Ownership is Bondage

Slavery - Ownership is BondageSlavery: Alive and Well in America

They say that slavery was abolished after the Civil War. But I say that slavery is alive and well in America today. Who are these slaves? What do they look like and where do they live? Most important of all, are you one of them?

Today I’m going to explore the idea that Ownership is Bondage. Many of us have become slaves – slaves to our stuff. We think we are wealthy and free when we own a lot of stuff. My contention is that just the opposite is true. Our stuff owns us! We become slaves to our stuff. Ownership is not freedom. Ownership is Bondage!

What is Slavery?

What is slavery anyway? Slavery is being under the control of another person or thing. It is having your liberty taken away. It is being in bondage. It is being dictated how you should spend your time and money. It is taking away your ability to make choices and the freedom to do the things you wish to do. It is the suppression of the human will. That’s what slavery is.

Many years ago the slave ships sailed to the coasts of Africa where the slave traders ran through the jungles capturing the natives, binding them in chains, and forcing them into servitude. Today we are pursued on TV, the radio, and in the newspapers. The slave traders come at us from every direction, luring us with their bait – stuff! And guess what, we willingly put our hands and feet in the shackles and count it a great privilege to do so.

You think I’m joking! “Surely this can’t be true,” you say. Let me illustrate:

Of Slavery and Bondage – Lake Powell

I have a neighbor who is very wealthy. We’re talking millions of dollars here. This person has a huge home. It is so big that when they built it I thought they were building an apartment complex. The family owns a lot of things; boats and snowmobiles and many other fun things.

One thing they own is a houseboat on Lake Powell. I had the opportunity several years ago to be invited with a group of young people to spend a few days at Lake Powell on their houseboat. This wasn’t just any houseboat, but a huge beautiful houseboat. Not only was there a houseboat but a water ski boat and several jet skis.

During the several days we were there I had the opportunity to observe this friend of mine, the one who owned it all. When we got to Lake Powell the houseboat wouldn’t start. The batteries were dead. So my friend had to make a number of phone calls to get the right people there to take care of the problem.

Finally he got the houseboat started and we got it out to the beach where we were to stay the few days we were there. He got everyone together and gave out a long list of rules about the usage of his things. Now it was very generous of him to let us all come on this trip and use his houseboat and ski boat and jet skis. But I noticed that he was stressed the whole time we were there, worrying about every little thing.

The teenagers would take these jet skis out on the lake and when they would come back they would come right up to shore and my friend would yell at them and tell them to get away from the sand, watch out for the rocks, don’t suck sand into the engine and on and on. He pretty much chewed them out for not taking proper care of his things. One of the jet skis quit working so he had to tow it in to the shop at the marina so it could be fixed.

Literally the whole time we were there he was dealing with one issue and problem after another. To watch this friend of mine and what he went through on that trip was very interesting to me. He seemed like he was stressed the whole time dealing with all the problems and issues related to his stuff. Honestly, he couldn’t have had any fun!

Of Slavery and Bondage – The Cabin

I have another friend whose family decided it would be a great thing to own a cabin. So they bought a cabin up in the mountains. It’s two or three hours away from where they live. I suppose it’s a great thing to have a cabin but what I’ve noticed is that he’s never around. Whenever I ask his wife where he is she always tells me he’s up at the cabin. Either he’s fixing the plumbing or painting or doing some other repairs. He’s constantly up there working on that cabin. I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends more time working on that cabin than he spends enjoying it! I think to myself, “For Pete’s sake, you can rent a cabin and then when you’re done you give the keys back and you don’t have to deal with it any more.”

Of Slavery and Bondage – The Swimming Pool

Well let’s not leave me out of the bad example section. I remember a few years ago when my kids were young and we were at the store. I saw one of those do-it-yourself swimming pools that you set up in your back yard. You’ve probably seen them, the kind that are three feet high and fifteen feet in diameter. My wife and I looked at the pool and thought, you know, for a $150 it would be great to have a swimming pool in the back yard. You could come home from work and go out there and take a dip in the pool. The kids could have so much fun. So we splurged and bought the $150 pool.

