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)

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