How much is enough? How do we define what is important and what creates meaning in our lives? These are big questions that might not always seem related to how and what we consume. But they are deeply connected.
Many of us were raised in a culture of constant consumption, filled with explicit and implicit cues that more is better and that having more equals greater satisfaction. Yet we also intuitively understand this way of life to be ultimately unsatisfying and unsustainable. And as anyone caught in this cycle knows, the more we consume, the worse we often feel. So what if we started to redefine what wealth is? Not measuring it as simply the accumulation of money and goods but in the quality of the lives we lead.
In his poignant book, Does It Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality, Alan Watts shows us that we often confuse having a lot of money (or things) with having wealth. But often, these two are no where near the same thing.
Buddhist philosopher, Alan Watts circa 1968
Much of our culture treats what we buy and own as disposable. Disconnected from the process and the people who make what we wear, eat and put in our homes. This is not only environmentally unsustainable and terrible for the producers in these processes, it also robs us of the joys of living with a deeper connection to place and process. So many of us crave this deeper connection to the earth, to craft, and to embracing a slower, simpler life.
According to Watts and many other Buddhist philosophers, spiritual health and material well-being are not enemies: they can be natural allies. They show us there is a fundamental connection between our spiritual and material lives. But we need to redefine what wealth means to us, what we own, and what we consider most important.
Just like when we decide to buy organic food because it is better for our bodies, farmers and the earth, we need to start making better choices in all areas of life - what we wear, put in our homes, and bring into our lives. These choices not only benefit our earth and society but we also individually benefit by slowing down—consciously consuming and reconnecting with what’s important by creating a different relationship to what we own.
In shifting our perspective on wealth, balancing our material wealth and our spiritual well being, we find there is an alternative. As we purchase, we can take a holistic view in what we buy, think about the impacts to the earth, the producers, and our own experience in engaging with what we own.
What we buy should live and wear out with us over the long term, allowing us to feel the energy of the hand made process and become an ingrained part of our lives. Living with an item over the long term is where the magic happens—as it wears, it becomes a part of your own story. Through this practice we are able to change ourselves and change our culture for the better.
Top photo: Georg Gerster, Les Gurages
Last two photos from Oaxaca via Ana Paula Fuentes