The Four of Pentacles, Elon Musk, and the Buddha in High Top Sneakers

An exploration of materialism as a source of joy.

I recently bought a pair of Keds High Top Sneakers and I got a major spiritual insight out of them.  That may sound a little weird but Robert Pirsig in, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” said that the Buddha could reside as easily on a computer chip as on a lotus.  So I see no reason that the Buddha couldn’t wear Keds High Tops.

I actually have a long history with Keds High Top Sneakers.  More accurately, I have a long NON history with them.  When I was a kid I desperately wanted a pair of them.  I thought that, without a doubt, they were the coolest sneakers in the entire world, and I was especially enamored of the circular white rubber sticker on the ankle that said, “KEDS.”  I knew that if I could get my feet into those sneakers all of my problems would be solved and I would live happily ever after, forevermore.

So, of course, my parents wouldn’t buy them for me, because that’s what parents do when you’re a little kid.  They stomp all over your sneaker dreams and leave you as a damaged human being who will grow up to be maladjusted and unable to cope with the modern world or ever form a meaningful relationship.  And all because they wouldn’t buy you a lousy pair of Keds High Tops.  Tragic, really.

I don’t know why I had to get this old before it finally occurred to me that I could buy my OWN Keds HIgh Top Sneakers.  Talk about self-love!  Talk about nurturing my Inner Child!  What a brilliant idea:  I could buy my own Keds!

And so I did.

The moment of Spiritual Keds Insight came when I opened the package at home and found myself feeling pure, unadulterated . . . fun.  It was just a LOT of fun pulling the little paper wads out of the toes, lacing them up, pulling them on and walking around the house admiring my feet.  My new KEDS HIGHTOP feet!

And that’s when I solved a basic conundrum I’ve been dealing with about  affirmations, visualization, and all of the various courses and videos out there that teach us, “how to have the life and abundance that we’ve always dreamed of having.”

I realized that I’d been feeling guilty about having material possessions that make me happy.  I’m in good company in experiencing that guilt because a lot of us – particularly those of us who were raised in Christian families – have been taught that material possessions are really, really bad.  Jesus rapped on that subject several times and said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.  He didn’t choose to expand the thought and tell us whether it’s easier for a camel to get into heaven than for a rich man to get through the eye of a needle, but I would certainly think so, all things being equal.  Nonetheless, it was clear that he had a mighty poor opinion of rich people and all of their toys.

One result of that early programming about material possessions (they are bad and you won’t get into heaven) is that I have trouble really embracing the New Thought teachings about abundance.  I definitely believe in visualization and in affirmations because I’ve seen them work in my own life.  Still, when the speakers get to the inevitable part where they talk about abundance, I veer off course.  Their talks usually go something like:

“Just a few short years ago I was so poor that I couldn’t even afford to have a penis.  I was so far down I had to look up to see a snake’s belly.  I was so poverty stricken that all I could afford to eat was dirt.  Why, I remember going into coffee shops and asking for a cup of hot water because it was free and then, when they weren’t looking, I’d mix some dirt into the water and pour ketchup on it so I could have some dirt soup.  But then one day when I was sitting in the local park –  because that’s the only place I had to sleep – I was chewing on some dirt and licking dew off of the leaves of a tree to wash it down and I suddenly understood . . . EVERYTHING!  And that’s when I developed my Amazing New Method of visualizing.  Now I have a private jet, 12 sports cars, 6 mansions, 8 girlfriends and, yes, friends, I’ve even grown a penis.  A big one.  And if you buy my new book you can have all of that, too!”

I’m good with that, right up until the point where they mention the jet, sports cars and mansions and then I think, “Bad . . . you won’t get into heaven.”  Because, you know, materialism is shallow and not really spiritual or evolved and people become obsessed with making money and turn into Donald Trump and Elon Musk, even though we kind of have to halfway forgive Elon because what chance did he have with a name like that? 

There’s even a Tarot card for it:  The Four of Pentacles.

It shows a man sitting on his little stool, clutching a coin to his chest, with another coin sitting on his head.  It’s not so much that he owns his money as that it owns him.  It’s sitting on him as much as he’s sitting on it. You can take one look at him and tell he’s not getting through the eye of a needle, much less into heaven.

Now, one of the most misquoted passages from the Bible is, “Money is the root of all evil.”  The actual passage says that THE LOVE OF MONEY is the root of all evil.  And that’s what my new sneakers taught me:  it’s not about the material possessions, it’s about the ATTACHMENT to them.

Buddhists talk a lot about attachment.  When we attach to material possessions (or even lovers)  we automatically start to think of them as, “ours.”  As extensions of ourselves, as part of our egos.  We feel more important because we have, “stuff,” and the more stuff we get, the more important we feel.  Then we start looking around at other people and comparing our stuff to their stuff.  If we’ve got more stuff than them, or more expensive stuff, then we must be better than them.  If they’ve got more or better stuff, then we become jealous of them and maybe even grow to hate them or dream about them losing all of their stuff so that we’ll be more important.

That’s the point where we’ve stopped seeing ourselves or others as humans and substituted material possessions for a measurement of worth.  Yes, that’s bad and, no,  we won’t get through the eye of a camel anymore, not even a rich camel.

But there’s a sort of a, “pre-attachment,” point with material possessions where they’re just a lot of fun, and fun is good in the same way that happy is good.  That’s what my Keds sneakers taught me.

If we give a new toy to a normal, very young child, the kid is going to be just as happy as a little clam in diapers.  She’ll play with it and stick it in her mouth and drool on it and carry it around for days.  And laugh a lot.  It’s a wonderful, fun thing to watch and there’s no downside.

Within a very short period of development, though, we begin to see a change in the way that some children receive new toys.  Especially in homes where there are too many children and not enough love, we see kids start to attach to their toys.  This is MY toy, it’s not yours.  They don’t want to share it with the other children and may begin to hide and even hoard their toys.  They may go into absolute screaming fits if one of the other kids tries to play with their . . . stuff.  Basically, even at that very young age, they’ve learned to substitute material possession for self worth and love.

The trick, then, is to re-learn the joy of a new toy without attaching to it.  There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with enjoying material possessions.  Hell, it’s probably hard wired into our nervous systems.  

I can thoroughly enjoy my Keds High Tops without at all thinking that my High Tops are better than your loafers.  I don’t have to run out and buy 20 more pairs of High Tops so that I’ll have a lot more of them than you.  I don’t need to put my High Tops in a safety deposit box.  I don’t have to get all tragically existential because, yes, someday my High Tops will wear out, so what’s the point of life anyway???

I can just enjoy them and I can do that with any other material possession that I want.  There’s nothing innately evil, wrong, or unspiritual about Keds High Tops.  They’re fun and fun is good, in the same way that happy is good, and happy is very good indeed.

At the end of the day, we’re here in the Earth School and the Earth School is chock full of fun toys, so we can just take pleasure in them, share them, and even love them for exactly what they are: toys.  Life is good and no one named us Elon Musk, so there is much to be grateful for.

Author: Dan Adair

Artist, writer, semi-retired wizard, and the author of, "Just the Tarot," by Dan Adair

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