The Spiritual Impact of Consumption

On the back of Spirit for this week, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan is mentioned. It is a book I would recommend that supports living intentionally, caring for the environment and staying awake. The book project starts out as an experiment about the environment (Beavan tries to live for one year with little to no environmental impact), but it ends up forcing him to reflect on big questions about life and love. It does not set out to be a spiritual book, but the more consumption Colin gives up, the more alive he feels.

Colin Beavan begins to reflect on the possibility that society has put pressure on us to become consumers before human beings. The more he lets go of his identity as a consumer, the more he is able to build meaningful relationships. The author has a hunch that we are so addicted to consuming because it lulls us to sleep. It might be that we are so afraid to die that we actually forget to live, and consuming keeps us from real life. I think he is on to something. We have one shot at this life thing, and we might as well stay awake for it.

In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard quotes Victor La Beau, “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…. We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” True. We are consuming at an alarming rate. Shopping and extraneous consumption is a hobby, a social activity, and it surrounds our religious celebrations like Christmas and Easter.

What if we consumed more music and books and each other’s stories than television?

What if we did an assessment of what we needed verses what we wanted?

Media is using spiritual language to try to fill a desire we have to find meaning in life with stuff. And worst of all, it is disposal stuff that leaves a void luring back out to buy more. Nike commercials are about empowerment, not shoes. Lexus ads are about inner beauty, not transportation. Gatorade markets bodily transcendence, not hydration. And we are falling for it! We act as if things will create identity, as if stuff will give our lives meaning. We are more willing to align with team Caribou than team Catholic, Team Jacob instead of team justice.

Should we support this industry that tries to make us feel less than beautiful and powerful, centered on stuff to fill life with meaning?

Living simply is a life long process. Advent is the perfect time to look at our lives and remember that meaning comes not from the stuff that we buy and consume. Maybe in caring for the environment, we are also caring for the divinity inside of ourselves that can be masked by overconsumption.

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