Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spirituality in Food and Stuff

Real back-to-the-land people and Voluntary Simplicity folks learn to live without material things. They shy away from consumerism and move (often) towards the natural world for their resources. I realized the other day that I’m a phony in this regard. My resourcefulness, my great detective sleuthing gives me the ability to find big consumer things for prices that an organic farmer can afford. I bought an iPod recently from a used classified advertisement online for $50. It works great – it is more than I will need for years to come and the teenager I bought it from needed money towards one that was so very much more hip and up to date. It was a win-win situation. But it turns out that having an iPod is a bit of a thing. I thought everyone had one. Turns out, not everyone does.

I also happen to have a Blackberry. My husband needs one for his work on the road and they were having a buy one, get one free sale. So I got one free. I use it as a cell phone and have refused to have internet service connected to it. I am far too much of an addictive junkie to get involved with that racket.

I recently took a trip to Disney World with my daughter. Could it get any more consumer-centred than that place? My mother has a time-share condo in Kissimmee, 5 miles from Disney World and she bought my daughter and I cheap flights as a baptism/40th birthday/Christmas present. We brought homemade sandwiches to the theme parks with us and I scouted those souvenir stores like a hawk. Not to buy anything, but to know what to look for in the second hand stores when I got home. One by one, week after week, I found everything I had my eye on for a handful of dollars in total. So for the 3 days we visited the parks, we did it cheaply, but that doesn’t mean there was no cost to our psyches, the environment (airplanes are nasty on air quality), our desire for More, Bigger, Faster, Better…

All I am trying to say here is that despite my attempt to do things on this farm the way they did 100 years ago, I am not someone that goes without modern luxuries.

I am also planning a trip down to New York to do some hiking in a couple of months and realized I needed a new fancy, breathable, windbreaker, rainproof coat as the one I have has no hood anymore. The last time I did a windy, cold hike up a mountain I was hankering for an enclosed hood so I decided to replace my $200 jacket. I found a second hand version today for $15, with a hood. It’s the same colour, same material and style as my old one.

I have traveled to very poor countries and seen the value of ‘western’ things. A pen, a deck of cards, a cheap watch, a pair of plastic flip-flops, even a plastic bag – all are treasures that brought on a little happy dance when I gave them away. It is unfathomable for us wasteful westerners to know the worth of things when we are so readily asked to dispose of everything we use. The trouble is that knowing that all things can be useful again in some way has made me a serious hoarder. I save all things for a rainy day and have shelves and shelves of thing-a-ma-jiggies that I might be able to use for something one day. Believe me, on a farm there is a high need to be resourceful and things do get put to good use regularly around here. But I admit that I could use a purge.

I once stayed at my Buddhist friend’s house out west for a few months. Each morning she would come out of her room (after her 1 hour meditation) and put a pot on the stove and boil up some coffee. Her counters were bare, there was perhaps one toaster on display, and in my ignorance I assumed that buying them a drip coffee maker was a generous thing to do to fill up their counter space (this was before I discovered espresso machines). My dear friend tried to explain to me that they did not want many things. Having an empty counter was intentional. I did not understand but I accepted what she said and did not buy her a coffee maker.

When I moved out, I was afraid that they would not take cash to compensate for my stay so I bought them a music machine. A ghetto-blaster it was called in my day. I don’t know what you call it now. Probably an iPod. Anyway, this thing had a radio and a tape deck and maybe a CD player. I checked with her partner first before adding this ‘thing’ to their bare collection and he seemed to agree it would be welcomed. I recently touched base with this friend, who is now teaching at a university about how Buddhist philosophy can be used in the medical profession. She noted that she still has that ghetto-blaster that I bought her. It may have been a splurge but 15 years later she is still making good use of it.

I don’t know if I could ever manage to purge the things from my life. I know it would do me some good to let go of my material things. But instead I seem to cling to them as my safety net. I have also been a collector of things since childhood. I can’t help myself. There is deep satisfaction with lining up a row of things that are all alike but different. I don’t know much about Autism, but I often imagine I have a bit of that in me. The strong urge to gather things, organize and make sense of them. Perhaps we all have this in us.

I also feel this way about food. Food and I are lifelong companions. We agreed some time ago that we would never part. And yet spiritual masters often speak of fasting as a way to get closer to a higher power. Lately I have been exploring the sensation of hunger a little bit. It freaks me right out. It makes me want to head for the cupboards and line up the entire contents in alphabetical order just to be sure I am not going to starve. But instead I kind of sit with it, like an observer and try to note how safe the world can still be, even when I am a little bit hungry.

So, the rule of thumb is that you’ll get closer to God if you go without. I am going to cheat on this one because I think I found a loophole. If I get a good price and it brings true and lasting happiness into my life (ie. music), can I keep it God? Or better yet, surrounded by the abundance that we have on this farm, do we have to go without when it would mean wasting all that the land is offering?

My latest venture is to find a way to join the abundance I am compelled to have around me with true need (such as feeding hungry people and clothing people who do not have any rain coat, let alone one without a hood). There must be some use for my quirky resourcefulness here, yes?


  1. My hubby just informed me of the quote: 'The opposite of consumption isn't thrift. It is generosity.' Raj Patel.

  2. Aaahh grasshopper...all very good things to ponder.


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