I remember we bought the pool on a Saturday afternoon. We thought we would just go home and set up the pool and be swimming by that evening and it would be great. So we get home and take the pool out of the box and spread out all the parts. We start going through the instructions and begin to realize that, “Wow, this thing is going to be really difficult to put up!”

First of all you have to have an exactly level ground, fifteen feet in diameter. I also didn’t realize that you can’t just set it up on the lawn. You have to dig out the grass and create this huge hole that is perfectly level. It took me hours and hours to dig out the sod and dig the dirt out to make it level.

Then there were so many pieces to that pool! After hours of work I finally had the pool set up. It was 9:00 o’clock at night. Now I had to fill the pool with water. I had all my garden hoses going and it still took forever to fill it. Of course we didn’t get to swim in it that day.

So we get the pool set up and filled with water and finally we can swim in it. That lasts for about a day. Guess what, you don’t just fill it up and swim for the rest of the summer. No way! Now you have to maintain the thing. It takes about 10 minutes of kids swimming in it before the thing is filthy with grass and dirt and leaves.

Now we get to buy filters and chemicals for the constant battle to keep it clean! Now who do you think gets to take care of that pool? That’s right, me! I’m the one who had to test the chlorination and the PH balance every day. I was amazed at how fast that pool would turn green and the moss would begin growing. It was horrible to maintain. I had to buy a special pool vacuum that you hook to your garden hose to suck up all the leaves. We had to buy a pool cover to keep all the leaves from flying in. We had to buy a special solar blanket to heat the water. When the kids ripped the liner we had to buy a new one for $50.00. We had to constantly buy more chemicals and filters. Finally the pool would get so bad that you just couldn’t clean the water anymore. So I had to drain the whole thing, scrub it all out, refill it with water, and put more chemicals in.

Do you think that I ever got to swim in that thing? Hah, hardly ever! The kids swam in it all the time. My time was always spent taking care of the pool. It was a nightmare! It got to be where I hated that swimming pool. Yes, I swam in it a few times and it was fun, but boy, was it worth it? How cheap is it to get a season pass at the local swimming pool or the local water park and let someone else deal with all that?

Of Freedom and Independence – Simple Wealth

I have another friend I would like to tell you about. This other friend has an equally large amount of money as the first person I told you about. But this friend has chosen a different lifestyle. To look at his house, his car and the way he lives, you would never know that he was wealthy. He has a nice, beautiful home, but it’s a normal size. It’s a regular home just like everyone else along his street. He drives a seven-year-old car. He could literally drive any car in existence and pay cash and yet he chooses to drive this vehicle because he’s content. He doesn’t need anything more. He’s not out to show anybody anything.

What he has is freedom. He doesn’t own tons of things such as the boats and toys that other people have to deal with. He lives a simple life. Yet he has the freedom to go and do what he pleases. I also know, and am one of the few people who know, that he has helped numerous people and family members by doing simple little charity acts like paying off the mortgage on their homes. He gets great satisfaction by doing these kinds of things. He also gets great satisfaction out of living a simple life because what it gives him is freedom.

Of Freedom and Independence – The Simple Life

Now I’m not an enormously wealthy person. I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank. But I also have chosen to live a simple lifestyle and have chosen to live well below my means. I’ve been able to get to the point of being completely out of debt. My home is paid off. I own nothing on my vehicles. In fact I don’t owe anybody anything. Everything I have I own free and clear. There is a very satisfying feeling to that. It’s a feeling of freedom. If I were to lose my source of income tomorrow I could live for a long time because I don’t have many expenses. I don’t have the latest and greatest of everything and I don’t need it. The cars I have are a number of years old but they are great. They are nice looking. They start up and take me where I want to go in comfort. They have power windows. They have air conditioning. They have CD players. Really, what more do you need?

Living simply has given me the freedom to take my wife and family many places and experience many things.

What You Own, Owns You

When you start to think about the stuff you own, ask yourself this question, “Do you own it or does it own YOU?” You’ve perhaps heard of the term “golden handcuffs.” I think it might apply here.

