It was Christmas of twenty fourteen. My first Christmas in Amsterdam. I was not ready for the laidback-ness of the city. Even the tourists seemed to be taking it easy as the streets were scanty. I spent a better part of the day with with my family and later with a good friend. I couldn’t help but pause at the sudden realization of what a rare blessing this has been. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the kind who thinks of Christmas as the special day to give and receive good vibes, positivity and all the other names we call it – no, everyday is special in that sense. But there is an aura that comes with Christmas, we know this from childhood. Take away all the gluttonous tendencies and consumerists sentiments, one is left with that childlike impulse of just being. Everything strikes an unforgettable chord inwardly. I guess this was how after so many years I still retained the smell of Christmas air as I knew it from back then.
Our lives are made up of intricate gradations of gives and takes (and as soon as a child is born the indoctrination into the gift mentality begins – right from the moment a child can tell white from black), but this state of being, this childlike state transcends all of that, and with a hint of paradox encompasses it as well. You can share gifts if you are so disposed, or not if you were one of those having a hell season (just like those whose mother will stand in the living room wearing green, and pretend to the kids to be a Christmas tree just because she couldn’t afford one), It matters very little in comparison to being there and relishing the wordlessness of presence.
Building up to the festive season I witnessed many attempts to live up to the expensive tradition of Christmas. Amsterdam even came up with the Festival of Light which I thought was a sorry attempt at making a big deal out of neon lights. Façades of houses were bathed in light decorations followed by the frenzy of evergreen conifers known to us as Christmas Tree – a tradition handed down by the European bourgeoises of 16th century Germany, that has nothing of significance beyond asserting a certain kind of societal value. Today some families – Europeans and Americans alike – will work and save throughout the year in order to make sure that they have a decorated Christmas tree at home.
While I am particularly repulsed by these superficial approach to a period that ought to be celebrated with a higher consciousness, what I took away was that shrouded by theses excesses, that which should make the so-called special season no special than any other day, if only we were not so caught up in the glitters.
A certain remark I picked up from somewhere have latched on to my consciousness: “human beings always want to have rather than to be”. Ever since, I have reflected on these words, applying them to everyday occurrences encountered as I would a magnifying glass. My deductions is that this could indeed serves as a benchmark in understanding the speed at which we move from profoundness to superficiality, but also the extent at which the line between the two blur.
I have always spoken about the commodification of sublime virtues. Every now and then, someone or some occurrence comes along to inspire the world, but sooner or later, that very principle is sold for money, exchanged for deals or packaged in cans, for humans as well as for animals. I have always asked myself why. I am not going to say that there is a clear answer to this question because one could easily argue that if it is good, it should be reproduced exponentially. But as a departure point in understanding the mechanism involved, I have chosen to look at the disparity between Being and Having.
To Be immediately calls forth the feeling of being imbued with or being one with an essence (note, not The essence, but An essence which escapes a specific state of being, in the sense of being in a constant state of flux). It is the beginning and the process at the same time. It gives without the need to label it as such. It is the very quality of presence that gives absence its distant attribute. It accommodates all other forms of exchange given that it operates as an undertone rather than the object of a transaction. It is not afraid to abandon itself to the moment as most cautious effort at self-preservation stems usually from the fear of losing a prized possession. It is not a possession, nor does it operate as one. It therefore has nothing to lose thereby making giving a continuous flow rather than a negotiation in the alternate movements between giving and receiving. To Be is to surrender oneself to a situation without the subjugation of submission. It is to give unquantifiably and by so doing disrupts the parameters by which commodification can be measured.
To Have on the other hand relates to possession. It is a quality triggered by the need to quantify. But this quantification extrapolates to classification, demarcation and eventually accumulation. It is an object, no matter how subjective and this very quality readies it for exchange. It can be measured, devalued, or overpriced. But it can never transcend to the realm of the unquantifiable. It can never be a microcosm of infinity. It can never inspire the free-flowing fountainous gift of giving simply because it operates in the logic of measured expectations.
The disparity between these two states of existence does not lie in the exclusivity of one over the other, but in the order. Having can, in harmony, be a derivative of Being, but Being cannot be attained through Having, at most it commodifies it. There is something close-ended about Having that turns Being into an accumulation to the tune of absurdity.
Returning to my conversation about Christmas it seems to me then that, there is confusion in where to situate the line between that very human longing of a profound wordless experiencing – which operates outside the realm of quantity – that we sometimes resign to the word “Love”, and the very process by which we strive to evoke the experience.
It seems to me that we understand the language of possession, and territorialism more than we realize that the most important possession we have is not a possession because it is not priceable and it is not quantifiable.