Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Unending Yellow Brick Road of Consumerism

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.  Mohandas Gandhi

Consumerism:  (Wikipedia)  A social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods or services in ever greater amounts.

Enoughism:  (Wikipedia)  Theory that there is a point where consumers possess everything they need, and buying more actually makes their lives worse.

Take just a moment and walk into your closet.  How many shirts do you own?  Shoes?  Handbags?  Walk into your pantry and count how many cans of soup or cereal boxes or bags of chips.  Take a peek in your bathroom and note how many bottles of shampoo and conditioner and soap are sitting around the edges of the bathtub or shower shelves.  How many cars do you own compared to the number of drivers in your family?  Are there any rooms in your home that go unused on a regular basis?  Do you live a life influenced by consumerism or enoughism?

Pam Danzinger, an internationally recognized expert in understanding the mind of consumers and author of Why People Buy Things They Don't Need, is quoted as saying "...Virtually every American wants a better, more satisfying, fulfilling life, and they buy things to experience a better quality of life."  The top categories of things we buy include the following:  Videotapes, Music Tapes, CDs, and DVDs; Books, Magazines, Newsletters; Greeting Cards and Stationary; Personal Care Products (beyond every day brands); Candles; Home Textiles; Flowers and Plants; Kitchenware and Accessories; Christmas and Seasonal Items; Toys and Games.  "Consumers today spend proportionately less on basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter, than they did 25, 35, or even 50 years ago.  But they spend more and more money on discretionary purchases that are motivated by emotion and desire."  Pam Danzinger, Why People Buy Things They Don't Need.  It is estimated that we spend $3 trillion annually on discretionary products and services.  Those living in high income countries consume 81.5% of the total private consumption expenditures, while those in the world's lowest income countries consume 3.6%.  With this in mind it is evident that our personal and collective consumption has reached a crisis level in terms of incurred debt, strain on the environmental resource base to support this consumption, and skewed ideas of necessity versus want among people of all ages and socioeconomic status.  It appears that our journey down the yellow brick road of consumerism is never ending.

In yoga, to help us understand consumerism, enoughism, and our roles and responsibilities within our society in regards to our consumption, the yama (moral guideline) of satya or honesty helps us to shed light on these issues.  If we are able to still the distractions in our mind and to be present to what is happening in our lives in the current moment, we can then make choices regarding our personal and societal consumption that are conscious choices, rather than unconscious ones.   Through honest, conscious choice in consumption, we are able to shift from consumption for conspicuous display of our wants and follies to consumption for meeting basic needs. The inequalities between high income and low income citizens could be lessened with a sharing from all of us out of our largess, regardless of how much we do or do not have.  Consumption patterns would be indicative of everyone's needs resulting in less production of unwanted and unnecessary discretionary items which utilize our planet's limited resources.  We must become conscious of the fact that our planet simply cannot "sustain our obsession with converting more and more resources into accumulating more and more overpackaged and useless products."  (Michael Stone, Yoga for a World out of Balance).   By making a conscious choice in terms of consumption, we may become one who in "our affluent society, is driven to prefer 'poverty,' to choose it, rather than submit to the desolation of an empty abundance." (Michael Harrington).

Consuming things we do not need does not lead to a fulfilled, peaceful life of service.  Rather, it offers a dissatisfied mind a temporary and elusive grasp of reality.  We have all been caught in this cycle.  There is that article of clothing, piece of jewelry, BMW car, or larger home on the lake with a backyard pool that we know is going to make our life perfect.  We may scrimp and save and fantasize as to how great our life will be when we get this "thing" or, worse yet, we may head right out and use our magic, plastic card to purchase this highly desired, life changing item.  Once purchased, we may "share" it with all the significant and insignificant people in our lives, totally enjoying all the oohs and aahs and back patting.  The security we are seeking from these objects and desires is superficial and fleeting.  We will wake up in time, look around and suddenly realize we really need something else to make our life perfect.  So we wander from one unconscious purchase to another, never really finding the fulfillment and security that we are looking for. 

We will never be fully satisfied when looking outside ourselves.  Yoga challenges us to be in this world in a conscious way using nonviolence and honesty to guide our journey.  If we remain rooted in the practice of yoga, we are aware of the interrelatedness of our world and the choices that we make regarding consumption.  Through nonviolence and honesty, we no longer allow ourselves to become numb to the suffering of those who have less than us or those who have more than us.  We no longer allow ourselves to presume that those with the most toys are winning and thus happier and more fufilled than the rest of us.  Many of the great people of our world choose simple lifestyles of service to others through spiritual inspiration, including St Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, Mother Teresa, Mohandas Gandhi to name but a few.   Though they made conscious choices to live in the world simply and to consume only what was necessary to sustain their lives, they each contributed to the service of mankind through nonviolent and honest lifepaths. 

Unfortunately, we live in a culture which is caught in a cycle of overconsumption and overproduction to meet our exponentially rising desire for more as individuals and as a society.  With courage and awareness, we may chose to make conscious choices regarding our personal consumption that is based in nonviolence and honesty in terms of what we need to sustain us versus what we are told we need.

May you find peace and gratitude in every moment.
Namaste, Joan

"To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring-these are some of the rewards of the simple life."  (John Burroughs). 