Let’s use the example of owning a boat. First of all, once you own a boat you feel obligated to use it. You paid all that money for it and now you have to get your money’s worth out of it. So every vacation now has to be a boating vacation.

Then you have to store the boat. You either have to park it right in front of your house in the driveway or pour a big cement pad on the side of your house to park it or you keep it in a storage unit somewhere.

Then you have to register it every year and you also have to insure it. Whenever you use the boat you have to pay the marina fees to launch it at the lake. Then is consumes a huge amount of fuel. Then when you’re done you have to obsessively wash the boat. Haven’t you noticed that with boat owners? Every boat owner I know seems to be obsessed with wiping every water spot off their boat and shining it up.

It’s often been said that the two happiest days of a person’s life are the day they bought their boat and the day they sold it.

Of Human Bondage

I have a very wealthy aunt and uncle who have an abundance of possessions. They have homes and condos all over the place. They own a number of businesses. They have very nice cars and motor homes. Lots of stuff! One day my uncle took me aside and said to me, “You know Gary, I would love to just sell everything I have and live in a small home and not have to deal with it all.” What an interesting and telling comment from a very wealthy person. I remember when he told me that I was thinking, “Is this what being wealthy is all about?” What a pain!

Can We Still Have Fun?

So what does this all mean? Can we still have fun? Can we still go boating or are we supposed to live a frugal, meager life? Let’s address these questions.

Yes, you can still have fun. You can still go boating. You can still go to Lake Powell. You can still go water skiing. You can still enjoy the fun things of life. You just don’t have to own them! Here’s an example of what you can do:

For my wife’s 40th birthday we decided we were going to go to the lake and go boating. So for about $150.00 I rented two jet skies. We went and picked them up. I signed some papers and off we went to the lake. We had a day of fun. We rode them all day. When we were done we filled them up with gas, wiped them down a bit, took them back to the rental place and handed them the keys and we were done! Maybe $150.00 sounds like a lot of money for one day but I don’t have to store those things. I don’t have to insure them. I don’t have to maintain them. And I don’t have to feel obligated to go boating all the time to justify the enormous cost of buying the dumb things! I return them and I’m done with it. Somebody else can store them and maintain them.

So for my next outing I may want to rent a water-ski boat, or 4-wheelers or snowmobiles or a motor home or a cabin. You can rent all these things! And when you are done you just hand over the keys and someone else has to deal with it. So, yes, you can still have fun but without all the hassle.

Imagine a Life…

Imagine a life where you live simply, where you don’t owe anything to anyone, where you don’t have huge amounts of stuff to take care of. Imagine a life where you can come and go as you please. Imagine having the freedom to pay cash for things. Imagine the freedom from storing, fixing, insuring, registering and keeping track of loads of stuff. Imagine leaving a smaller footprint on this precious planet of ours.

Treasures on Earth, Treasures in Heaven

Let us be mindful about what we have set our hearts on. Let us be careful of how closely we get tied to the things we own. Are they so important? It’s nice to have a home and I really love the home I’m in, but we have to be careful that we don’t get so tied to things that they become a part of us. We aren’t our things. They are just things.

Someday we are going to die and somebody else is going to be living in that house and somebody else is going to be driving that car and it’s not going to matter. What matters is what kind of legacy you have left in this life. What have you done to make this world a better place? The purpose of this life is not to amass great amounts of stuff.

There is a story in the Bible that tells it best. It is found in Luke, chapter 12:

15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

So what is the meaning of this life? Is it to amass possessions? I don’t think so. I think about Hurricane Katrina and other disasters that have occurred over the last few years. Invariably they will interview someone on the news who has lost everything, and yet they will say, “I’m so blessed because I’ve got my family. My family was safe and everyone was accounted for. We can build another house, we can buy another car, but all that matters is that I’ve got my family.”

When all is said and done it’s your family and the people you love that matter, not the things you own. Don’t become a slave to your stuff. Remember, ownership is not freedom. Ownership is Bondage.

Addictions – Fighting the Fire Within

FIREMillions of people all over the world struggle with addictions every day. There are many kinds of addictions such as drugs, alcohol, smoking, pornography, or food. In this article I share a simple concept that can help in dealing with addictions.

