-- Frederick Buechner
Consciousness and ConsumerismSo much stuff.
I’ve given away a whole house of stuff in the last year and there’s still more stuff. Like it’s been breeding in those boxes down there. Most of it has little resale value. Most of it had little value, really, when it was purchased from the local super whatsit stores. Little flea-market value even, in the mass-produced world to which it was born. How many lamps, tables, TVs, gadgets, shoes, clothes, books, tapes, instant foods, commemorative cups, miracle tools, stereos, games, toys, cutlery, watches, planners, pens and PC pieces can my home, my closets, my lifetime hold? It was just too attractive to pass up on whatever day it was I’d decided to adopt it.
Most of it, of course, was some kind of great deal or filled some enormous need I You We didn’t even realize was there until the sale flyers or entry-way criers brought the good news to our hungry attention. So we bought the stuff, almost always from one of those places that almost always, eventually, outsell and erase the local, smaller, familiar places from our communities.
We say we'd like to buy from the local hardware store, coffee shop, bookstore, grocery, etc. -- BUT:
- They don't have the selection
- Their prices are too high
- They'd have to order it and we need it today
- It's just so easy to go the big places, many of which are open 24 hours a day...
What's the result of that thinking?
The never satisfied, crazed with craving, over-eaters-anonymous consumer culture that homogenizes, super-sizes and ultimately endangers the existence of the thinkers themselves.
"It's just simple economics," we say.
"If they can't compete, eventually they'll just have to close-up. It's always been that way. Basic competition. Law of the jungle."
Really, though... it's not.
It's the law of the predator unrestrained.
Bob Chase or someone in his family has been your local hardware guy for longer than you've lived here. His dad knew your dad and sold your growing family all the hardware kinds of things it needed.
Going there was just like the place described in the song "East Asheville Hardware", by David Wilcox:
"...go first to that age-old placeWhat are those things we have to buy at Patey's Lowes or Sears?
(Sounds like "Lions, Tigers and Bears", as I type it just now…)
Convenience items? We're so busy with obligations (which we don't take the time to examine or question) that Bob's place can't meet our need for one-stop shopping.
Variety? We've got so much stuff we've forgotten most of it, then paid even more for additional space in which to entomb the stuff.
Bob can't compete with the buying power of the superstores. He can't afford to remodel or rearrange the place every few months in order to provide us with a new & more exciting shopping experience. He's never torn down a perfectly useful store and moved a block away to a corner spot with better traffic and a drive-thru window.
Worse, he can't provide enough stuff to satisfy our 'browse, buy, store, forget and buy some more' way of life. A sane seller can't easily survive in an insane economy.
If we were living a more awake life, consuming mindfully, spending our money (and our time, literally our energy and our lives) on only things we truly value, how much would we NOT buy?
Throw-away furniture, single-portion packages, extra shoes / clothes / CD's / Books we never read, food we throw away (and is not good for us anyway), furniture and decorations to ease our boredom, which of course, increases with each change of scenery, due to the sheer velocity of the stuff moving through our lives and competing for our limited attention.
If we can only look at a thing for a few moments, how interesting can it really be for us? What chance can it have to ever matter in our universe?
Consider the simple example we've probably all experienced:
You have a new CD by an artist you've found you really like. It’s the only one you listen to, day after day, maybe week after week for a while.
You play it over and over, read the liner notes, memorize the words and music... It becomes sort of a soundtrack in your life for a while.
Later, years later sometimes, you hear it again after a long absence and that soundtrack quality returns immediately with a gust of remembrance like a kiss, like a taste of favorite seasonal food, like the scent of the perfume worn by your first love.
You've surely felt this.
Now, compare that with the quality of attachment you develop to CD's when you buy several at a time, or several per month.
We just don't get to know them well enough to connect.
The artists have have probably connected deeply with the work -- it's taken months or longer to create this communication for us -- this piece of their souls. But if we consume it as if it's candy in a shop we're running through, tasting a bit of everything but never actually chewing, eating anything -- or browsing a bookshelf reading just the titles -- we'll never get the intended messages, heart or life experiences from any of them.
The quality of the former experience is the one we remember -- that enriches our lives beyond its simple package.
If we were to adjust our consumption to only that which we truly loved or had time to get to know well enough to love, how much less would we spend?
Many thousands of dollars a year, most of us.
With those savings would also come more time, greater satisfaction and pleasure from what we do buy.
And the "higher prices" of the local merchant we say we'd love to patronize would not seem high at all. We could easily afford it.
Why should we give up our family to strangers? Why allow some giant organization to step in and tell our family members they can get more fun, comfort, pleasure and entertainment from their skilled staff of singers, dancers, magicians, chefs, child-rearers, puppeteers and professional friends?
