Join Angela for a 4-part series beginning June 9th, on how to understand and shift our desire using mindfulness and awareness practices. Part I
All that we see happening in our natural environment is mirroring what is happening within the individuals on our planet. ~Bente Hansen
Our planet is in crisis just as we are. As we look for solutions to our climate challenges, our resource depletion and pending food, energy and water shortages, we keep the conversation centered around the corporations and government policies. The real source of these issues are within us. It is our desire that drives our consumption, and our consumption that drives the economy. Until we become mindful of what creates our desires, individually and collectively, we will keep making the same choices. Every society that has sought perpetual growth eventually reached its limits.
Every day we are bombarded with ads, images, and the general message that consuming is what humans do; it is the basis of our day-to-day life. I remember after the attacks on September 11th when President Bush told us it was our duty to go out and start shopping again. Yes, this was part of a larger message about the resilience of the American people, but it speaks loudly to the fact that if we aren’t consuming, our economy and way of life is in jeopardy. The life and communities we have built require us to do so. So, when you pair our duty to consume with our competitive, individualistic nature, this society does an amazing job of creating a need from a want. Why else would people stand in line overnight to get the latest version of the iPhone or a pair of shoes? Or trample over other people just to get that amazing deal on Black Friday? Collectively, curbing our desire requires we write a new story for our economy and our communities that isn’t based on perpetual growth and consumption.
It is an interesting paradox we have created; on one hand we promote this idea of the American dream. That anyone can be prosperous and abundant with a little hard work. That everyone has the opportunity to be more, do more and make more, regardless of where they started out. But if we read the fine print, this American Dream is only available while supplies last. There is outwardly the message of abundance, but at the same time, there is this underlying tone of urgency and scarcity around consumption. That what we want is only available as a limited time offer. Much of the American Dream and its illusion of upward mobility is measured by the stuff we can obtain. The more stuff we can buy, the more one has made it. In a time when the top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, the American Dream isn’t just an illusion, it is also to our detriment. We are setting up people to be broken by a system that is rigged to keep them down. All the while, the impact of our consumerist lust is kept neatly away from our view, but what would happen if it weren’t? What if we understood the real cost of our choices? What if our choices become mindful and meaningful?
A fantastic TEDTalk with Zoe Weil on Humane Education and understanding the real impact and cost of our choices.
Consumed with Consuming
There is little doubt that our energy needs are positively correlated with our lust for commercial goods. When gas and oil prices go up, it affects every sector of the economy. We hear a lot of talk about becoming energy independent. That if we could just rely less on foreign oil, with that one fell swoop, we could boost our economy and secure our state. In truth, the United States is increasing its energy production, we have been meeting more of our energy needs, but again, at what cost?
The reason for this increase in energy production is largely a result of shale gas production and what they call, Tight Oil. Both of these involve similar processes that require drilling deep into the earth at huge environmental cost. Is this the answer we are looking for? The question should not be how do we become more energy independent, but how do we become less dependent on energy? Even if we can develop technologies that can extract more of the world’s oil and gas, does it seem like a good idea to use up the world’s resources that took millions of years to develop in a few hundred years? When will the time come to acknowledge what our thirst for goods does not only to the earth but also to the people on the other side of the planet?
Right now the wealthiest one-fifth of the world consumes 76% of the world’s goods, while the poorest one-fifth consumes just 1 %. The United States has roughly 5% of the world’s population, but is responsible for one-quarter of the energy consumption. These are staggering numbers and it leads me to ask, why are we so consumed with consuming? The word consuming implies a very one-sided endeavor; it actually means to destroy, to expend, to use up. Now in a consumerist based economy, when exactly do we give back? At some point there needs to be some reciprocity. However, any time we talk about conservation or sustainability, it is inevitably followed by the word sacrifice. Our attachment to material goods, not only changes the economy of the world, puts our earth in peril, but it creates suffering within our societies. The sacrificing has already begun.
Building Bridges Instead of Dams
According to ancient Vedic philosophy, the heart chakra is the bridge between the material, physical world and the higher spiritual realms. It is the place where self-love, connection, compassion and forgiveness reign. Are there new stories being written that takes us closer to a heart-based economy? An economy that ultimately will require less energy and where there is greater harmony between people and the planet? Perhaps humanity’s greatest folly is that we can’t see beyond the short term. We are wired to deal well with short-term emergencies and not long term ones. When someone tries to point out our environmental crises, others bring up the economic costs and the burden on companies and families if we were to change. It becomes fodder for a political debate rather than a biological imperative.
Our challenges will never be solved from one single technology or solution; it will ultimately have to be a blend of many. Hopefully, ones that are more in balance with our natural world. However, if our thirst for material goods is not curbed we will always be slaves to technology and Band-Aid solutions. Making one shortsighted decision after another in fear that we might lose what we’ve attained. People need to expand their hearts and ask themselves; can they do with a little less? Does this stuff really bring me happiness? We have been blessed with so many gifts internally; we should look less to the external to derive our worth. If we valued inner peace, mindfulness and compassion as much as we value material wealth, what would our world look like? If we opened our hearts, calmed our minds and really understood why and how we show up in the world? We would make decision in alighnment with the highest good of all because as we change ourselves, we change the world.
Join Angela for a 4-part series beginning June 6th, on how to shift our desire using mindfulness and awareness practices.
(c) Can Stock Photo