It is the day after thanksgiving. Many others have already pointed out how interesting it is that we celebrate our blessings, then go shopping. I have never participated in Black Friday, and I assume there are a great many Americans out there who haven’t either. That doesn’t make me immune to the consumerism that underlies it. (Off the subject, I am finding all of the self righteous anti-black friday ranting almost as distasteful as wallmart itself.) In fact, I spend a great deal of time online shopping. I don’t actually buy things all that often but I do spend time looking at things, thinking about things I want. This is at complete odds with my ideals, and yet I enjoy it. Is it wrong for me to enjoy it? I don’t know, probably not terrible, I do know I should probably be spending my time doing things that are more enriching, more fulfilling, more wholesome. I’m not sure if I am giving myself too much of a hard time, or not enough.
Part of it is that it is just so accessible. Iphones, tablets, laptops, even good old fashioned catalogs. There is also something about desire itself that is seductive. I don’t actually gain too much pleasure from owning, I actually derive a decent amount of satisfaction from ridding myself of possessions. What it is it exactly about wanting? We learn from Buddhism about the idea that desire and expectations lead to stress/dissatisfaction or dukkha. As we approach the holiday season and as I continue writing, I am thinking hard about how to raise my son free of this burden of wanting. I also need to rid myself of this burden somewhat if we are to continue living on one income, and not a generous one at that! I am not sure I know how to do it since I spend so much time with desire myself. On the other hand I want to give him things, and there is a pleasure in giving and receiving gifts. I don’t want to be so strict in this line of thinking that I do away with some good things as well. Further though my family isn’t particularly extravagant about gifts, people like buying things for children and I don’t want to be the mother that takes gifts away from her child. This like so many other things seems to require balance.
One of the most striking memories I had was upon returning from Africa had to do with this. When there I barely had internet, no TV, and no cellphones. (That was before smartphones anyway). I had books, and those were even somewhat difficult to come by. Once I returned to the states I was inundated with TV, billboards, radio ads, and whatever else there is out there constantly working away at our minds. Almost immediately I decided that I wanted a new lap top. Then immediately after having that thought, I was shocked with myself. Both for having had the thought (I didn’t really need a new lap top), and for the lack of having such thoughts while I was gone. It was probably a combination of being immersed in a different, less consumer driven culture, a lack of constant exposure to advertisements, and being surrounded by real need that drove back all of those wants and desires for things that plague me today. (Most of my desires were for things like hot showers and cheese pizza). The fact that I lived quite happily without much and without wanting much for quite a while reminds me that it is possible.
How do I create a world for myself where these needs and wants do not exists, or maybe are just quieted? I think it is probably part discipline and part habit. So for the weeks leading up to and during our biggest buying season, I am going to try to turn a blind eye to the sales, stop making wish lists, and go on a fast from wanting. I will still get presents for my family of course, but I already have those mostly figured out no shopping required. My son will get snow boots and a kitchen stool. For now however, I am not going to flip through the ikea catalog dreaming of a beautifully appointed home or browse amazon for whatever random things I feel I need from those warehouses. I will delete emails with special deals. I will be happy with what I have, and if I need to imagine improving my situation as daydream fodder, I will imagine improving by doing not buying. I WILL sort through the difference between need and want. Perhaps if I can break the habit of wanting, I will be more free to enjoy what I have. My blessings are many after all, a lovely family, a lovely home in a lovely town, a dream to reach for, very naughty pets, and loved ones within reach. In addition to those wholesome things, I have plenty of kitchen gadgets, a tablet and an iphone, attractive boots for the winter, a good car and any number of the other more base material things that populate our modern lives. (Are snow tires a need or want?) Besides the spiritual freedom from the constant dissatisfaction of not having what you want, there is a practical aspect of not wanting what you can’t afford! Anyway, here’s to fasting until christmas at least, happy holidays, and Black Friday.