We have been born into a time when getting things has become our God. Filling our bags, homes, cars, kids, mind with more, more, more is the norm. We are the outcasts if we choose less, take less. And we’re left to find a way to explain to our children that even though our country is breeding more consumption than any place on earth, teaching developing countries that the bigger and fuller the “cart” the happier one is, our family is choosing to buy less.
We do our best to avoid purchasing things that are not needed or meaning-filled and have been made on the backs of those less fortunate and this is so damn hard. Ahimsa? Just by being here in this body, participating in living in American culture, we are Himsa (violent), in the t-shirts we buy (trace the entire process of your shirt or jeans) the shoes we wear (leather or not), the fuel, or, if on two wheels, the tires, the helmet…really, we can’t travel far down our path without wanting to crawl into a hole and hide from ourselves and the ways, just by living, we cause harm. And so, we forget, we go to sleep in ways, we anesthetize and … we consume.
What are we attempting to get or fill up? Those vast aisles at Walmart, Costco, even our city version, Whole Foods: it’s as if they convince us we need something (that we clearly, absolutely don’t need), and then we buy it anyway. And there it is, more stuff. This disease is spreading rapidly across the planet. The moment there is even a slight possibility of “enough” we are convinced we need more; we are bombarded with another holiday that suggests that love can be purchased by clicking this one little button or filling up another plastic bag.
It’s confusing out there. What is the good stuff, the bad stuff—harmful to me or harmful to “them” or harmful to all of us and the environment? It’s made that way to confuse us, keep us further away from the source of whatever we eat, put in our hands, wear, fill our spaces up with. So, we sit there with our paper coffee cups and discuss the horrible production of palm oil and its effects on orangutans and the environment, the evil oil companies, Monsanto, big pharma, and how corporations have us by the throat.
How, oh, how as one small individual do we make a difference when, in every single direction, people are gobbling up every last drop of our resources and yet, we’re more lonely, empty, in need of therapy and mood shifting medicines of all sorts than ever?
We can feel in our being and mind when we have taken/consumed more than we need. Asteya from the third limb of the Yamas suggest that we not steal or take more than we need. This is part of the very first steps on our yogic path. From the way we take up more space than we need in conversations and forget to listen; to what we purchase; to what have on our plate, in our closets, and even on our calendar. We fall for the more-more-more idea of our culture while we scream about climate change and disappearance of animals so rapidly from the planet. Even while we scream, we may forget or ignore that purchasing 5 new cheap shirts has any connection to that, but, does it? Do we have time to research and know the effects of our consumption?
Most reading this are aware of the cycle of cause and effect that’s unfolding in our environment around us alongside landscape within us of not feeling enough. Our response: we keep filling it up and then we call out what’s happening “out there,” watching “progress” gobble up the earth’s most vital resources. We shout, we petition, we pay exorbitant amounts of money for groceries that give us the sense of more conscious consumption and yet, still this sickening feeling remains that our response is not enough.
I was born into a family that was hyperaware of its consumption. We moved to a complete “live off the land” way of being and learned firsthand the intense effort, time, attention, and work work work it takes to dangle out there and churn your own butter from your hand-milked cows, to prepare soil for the next planting in frozen dirt, to bring your own containers to the market so you don’t waste a new container. It was all effort all the time. It was exhausting and so vastly against what every one around us was doing. I would beg to be “normal”: to have normal food, normal cars, normal non-hand-sewn or repurposed clothing. I was raised with intense and unusual awareness about consumption and yet I still sometimes forget. Obviously, it’s easier to tune out, work your butt off (literally sitting in chairs where your ass deteriorates all tonicity) in some office, or project and go online and click buttons to fill the emptiness than to get your hands out there in the dirt and make something from a seed and tend it through its life course and deal with the dirt that comes with it.
With kids, it’s easy to get caught up in offering them more stuff. That look on their faces when they open a thing or get a new thing—well, it’s encouraging and all you want to do is see that face light up. But, what are we teaching them? How are we taking the pressure off ourselves to be truly deeply present with them? How are we responding to them when they get what they want and when they don’t? Are we finding alternative ways of giving to them that can be far more lasting and potent on their somatic beings--an experience, a hard-won adventure, a few moments of our complete and undivided presence, a difficult conversation, a full-body snuggle?
My dearest, Jody sent this to me on that darkest of days, Black Friday. It gives me/us a clear reminder, a mission statement for our actions during this time and going forward. Not always the easiest to live by but certainly powerful to work toward.
I vow to myself and to each of you:
To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
To live on earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.
To draw strength and guidance from the living earth, the ancestors, the future beings, and my brothers and sisters of all species.
To support others in their work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.
To pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows.
—Joanna Macy, one of my superheroes
Take these as you will, use them with gusto or ignore them. I continue to ask: What am I attempting to fill, to avoid feeling, to cover up, to experience, to project into the world when I purchase things that I don’t really need? Can I keep asking myself, “do I/we really need this?”
Now, find a moment to connect with yourself, nature, with a friend, a parent, or a child. It will fill us all back up.
To learn more, watch the new film Before the Flood: https://www.beforetheflood.com/screenings/
For tips and action: https://www.beforetheflood.com/act/