Fire Analogy

When I was a kid I liked to play with matches. It was fun. I loved to watch things burn. But as you know, playing with matches can be very dangerous. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that my family had two homes burn down during my growing up years. (I have solid alibis!)

I like to compare addictions to fire. Think about a match. You can strike a match and how hard is it to put out a match? One little puff of your breath and you can blow it out. No problem. Another match lights, puff, blow it out. No problem. However, when you let a fire go, it can quickly rage out of control where there is nothing you can do about it. At that point you’re basically lost, it’s out of control, and it’s beyond anything you can do about it.

I know about this concept personally. Let me share with you two stories from my life.

Out of Control Campfire Number 1

The first story took place when I was probably in kindergarten. My older brother Kurt and I built a campfire in our back yard. We had planned to melt some lead in a tin can over the fire. Our back yard was fairly large and there was a big lawn. But on the side of the yard there was a garden area that was full of dry weeds and grass. This is where we chose to build our fire. Well my brother made the mistake of leaving me alone by the fire.

We had some newspapers there that we used to start the fire with and I decided to take a page from the newspaper and lay it over our little campfire. The first thing it did was burst into flames. Then because heat rises, this flaming newspaper floated up into the air and drifted right over into the dry weeds and grass which immediately burst into flames.

Now I must have been around six years old or something and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to put it out by stamping on it but that didn’t work. I could not get it out and it was beyond my control. The fire grew bigger and bigger and was racing toward the fence, the new fence that my dad built, and proceeded to catch the fence on fire.

The fire department was called and they came and put out the fire. Luckily I didn’t get into too much trouble but my brother Kurt did.

Out of Control Campfire Number 2

The second story happened when I was older, probably about eleven years old. Across the highway from our house, about a mile away, there was a thickly wooded area that surrounded several ponds where turtles and carp lived. I loved to go over there and catch them and play around. There was thick brush and trees all around the ponds and in the hot Arizona climate a lot of those trees had dried out and died.

My older brothers and I decided to go camping there one summer afternoon. We each had our own little camping spots, as I recall, and my older brother Russell even built a little campfire.

Well, he began to play with his little fire. He took a stick and would poke the end of it into his campfire and catch it on fire. Then he would take the flaming stick and use it to light some dry brush nearby and watch it burn. Then he would quickly put it out. He did this several times, letting the flames get larger each time. (Can you see here where I’m going with this!)

Well, one time he let it go too far and when he tried to put it out he couldn’t. He started screaming at the rest of us to come help him. We all ran over to his campsite and started stamping and throwing dirt on the fire but it was too late. In moments the fire roared into a huge inferno.

We snatched our sleeping bags and got the heck out of there. We ran back across the highway and hid on the other side. From there we watched that whole place go up in gigantic, fifty-foot flames. Farmers from all around drove up in their pickup trucks to see what was going on and to try and put the fire out but they couldn’t do it. The whole place went up in smoke and flames all because my brother was playing around with fire.

Don’t Play With Fire

Now sometimes we want to play figuratively with fire, to look at that image on the internet, to take just one puff of the cigarette, to eat just one more donut. We think, “I’m stressed out today and I just don’t feel so good. I’ll do it just this once and that’s it. Then I’ll stop.” Well that’s kind of like lighting a match, but instead of blowing the match out when that first thought comes into our mind we touch it to some dry grass and say, “I’ll let it go for a little bit and then I’ll put it out.” So we watch it grow and it gets bigger and bigger and before we know it, it’s gotten so large that we try stamping it out but it’s going in all directions and try as we might we cannot put it out and it rages out of control until it consumes us.

This is the way addictions work. They are very similar to these examples in that if you play around with it and you don’t put it out right away when that flame first starts it becomes so much harder. It grows out of control to the point where you’re had, you’re done, you’re ashes, you’re toast.

The point I’m trying to make here is that when the flame is tiny, put it out. When the match strikes, put it out. Don’t dwell on it, don’t play with it or you’ll get burned. It’s so much easier to control these desires, appetites and cravings when they are but a tiny spark than when we let them grow into a huge inferno. So, that’s my simple lesson for today.

