Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."
The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused,
I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon."
Why is it that human beings place more value on the tangible things than the intangible experiences? What makes a physical item worth more than an emotion?
Every year my parents always make the comment that I'm a difficult person to buy for. Many times it ends up that whatever fabulous gift they decide to give me, I have already bought myself. The answer to that is pretty simple. When I was child, I didn't have the money to buy things for myself and I lived with them so they knew what I wanted, or — heaven forbid — needed. As an adult I have a paycheck and I live on my own. They don't have access to those simple clues anymore, and I can buy my own stuff.
The problem is, they're looking at the things that they think I would put value on and in return comment that they are the "Best Parents In The World". On the other hand, I don't need any physical reminder of that little fact. I've seen other people's parents and families. My parents are the "Best Parents In The World". I just don't tell them that as often as I should.
So last Christmas, my family loaded me up with a number of cool items as well as a ton of stuff from the local dollar store. I can't remember most of what they gave me. On the other hand, I bought tickets for everyone in my family to see one of my favorite musicals, Wicked
. I probably spent as much as — or less than — everyone else did on gifts, but the memory of that afternoon will last longer than any physical item. It was one of those few times that we all were together and enjoying the time as a family. Which actually had the value? The tangible gift or the intangible experience?
Sometimes phyical items do remind us of people or of a specific moment in time. I have a little figurine of an owl sitting on some books. It is made of blue glass and has two diamond-like gems for eyes. It sits in my knick-knack shadow box. It was returned to me when my aunt passed away. She had held onto it since the time I gave it to her when I was a child.
The story behind the owl goes something like this: When my brother and I were little, and I mean that both of us were still in the single digit age range, we were visiting my aunt and uncle with my parents. I don't really recollect exactly what my brother did to provoke my reaction — all I remember is throwing a couch pillow at him. He ducked and the pillow hit a vase that my aunt owned. It subsequently toppled over and smashed on the ground. Needless to say, my parents were really upset with me. My aunt just brushed the whole incident off, explaining that it was just a cheap vase and that no harm was done, but my parents wanted to teach me a lesson.
The next day they took me to a local craft and knick-knack shop. Their instructions were that I had to buy something for my aunt with my own money to replace the vase I broke. I have no idea how long we were in that shop, but I remember choosing that owl of blue glass for her. Later that day they took me back to my aunt's house and I gave her the owl with an apology for breaking the vase.
Every time I see that owl, I'm reminded of my aunt and the lesson I learned. Of course, I didn't have that statuette for many years — however, the memory of that day remained with me the entire time. Which actually had the value? The owl figurine or the lesson my parents taught me?
It’s time people took a step back from the materialistic world — away from the “things” — and for just one moment looked up at the night sky. Maybe then they will be able to receive their gift of a beautiful moon. The best part of all, it doesn’t belong to any one person — it’s a precious gift available to everyone. And it’s totally free. Bonus!