Today’s blog was written by Sharon; she is a professor of Buddhist studies at Seattle University, she is also a teacher here at Spira.
You can visit Sharon’s amazing classes on every Monday morning at 8:15 A.M. She also has an upcoming workshop on Mindful Eating and Compassionate Living in March of 2018 at Spira Power Yoga.
Sharon teaches Mindful Yoga Pump; yoga with Barre, Pilates, and Weights, and you know, when a Prof. of Theology and Religious studies teacher Mindful Yoga Pump – IT IS going to be mindful, mindful and physically challenging. You got to check it out! But first, read her article. We all need to take a breath, and observe our desires during the Holiday Season.
Yesterday one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett wrote a piece in the New York Times Op-Ed about her experience of not shopping for a year. I was intrigued first because she is a phenomenal writer whose novels and nonfiction stop me in my tracks for days. She took a year off of acquiring more things that she simply did not need and found herself lacking nothing and developing the capacity to recognize more acutely what others didn’t have. What a noble and intriguing notion. But wait, what about exceptions? I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that Patchett did not give up the mainstays of her career—books. Well, if she didn’t have to stop buying books, then I wouldn’t either. My negotiations around my book addiction began something like this—“Well, Ann is a writer and seller of books, so her work depends on book collecting and reading. I am an academic and a writer and a lover of books, so at least this was one thing that Ann didn’t give up. If she didn’t, then I won’t.” The tightness in my chest began to loosen up immediately.
Since reading this piece, I have been thinking about what it would be like to put away my seemingly endless drive for more. We are quickly coming to a new year and with 40 Days of Introspection right around the corner, it makes sense that I would begin to take a look at my own habitual acts that are often driven by mindlessness. And this query is not about how to stop myself from asking more of myself in any spiritual kind of way, but rather, what would it be like to simply stop shopping for stuff I don’t need? I am not a terribly huge shopper, but I have noticed that over the past few years, shopping has become so much easier online with the click of a little “buy” button teasing me with false hopes of fulfilling whatever fantasy I am harboring about myself. These are not necessarily the opulent luxury items one might associate with the Trump family and countless upscale designers, but rather, the items that are my own personal luxuries that I simply don’t need–like an extra pair of boots, new yoga tights, another cool sweater, and the list goes on. Just because it doesn’t cost a fortune for me doesn’t mean that it isn’t making some kind of indelible mark on my psyche. In typing this, I am also mindful that what counts as my own modest personal luxuries are likely to be considered symbols of opulence for another.
I teach Buddhism to college students and always ask why is it that we want more than we need. I prod them to consider in rather abstract terms, “What’s the desire behind desire and what is it that I am trying to say or do with myself when I want more?” It has become so easy to click and purchase and in so doing click away a little more of my time, my attention, and my ability to lead a more present and aware life. Shopping is indeed my fantasy maker and guilty little secret, an act that conjures up images of perfection that evaporate with every try-on of said article of clothing, every pair of shoes that makes its way in the door.
But what would happen if I simply set some limits on myself and disabled the enabler—Amazon Prime, the credit cards held on account that simply hold me hostage to my desires. And yet I know that these desires are not solely of my own making. No, it is the clicking away online looking for the “perfect thing” that creates more signals out in the cyber world that I am a consumer of very particular products. Even when I valiantly choose not to buy something I have been staring at and eventually lose my infatuation with, it shows up again without my consent tantalizing me with better prices on my Facebook feed. I am trapped in an endless cycle of desire for things to satisfy an itch that will never be scratched, isn’t this the purpose of our consumer economy to egg us on in this never ending quest for acquisition. But where will it get me? What does it take me away from when I continue to chase consumer unicorns and dream away my time in hopes of embodying a fantasy self. And so for now, I am toying with following in the footsteps of my beloved author by not buying things that I do not actually need—the perfect pair of winter boots, the just right pair of pants, new shiny gadgets for the kitchen, electronics.
Despite what the popular adage states, the dress does not make the woman; it only makes an ephemeral fantasy woman, for there is always lurking out there a better dress with a better fit, a cuter detail designed to somehow whittle away and camouflage those dark secrets about our bodies we are afraid to reveal. But by the very twisted logic of desire, it will never seal the deal. We are conditioned to want more and to want better looking versions of ourselves.
During the first years of my single life post-divorce, I began to think that my new life came with a fresh consumer power because I no longer had to negotiate for what I wanted and that somehow this purchasing power was the ultimate feminist choice. I could do whatever I wanted with my money now because it was mine…and grown ass women do what want with their dollars! If I wanted something, then I could make the mental calculations in my head and by some magic of dollar alchemy, I would make it transpire seemingly out of thin air or at least off of the internet. But as I have come to realize in the years following my separation and divorce, buying what I don’t need does not make me more of a self-realized woman. It often makes me feel less so because I live more in the world of fantasies of how something will make me look and feel in the future rather than to engage myself in how I actually feel in this very moment.
Shopping and consuming allows me to avoid what is transpiring and what I am feeling in the here and now. The thinking goes something like this—Damn it! I work hard. I am raising my teenagers mostly on my own and it is so hard! So I can have what I want when I want it…within reason. I deserve it! Sort of. Kind of. But not really, because with each click of the buy-it button, I buy into a fantasy and sell a little more of my present self who lets myself feel all the feels—the good, the bad, the ugly. As I enter into the new year, I will follow Patchett’s lead and take a little time to choose wisely what I will and will not purchase. I will try to buy a little bit of myself back by not giving into the addiction for more stuff so that I am here and not living in a fantasy world. Maybe I will be a little more present, a little more satisfied, and a little more solidly grounded. It’s worth a shot in my book and in Ann Patchett’s too.
Sharon A. Suh, Ph.D.
Sharon teaches at Spira every Monday at 8:15am – check out her classes!
She also has an upcoming workshop on Mindful Eating and Compassionate Living in March of 2018 at Spira Power Yoga
Professor, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies
Theiline Pigott-McCone Chair in the Humanities