Thank you.
Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson

Sheep Thief or Saint?


I once heard a story about two brothers who lived in a small town in the country. The story goes that both of these brothers were caught stealing sheep. For their punishment they were branded on the forehead with the letters “ST,” for “Sheep Thief.”

One brother was so ashamed that he left the community. Everywhere he went he had to constantly explain the letters on his forehead. He remained bitter about the whole thing and always felt he had been treated unfairly. He eventually died a lonely man and was buried in an unknown grave.

His brother, on the other hand, stayed in the community and tried to win back his neighbors’ trust. He did everything he could to show the people of the town that he was a changed man. He volunteered for community service projects, helped his neighbors when he saw the need, and did all he could to become the kind of man that he knew he ought to be.

Many years later a visitor came to town. He asked a local resident about the strange letters on the old man’s forehead. The resident replied that he had forgotten exactly why the letters were there, but that he thought “ST” most likely was an abbreviation for the word “Saint.”

Like the brothers in this story, each of us makes mistakes in our lives – sometimes big ones and sometimes little ones. And like the brothers in this story we can choose what we do about the mistakes we make. We are the ones that decide how our mistakes are going to affect us.

May each of us choose the good path and become the person we know we ought to be so that perhaps someday we may be known as a “Saint” and not a “Sheep Thief.” Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson

Do What You Know

farmer I once heard a story about a farmer who had been farming for many years. He had a son who went off to college and after a few years came home with a degree in hand, and a head full of knowledge. He told his father, “You know, Dad, this farm would be much more productive if you would use the new methods of farming. These days everyone is using hybrid strains of seeds. There are better methods of crop rotation and contour plowing. Plus you really should be using up-to-date insecticides and fertilizers. And did you know most farmers are milking their cows three times a day instead of two.” He went on and on expounding the virtues of all the modern methods of farming. Finally his father said, “Now just hold on there son! I’m not farming half as well as I know how already!”

Isn’t that the way we are? We seldom perform as well as we know how. I’ve heard people say that “knowledge is power.” To a certain degree it can be. But in my own personal experience I find that I know a lot of things that I should be doing but I don’t. Just having knowledge about something doesn’t necessarily translate to the ability or power to do it.

Many times over the years I would tell my children to do their homework. Invariably they would answer back, “I know dad!” and I would say back to them, “Then do what you know!” It’s kind of a joke around my house because I have said that phrase so many times to my children: Do what you know.

How many self-improvement books have you read over your life time? I have hundreds of them! We probably learn ten-times more than what we ever put into action in our lives. Yet we keep buying books and wanting to learn more.

At some point it’s time to stop learning and start doing. We need to put our knowledge to use. I’m not suggesting we completely stop learning but what good is learning if we never use it?

Here is my suggestion: How about making a list of all the things you know you should do but aren’t. Then from your list choose two or three things and start doing them! You can read books, read blogs and listen to tapes and CDs till the cows come home but until you actually do something you are going nowhere. It’s time to take real action! At the end of the day, knowing the answer means nothing if you don’t do anything about it.

Decide to Decide

Fork in the Road

Fork in the road

What if there was a key behavior that if you could master, would save you untold pain, worry, effort and time? What if this behavior could make your efforts to achieve total self-mastery ten times easier? Today I’m going to teach you a simple concept that seems to elude most people, yet is so simple.

One thing you share in common with nearly every one else is that your day is full of decisions. Dozens of times a day you are faced with a fork in the road and must decide which way to go. Humans are naturally lazy creatures so when you are faced with two choices you tend to gravitate toward the easiest path. Why choose the long, hard road when you can take the short, easy one? Or why do something when you just don’t feel like it? As you stand there at the fork in the road and evaluate the situation, the pull to the easy road becomes powerfully strong. More often than not, if you are like the average person, you are sucked into the easy road.

The problem here is that the easy road is not always the best road to follow in the long run. In our minds we know which road is the best road but somehow we end up going the wrong way. What I am explaining here is the answer to a long held question. It is:

“Why do we do what we do when we know what we know?”

