Losing what wasn’t mine

Over the recent years, I have lost many things: health, house, money, belongings, opportunities, and so on. If I think these things were mine, it hurts.

In the moments I go into the story that these were mine and life took them away, I experience anguish, regret, pain, fear, blame, inability to move on, and so on.

Fortunately, there is another side to this.


Is it true these were mine? Is it true I can, truly and honestly, own these?

What I find is that I can never own any of these. I cannot own any object any more than I can own any of these thoughts, feelings, or insights, or any distress, clarity, or confusion, or even this body.

Of course, in a conventional sense, I can own certain things. But that’s a convention. It’s something we agree on and it’s reflected in the law.

The reality is different. The reality is that I cannot own anything. The closer I look, the more the idea doesn’t even make any sense.

All phenomena live their own life. I don’t have the ability to ultimately control what stays and goes or when it goes. We intersect in time and space and then move on in different directions.

In a very real sense, they are all visitors. I am a visitor in their lives.


To the extent I find what’s more true for me, and take it in and allow it to transform me, I find peace. It opens my heart and mind to find genuine gratitude for what happened. I see the genuine gifts in it.

It’s not enough to take this on as a philosophy. It may be a good start, and the transformation happens when we sincerely and honest look at it and find what’s more true for us, and keep exploring it.

We may find this over time if we have some receptivity and get tired of the struggle and suffering. We can find it with the help of pointers from others – whether from their own life or words. And we can find it through a more intentional and systematic exploration, for instance, guided by structured inquiry.


I have moments where I experience frustration and some distress around these losses, but it’s not so often. More and more, I get – in a felt sense – what I write about here.

I didn’t lose anything because I never owned them in the first place.

And I know that insight and reorientation is also not mine. It too is a visitor. I am visiting it right now.


I thought I would say a few words about the context.

Why can’t I truly own anything?

Ultimately, it’s because there is no “I” here to own anything.

When I find myself as capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as, I find that what I am cannot “own” anything. It all lives its own life. There is no ultimate “I” here to own anything.

Also, what brings anything into or out of my life is life itself. It has innumerable causes going back to the beginning of this universe and out to the widest extent of this universe.

Does this mean I don’t need to take care of what I have?

Not at all. If anything, recognizing we can’t ultimately own anything can help us be a better steward of our life and what’s temporary in our life. It highlights how precious it is because it won’t stay.

What are some of the gifts in this?

It’s specific to each loss. The loss of my health – and the fatigue and brain fog – has brought me back to the essentials. I have had to deepen into all the things I write about in these articles. It has simplified things. It has shifted my orientation from finding it cool and fascinating to having to deepen into it out of necessity. I have had to take it more seriously.

How does this look in the wider world?

The idea of ownership is a convention. It’s something we collectively agree on. And that means it can and will change. For instance, is it wise to allow individuals to accumulate resources from the commons far beyond what they need and could ever use? If we recognize that all resources are from nature and belong to the commons, how does this change how we regulate ownership?

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Gain and loss

In my middle- and high-school classes, there was a running joke whenever we discussed a short story, novel or poem. The teacher would ask us what the story was about, and someone would inevitably respond “gain and loss”. It was funny because it was always true. Our human drama is always about gain and loss. If those elements are not present, we typically don’t find it worth writing about or reading.

It is of course the insight of Buddhism and many other traditions… when there is a sense of a separate self, everything is filtered through gain and loss, or more presisely, attraction, aversion and neutrality. Will it be of gain to me? Will it bring a loss? Is it neutral (for now)? Will it enhance my life? Is it something I need to protect myself against? Is it something I don’t need to bother with?

As I went about my business today, and especially on the bus and while walking around downtown, I noticed how whatever came up was filtered in this way, and to be more aware of it, I labeled whatever attention went to as either gain or loss (attention naturally goes to the things the personality sees as as gain or loss). By doing this, I saw more clearly how this labeling process goes on throughout the day, often outside of attention.

For instance, walking down a street, I see how the labels of gain and loss come up with only seconds apart. Something in a store window is a possible gain (something that would enhance this separate self). Another thing or person a reminder of a loss (a loss of what was or could have been).