disorder and exists at the extreme end of a spectrum of behavior, more moderate levels of which, we might recognize in ourselves. In fact, Brown & Meszaros find that,
hoarding is a common, highly conserved behavior across species. Animal research has focused on food hoarding, but birds and other animals also collect aluminum foil, beads, and other brightly colored objects. In humans, the rare clinically significant hoarding that results in impossible clutter seems to be on a continuum with normal collecting and the universal tendency to hold onto clothes, books, and other items far beyond the point that they are used or needed.
We might also see ourselves in the two active components of severe hoarding: the active component (collecting) and the passive one (failure to discard). In more moderate cases, the active component might be storing of unneeded financial resources and the passive component, failure to share, donate, or use to help others in need. [many people would question whether there is such a thing as an unneeded financial resource!]
The psychological disorder of hoarding, according to Brown & Meszaros, can originate from a process in brain circuitry, neurochemicals, brain pathology such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, neurodegenerative, or brain lesions. They also identify that genes may also play a role:
Hoarding seems to aggregate in families; for example, patients who hoard were more likely to have first-degree relatives with hoarding symptoms than those who do not hoard.
If this is true of severe cases of hoarding, perhaps we can also see patterns of overly cautious or ungenerous behavior in our own families. On the other hand, we might also see patterns of open-handedness and generosity, or at the far extreme – wastefulness and irresponsibility.
Patrick Arbore, Ed.D. works at the Institute on Aging in San Francisco and gives presentations on hoarding, since severe cases can involve seniors. He gives a long list of reasons for hoarding including:
- Items are perceived as valuable
- Items provide a source of security
- Fear of forgetting or losing items
- Obtaining love not found from people
Does that not sound like a list of reaction to need that we are all subject to? In fact he points to the underlying emotions of shame, grief and loss as motivators for hoarding. Arbore also talks about the spiritual dimensions of hoarding and recovery from that disorder. He says of recovery from clutter (related to hoarding),
It is removing old ways of thinking and believing from our minds in order to free our souls.
According to Arbore, wonderment is the key to spiritual growth for hoarders. Wonderment unlocks the ability to live in the present moment. This experience and appreciation of the people and things around us leads to an understanding of the limits of life, which opens the possibility of a simplified life and an uncluttered vision. This simplicty and lack of clutter facilitates an attitude of gratitude. Ultimately, Arbore says that hoarders are best assisted with caring and compassion for their suffering. This sounds to me like he is teaching caregivers to help hoarders by being generous – and in the end this generosity will unlock their fear and isolation so that they can let go of hoarding and be able to give to others – generosity unlocking generosity.
- How much are you grasping out of fear, hoarding out of uncertainty or to soothe yourself?
- How has the current economic downturn affected your ability to receive from others?
- What is your experience of wonderment, and what effects do wonderment create for you?
The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man.
- Albert Einstein