The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.  (Eloise Boulding)

Everything we possess that is not necessary for life or happiness becomes a burden, and scarcely a day passes that we do not add to it.  (Robert Brault)

Oh for the good ole days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.  (Anonymous)

Simple Living Blogs

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Peace Pilgrim

"As I looked about the world, so much of it impoverished, I became increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while my brothers and sisters were starving.  Finally, I had to find another way.  The turning point came when, in desperation and out of a very deep seeking for a meaningful way of life, I walked all one  night through the woods.  I came to a moonlit glade and prayed.  I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life - to dedicate my life - to service.  'Please use me!' I prayed to God.  A great peace came over me."  Peace Pilgrim

A serious student of yoga often begins a well rounded practice with studying and learning how to apply the first limb of yoga called the yamas.  The yamas are guidelines which form a foundation for our spiritual practice in terms of our relationship with other humans, plants, animals, architecture, city planning, growing food, daily living tasks; all aspects of our human existence.  The yamas include nonviolence (ahimsa), honesty (satya), nonstealing (asteya), wise use of energy (brahmacarya), and nonhoarding (aparigraha). 

Satya or honesty focuses our awareness on the true relationship between the actions of our body, speech, mind and the effects of these actions on our world.  For there to be true change in our world toward one of respect for all beings, both human and nonhuman, we must still the distractions of our minds to "grasp the truth" (Mahatma Gandhi) of how we affect our world.  As the Dalai Lama  states, "I believe in justice and truth, without which there would be no basis for human hope."  Through this moving into stillness of mind, we are able to live our true, higher purpose; that of serving and supporting others where there is suffering with compassion and justice.  Our interconnectedness results in our choices having a significant effect on others and our world, which may move us towards hope for the human condition or that of despair.

How does one still the mind?  What are the choices we have that could have such an effect?  The brain is a magnificent organ which is able to process thousands of subconscious stimuli while allowing us to focus on one thought at a time.  Over the course of time, these thoughts begin to flow one into the other, much like waves in the ocean.  Thoughts may be about our trying to relive a past event or worrying about future events.  In yoga, we attempt to keep our thoughts focused in the present moment, releasing ourselves from a preoccupation with our personal history.  Often, our minds will focus on what is known and comfortable, whether it is painful or joyful.  It is far easier for us to fall into thought patterns that are comfortable, habitual, and prejudiced rather than being open minded, interconnected, and intimate with ourselves and others.  We must bear in mind that "thoughts we entertain are a force that goes out and every thought comes back laden with its own kind" (Ralph Waldo Trine). Remembering that for this moment we are safe in who we are, we can chose to release those thoughts that do not help us to attain our highest purpose.  We are more than our thoughts...

"To be at one with God is to be at peace...peace is to be found only within (one's self), and unless one finds it there he will never find it at all.  Peace lies not in the external world.  It lies within one's own soul."  (Ralph Waldo Trine)  Yoga is a path of peacemaking in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  The emergence of peace will only come about when we have learned to respect the rights of others: people, animals and other living things, our planet earth.  Respect is evident by our honest appraisal of our lives in relation to others, sensitivity to the injustices endured by our brothers and sisters, and experiential changes that are consciously determined by what we know to be true.  We do not turn from our own or others suffering.  Rather, we look through the lens of compassion at the reality of our world.  In honesty, we see the injustice around us and we begin to look after ourselves and one another in a kind, sensitive, and healing manner.  We find our voice and begin to speak out in love and truth for those who cannot, ourselves included.  As Jimi Hendrix sang, "when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."  Where once we routinely closed our eyes and returned to the safety of our habits and unconscious actions, we now have the ability to open our eyes to what is happening around us and respond with honest actions out of compassion.  This is our spiritual journey, moving from unconscious to conscious choices in our thoughts, words, and deeds leading to a life of simplicity and harmony.  This is our path to peace.  As stated by Martin Luther King, Jr., "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."

Mildred Lisette Norman, better known as Peace Pilgrim, was just a normal person, like you and I, who took on a personal mission for the last 28 years of her life to bring awareness to peace among mankind.  On January 1, 1953, she began her personal pilgrimage for peace and walked 25,000 miles until her death on July 7, 1981.  On her pilgrimage, she vowed to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food."  She lived a simple life as a pacifist, vegetarian, and peace activist.  There was no organizational backing for her pilgrimage and no money to provide food and shelter.  Her only belongings were literally the clothes that she wore, a  blue tunic which read "Peace Pilgrim" on the front and "25,000 miles on foot for peace" on the back of the tunic.  Her message was simple,  "This is the way of peace:  overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love."  By the end of her life, Peace Pilgrim became a frequent speaker at churches, universities, and for local and national radio and television programs.  Peace Pilgrim was able to respond to the suffering she saw in the world around her by opening not only her own eyes, but those of the people around her.  She was able to bring awareness to others of the need for peace through the simple act of walking.  "No one walks so safely as those who walk humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith."  (Peace Pilgrim)

I simply step out into this world with my eyes open to the suffering around and within me.  With simplicity and harmony, I seek the path of peace through my thoughts, words, and deeds.

May you find gratitude and peace in every moment.
Namaste, Joan

"When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.  Inner peace is not found by staying on the surface of life or by attempting to escape from life through any means.  Inner peace is found facing life squarely, solving its problems, and delving as far beneath its surface as possible to discover its verities and realities."  Peace Pilgrim

"We who work for peace must not falter.  We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can.  We must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others.  We must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible."  Peace Pilgrim