Would we let a stranger take our kids in just because he offered them a private suite with cable and a hot tub?
If we don't have the patience or quality of consciousness necessary to fully experience the details of our lives, if we believe in the impressions attempted by our prosthetic-fronted super-homes and the faux-culture implied by a correct collection of coffee table books, can we wonder why everything tastes less distinct every day?
As if owning the book will extract insight.
As if eating diamonds will make us dazzling.
We don’t know who makes what we buy. We don’t even know why we’re buying most of it. We’ve lost sight of life within walking distance for the pursuit of something we’ve been led to believe will help us lose that empty feeling inside, if we’ll just try a bottle, box or test drive today.
If we've been slowly seduced into giving up our communities and local vital relationships for the bigger, brighter and ultimately unsatisfying, even overwhelming burden of the stuff we've been sold, we can still awaken to a better life.
We can more easily than ever buy locally, live locally, LOOK at the people, places and wonders of our own world. Care for those we can physically reach.
Sure, we'll want to see the Grand Canyon, Paris, The Great Pyramid.
And when we do, if we've lived mindfully in our own houses and yards, looked deeply at our friends and family members, rediscovered the satisfaction of losing ourselves in the music or art to which we've directed our much more skilled attention, we'll really SEE those faraway sites. We'll look at the Grand Canyon or the Great Pyramid and see. We won't need much of a brochure. We won't need a professional tour guide. We certainly won't take the tour bus so that we can zip past the general view to the "scenic view" or so that we can "squeeze everything into the time we have" and "see it all".
Seeing it all that way might as well be done on TV, on the Web or even in a color brochure. There are no fingerprints on the windows that way, no faltering tour bus air conditioners, no bored tour guides...
We'll be awake, instead, to the beauty and energy of all that is in our lives.
They'll not be cluttered with forgotten, impulsively-purchased, discarded stuff, lying about sputtering and wasting away in dreams of being useful.
We won't need to buy items made with slave labor or below poverty wages because the things we buy will MATTER to us as much as they do to those who are creating them.
Today when we buy things we don't really care about, with such mindless consumption, we shouldn't wonder that the trade-off is that the equation is balanced by those items having to be created just as mindlessly -- by mindless companies treating the earth and our collective consciousness as a machine that can be managed without thought, without care, without LOVE.
If we are willing to consume without care, we cannot expect the items we consume to have been created with care.The system will crank out the millions of units to meet the ravenous demand.
But what is the result? Will we ever be happy?
It's been said that the possession of the "new thing" is not what gives the pleasure when we consume. It's the moment just before acquisition -- the moment we overlook in our pleasure of consumption. Then we wonder why the "having" isn't nearly as pleasurable as we expected it to be.
It's the end of the ache of desire that brings the pleasure, the relief from anxiety -- not the possession of the thing itself.
As long as storage is cheap enough, we may not have to think about it for a while…
I'd rather learn again to love the people, places and things that come into my life. I don't want to live so vicariously that I never really taste the food in my mouth, can't create my own images for the songs or stories I hear, can't decide how I feel about something without checking what others have said, can't bear reality and its intensity long enough to not swallow whatever reality-reducing drug I'm being advised to ask my doctor about by my TV... I don't want to learn about living from a real-life TV drama.
It's not as if some large looming evil empire or hidden master plan has been launched and is controlling us as part of its dream of world domination.
We are it.
Intentions create reality.
Our intentions, however, are asleep at the wheel. The vehicle, driven by reactions of our fitful dreams and desires and by our constant cravings for something we can't even describe (because we're not awake enough to see it, let alone say it) is careening out of control all over and through the land, the trees, the lives, habitats and hearts of our entire world.
We are it.
We can awaken, though, and help to wake each other.
One by one is how it's done. No TV evangelism, no campaigns, programs or political platforms. Change your mind and change the world.
Daniel Quinn says, "If the world is to be saved, it will be by people with changed minds".
We can be those people, awakened from the long dream of darkness to the insight that we're made of light.
We can rediscover beauty that's been here all along.
We can revel in how long a thing can last, reclaim NEW to mean "the old one finally wore out", to paraphrase Thom Hartmann - not "I was depressed and there was a sale, and besides, the old one was out of style so I bought a new one".
We can start calling ourselves, our relatives and our neighbors artists, dancers, musicians, painters, actors or writers again without reserving those words for the published, famous, and so-called somebodies.
We can slow to the pace that our spirits and bodies can comfortably bear.
We can go outside together into a beautiful morning.
We can provide each other with all we need.
We can love, really love this life.