In other words, why do people do things they know aren’t good for them? The answer is because we are making our decisions at the wrong time. We are making our decisions when we are standing at the fork in the road.

Let me give you an example. If every morning you make the decision of whether to get up or not at the time your alarm clock goes off, you are making that decision at the fork in the road. In your mind you are deliberating, “Should I get up? Should I sleep for ten more minutes? I’m so tired! Just a few more minutes of sleep.” And back to bed you go.

Do you see the problem here? The time to make the decision of when to get up in the morning is not at 6:00 in the morning!

“Right decisions are easiest to make when we make them well in advance, having ultimate objectives in mind; this saves a lot of anguish at the fork, when we’re tired and sorely tempted.” – Spencer W. Kimball

There are dozens of decisions we face every day that should already have been decided long ago. We shouldn’t have to agonize and re-decide the same decisions a hundred times! Many of these decisions only need to be made once. This statement by William James describes it so well:

“There is no more miserable person than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work are subjects of deliberation. Half the time of such a man goes to deciding or regretting matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all.” — William James

The whole point we are trying to make is to determine early on what things you will and will not do and be done with it. Look at your long-term objectives and make the decisions now that will lead you in that direction. You only need to make those decisions once.

For example, my wife made the decision long ago that she will go out running every morning, no matter what. There is no deciding each morning as to whether she is going running or not. That decision has already been made. There is no painful deliberation and analyzing that takes place. It is as automatic for her as the rising of the sun each day.

Now I want you to think about the decisions you make on a daily basis. Aren’t there a number of them you could make once and for all and be done with them? Aren’t there decisions about what you will eat or not eat, decisions about exercising, decisions about daily habits, decisions about all kinds of things that you can make once and forever be done with them?

I challenge you to consciously examine your life and make this one key behavior change. Examine each fork in the road you come across on a daily basis and see which ones you can decide once and for all. You will be so much further along the road to self-mastery.

“We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over.” — Aneurin Bevan

What are your thoughts about making decisions once and for all? What are the ones you have the biggest challenges with? Have you found ways to make this process easier? Please share with us in the comments below.

Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson

Snap Decisions

Power Line TowerIt was a sad day in my community. Several years ago a funeral was being held for a young man who was well known and loved by many people. His name was Scott. He was 15 years old. He was electrocuted after he climbed a power line tower. This hits close to home for me because that power line tower was within sight of a trail that I hiked every morning. I didn’t know him personally but many teenagers that I knew also knew him. This tragedy affected many people.

My message is simple. Be careful of Snap Decisions.

What is a snap decision? It is simply one of those quick decisions we make without thinking. We make them all the time and for the most part things turn out okay. But I’m sure you can think of some snap decisions you have made in your life that you wish you hadn’t. I can think of several in my life that if I could go back in time I would certainly do things differently.

Because of a snap decision made by Scott, he is no longer with us. Now his family and friends grieve for his loss and struggle with trying to understand why these things happen.

It was almost exactly one year earlier that another snap decision was made that affected our community. It was made by the girl next door. Her name is Julia. She is my daughter Kimberly’s best friend.

Julia’s Accident Scene

Julia and her friend Holly were crossing the highway that is directly behind our home. They were going to a volleyball game at the local church. The two crossed the southbound lanes safely and stopped on the raised median, waiting for traffic to clear. They saw a minivan coming and thought it was going to make a left turn. It wasn’t. As Julia stepped out onto the highway she was struck by the minivan. A simple snap decision and her life hung by a thread.

At the hospital with Julia

She suffered head injuries, two broken legs and a torn heart valve. She was rushed to the hospital and into emergency surgery to repair her heart. It has been a long road of recovery for her and I’m glad to report she is doing remarkably well today. Again, a snap decision with major consequences.

As we go about our lives, let us be aware of and be careful of the Snap Decisions we sometimes make. Stop and think it through. Think twice about what you are doing. What may seem like a small decision could have lifelong consequences for you or even cut your life short.

Master Yourself, Master Your Life

Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 Gary N. Larson