What in my life feels empty?
What am I trying to fill it with?
Will that void ever be filled by my consumption?
I ask myself these questions often when I’m considering getting another thing, consuming more media, the next new product... more stuff.
What is it worth to us, as humans, to consume resources (the earth’s, our own) without regard for the reciprocal relationship we have with our environment? I mean the outer ecosystem that sustains life on this planet; but I also mean our own inner ecosystems.
What is sustainable? What will create, nourish, and maintain homeostasis, both within and without?
We’re in an age in which even the practice of yoga has become consumer-based and market-driven, feeding our enculturated need to be louder, bigger, better, more. This cannot be sustained.
We’re trashing our environment both inside and out because of a hunger that will never be filled by consumption of goods or by frantic over-doing. Until we’re willing to sit the with the discomfort of emptiness—of being replaceable, impermanent, and temporary—we’ll keep trying to solidify our significance through more and more stuff, greater and greater achievements. In the moments I feel that pull, I look to earth to be my teacher—to ease my need to make noise and be shiny so that external validation will appease my hunger for significance. (Which, by the way, it never does.)
Earth’s wisdom evolved over 4.5 BILLION years. It’s impossible for the mind to conceive of this timeframe: the sentient unfoldings, the vastness of accumulating life force, all the wisdom it carries. Rather than appreciating this remarkable continuity, we strip the earth of anything and everything we can as quickly as we can, in an attempt to hold on, to have. But what would it mean to remember that there’s no holding on in the long run; there’s no escape from our eventual demise; and what’s more, life will go on after and without us?
The practice of sitting with breath, body and soul in this moment lets us experience a fullness that needs nothing from the outside. It reminds us of our transience, yes; but it also reminds us that what we often feel as emptiness really isn’t so. The grace of santosha—the force of contentment—comes when we melt into the pure awareness that this very breath carries all that we’re searching for. We only need to pay attention to it with absolute attentiveness and a dash of freakin’ AWE.
There’s no product we can possibly consume that will fill us like that realization does.
The crisis of sustainability is internal as well as external. We’ve been so conditioned to believe that the number of followers or likes we have in this digital age indicates our value. So we suffer and struggle to be bigger, to remain in “the tribe” and not get cast into the “average” existence of just being. We run around attempting to prove our extraordinariness. In return, we may get a “like”; but we still end up feeling depleted and not enough.
Because once again we were searching for contentment outside ourselves. And once again, we're reminded of the destructive effects of consuming—this time, of consuming approval.
I believe each of us needs to weave together an awareness of the earth’s inability to house us all with an awareness that our own bodies and psyches are just as easily depleted. The teachings are clear about the need for give and take, action and rest, effort and surrender. Both must be honored and attended to. This is sustainability. And if we want to keep our earth and our bodies from revolting, this must be our balancing act, our practice.
So let’s keep asking ourselves: Do I need this object or activity? What’s it attempting to fill? Will it be valuable to me in a few years, or weeks, or days? What had to occur for the “thing” to exist—did anything or anyone have to suffer? Who am I both with it and without it?
These can be heavy questions. But in my own practice I notice that the more often I ask them, the less I try to shove in—in terms of both material objects and accolades. And the less I shove in, the more full I feel.
Because in the end, this “emptiness” leaves more room for the breath.
Call to action/inaction: