We live in a society where we are encouraged to consume thoughtlessly and continuously. We are supposed to keep up with the latest fashion trends each season without thinking about the 15 million tons of used textile waste generated per year by the United States alone. We’re just not cool if we don’t have the latest version smart phone or similar- who cares about the 4.6 million tons of technological, or e-waste, that occupies our landfills leaching out harmful chemicals? Or it is incinerated, releasing lead, cadmium and mercury into our atmosphere. Or it is shipped out to developing nations so it can be “someone else’s problem.” Our food barely counts as food anymore, it’s more food-like. We are not supposed to concern ourselves with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), potentially cancer causing preservatives such as Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), or the effect the extreme use of pesticides has on our bodies and our earth. We are only to consume what is being proffered to us, to maintain our lifestyle of convenience.
This haphazard way of living leads to many health issues which our society then treats with intense pharmaceuticals. In my experience, more often than not, we are only treated symptomatically. We are given some drug for a persistent cough or chronic headaches, but the root of the problem is not examined. Our mental health issues are treated in a similar way. During my annual visit at Planned Parenthood last month, I was told that “it sounds like you are dealing with anxiety and depression” and that “many of us are medicated.” While the unofficial diagnosis may have been reasonably accurate, the jump to antidepressants as the answer did not feel right for me. Please do not take this to mean that I am against all medications for all purposes. I fully understand the necessity of medication in treatment and care. I only condemn the quick assertion that it the only answer to all health complaints.
So, how do we enact positive change within a society that seems to be doing it’s best to keep us focused on whatever new shiny thing and our own personal comfort, a society that prefers we are distracted and numb? The answer is simple: Mindfulness.
The key to change is our own awareness. Everything is connected. All actions have consequences. As you open your mind and heart and broaden your scope of the world, you will see that positive change begins with the choices you make on a daily basis.
“Everything contains everything else.”
When you purchase a loaf of bread at the store, be aware that the bread contains many non-bread elements. Of course it contains the ingredients listed, but the bread could not be without the farmers who grew and harvested the grains, the rain and sunshine, or the bakers who created it. Be aware of the negative impacts of that loaf of bread as well- the pesticides and herbicides sprayed onto the wheat fields, the fuel used not only for the farming equipment, but in hauling the ingredients to be processed and then the product delivered to stores. Suddenly, that loaf of bread is no longer “just” a loaf of bread.
I am not setting out to deter you from purchasing things. I only want you to do so mindfully, to be intentional with your actions. In a society of rampant consumerism, being aware of what it takes to get a product to you is a great place to start.
Back in college I took a class called Geography of Resources. One of our assignments was to choose a product, anything- your cell phone, a hamburger, your jeans, and research all its components. For instance, if you were looking into the components of an iPhone, you would see that it contains silver, copper, and tin (among other things). Okay, now where and how were those minerals mined and by whom? How are they processed to become parts of the phone? Who assembles the phone once all the components are ready? The questions keep rolling in.
I encourage you to find a product that you use every day and research it to this degree. When you are fully aware of all that is involved to bring that product to you, you will use it more mindfully. Perhaps you will discover that you disagree with a company’s actions towards humans, animals, and/or the environment and you will chose to no longer support those actions with your money. Maybe you’ll find that a company is totally bad-ass in their corporate responsibility and you wish to support them further. Either way, it’s important to know what you are tacitly enabling through your purchases.
After writing this post, I began to re-read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Being Peace. About half way through the book, I came across this beautiful passage:
“Every day we do things, we are things, that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our lifestyle, our way of consuming, of looking at things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment we are alive, the present moment. When we pick up the Sunday newspaper, for instance, we may be aware that it is a very heavy edition, maybe three or four pounds. To print such a paper, a whole forest may be needed. When we pick up the paper, we should be aware. If we are very aware, we can do something to change the course of things.”
It is easy to feel overwhelmed and insignificant by the state of our world. But your choices and your voice can truly make a difference. Several times in the past when having conversations about my diet or other life choices I’ve made, I have been told “you are the most intentional person I’ve met.” Just by living my beliefs and discussing my reasoning with interested persons, I have helped plant seeds of mindfulness in others.
Once our eyes are open, it is difficult to close them on the injustice, destruction, and wastefulness in the world. Our way of life, our choices and actions, may seem only a drop in the ocean, but that drop will ripple out to have a greater effect than you realize.