Friday, November 18, 2011

Beware of the Consumer Driven Mentality

This Yoga Journal article has some interesting stuff in it. I've always liked the idea of envisioning yourself as already awakened, and doing things in your daily life from that place. However, I'd like to take up the following paragraph to consider a little more closely.

This all-or-nothing notion of enlightenment is deeply rooted, and insidious. I often get questions from students who experience an expansion of consciousness and then worry, "But if I keep doing this, will I have to give up my family? Will I lose my personality?" If we think pursuing high states of consciousness means giving up other aspects of life, it won't seem like an attractive option. On the flip side, we may be attracted to the idea of enlightenment yet imagine it to be a way of bypassing ordinary challenges and irritations, and then we may get discouraged if we don't experience an immediate transformation, or get frustrated when we aren't lifted miraculously beyond the everyday demands of work and family relationships.

While I agree with the insidiousness of that all-or-nothing view many folks have around enlightenment, I find the downplaying of renunciation troubling. Although I think Sally Kempton is mostly pointing to not having to give up your most important relationships, or all your possessions, it's really easy to mistake that caution for a declaration that we can basically have it all. It takes effort to break through the consumer driven mentality so many of us are surrounded by and internalized, and as such, it's important for writers and spiritual teachers to take that mentality head on, to assume that it may still be present in the audience members, be they serious students or simply interested parties.

The way I see it, even if you maintain certain relationships, careers, and whatnot, the more committed you become to living a spiritual path, the more likely it is that you'll shed parts of your life that once might have been cherished. In other words, renunciation - either deliberately or more naturally unfolding, will be a part of your life, and it's important to figure out ways to speak about that without sounding dour and/or severe.

When I look at my own life, there are definitely things that have diminished or disappeared completely. And while some of these changes are normal shifts that can happen to anyone, some it is clearly a result of spiritual commitment. Entertainment, like music concerts and sporting events, play a much less central role in my life these days. Friends that were once central figures in my life are no longer so. I don't watch TV anymore; I go shopping much less than I did in the past. I used to be fairly obsessed with "looking good," and more recently appearing "Zen-like" - neither of which have such a major hold on me anymore.

However, more than any of that, I believe that commitment to a spiritual path often leads to a slow abandonment of selfishness and self-cherishing. That is, if you learn to be honest with yourself, and apply the teachings you're studying in a deliberate, sometimes ruthless manner on a consistent basis.

There are other ways you could read Kempton's paragraph above, I simply wanted to highlight what I feel is a commonplace lack of challenging the basic, collective conditioning that hinders so many of us. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.


Empty Seat Zendo said...

I agree with Pema Chodron, that as Buddhists, what we really renounce is the hope/desire/fantasy that things be different from how they are.



d'Artagnan said...

I think renunciation is also deeply rooted in letting go of clinging to the false idea of permanence. I think a HUGE part of enlightenment is realizing that things are impermanent, but you can still cherish them while they last. (if that makes any sense).

Nathan said...

Thank you Gregg and d'Artgnan. Seems to me that both of your points are along the same lines. And I'm in agreement.

Spiritual Abhay said...

Very Nice post, I liked it. I will defiantly share it with my friends on Facebook. thanks again.n

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan. I found my way to your blog through an article in Tricycle. I very much appreciated your points in this post. It helped me sort through some of things coming to me lately. Things need to fall away, or we miss out on the very essence of what our life is supposed to be, I think. I look at my son, the gymnast. His life has been so very directed at one activity since he was four. There is little room for anything else. Yet he would tell me that he is very content and indeed, appears more content than most that walk this earth.