As I become more spiritually and ecologically aware, I have a growing discomfort in interacting with consumerist America. Its something that has been gnawing at me for many years, but it was only in the last few that I’ve been able to articulate it–and speak to others about it.
Case in point–I work very hard to abide by guidelines and suggestions that I post on this blog for limiting purchases, repurposing, freecycling, etc. This behavior immediately sets me apart from the “typical” American who engages in shopping as a hobby and major life activity; this also means that I actually do very little shopping and spend very little time in any kind of department store. I’m finding that when I have to drag myself to shop somewhere, I find the experience less and less pleasant each time.
Today is a great example of this–I never buy “new” clothes with the exception of undergarments, and well, it was just time to go get some. I order some of these online from more sustainable, ethical companies, but certain things are difficult to order without trying on. And so, I forced myself out to locally-owned department store. From the moment I entered the store and was greeted by a zombie worker who looked to be in a complete stupor, I felt uneasy. I felt like an outsider entering someone else’s sacred shrine; I pushed my shopping cart down overstuffed aisles lit by blazing florescent bulbs, and I felt the weight of consumerism bearing down on me. I’m critical of this system, I don’t like it, and I do as much as I can to avoid it. I listened to the women squee and giggle over “cute clothes” and “cute shoes” and “cute socks” and how “I so don’t need this but I’m buying it anyways”. All that I can see–and spiritually sense–is the environmental destruction present in the system; the uselessness of most of the purchases; and the unsustainable nature of it all. I feel like the “shopping experience” crushes my spirits and leaves me drained. Its like a plastic-wrapped, chemically-ridden dystopia. Its overwhelming. Even with good shielding and cleansing afterwards, I still feel icky and uncomfortable being in these shrines of consumerism.
I’ve expressed this viewpoint and my reactions in some limited way to my previous significant other and some family members (mainly to avoid “going shopping” with them and trying to negotiate alternative activities). They don’t get it–and I was told that I clearly had a psychological condition. This is actually part of the reason why my recent significant other is now my “previous” significant other and I’m once again single–he is not a spiritual person, and he believed that what I experienced spiritually was “crazy” and didn’t understand why I didn’t like to shop or engage in other activities that “millions of Americans do each day.” I suppose to people who aren’t in a sustainability mindset and spiritually gifted with multiple means of sensing the world, the idea that shopping could be physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining isn’t even fathomable. They see the “problem” as being not with the system, but with me.
But when I express this viewpoint to members of my druid grove, friends within our permaculture group, or other like-minded souls, I get nods of acceptance and understanding. They describe their own experiences in various big box stores and sometimes, just a knowing glance is all you need to know the sentiment is shared. Which makes me recognize that this is less about my own personal challenge and more an issue with the larger system–an issue that links satisfaction, entertainment, and identity to the ability to purchase lots of stuff and then throw it away and purchase more stuff. I, and a growing number of others, see through that system and its just not something that we are interested in supporting and perpetuating.
I am starting to think the earth-based/druid/sustainability people operate and live in a radically different world. Our world is a world of growing things, of preserving life, of building community through skill shares and work days, and through supporting our farmer’s markets, CSA’s and local co-ops. Its a world of alternative everything–alternative energy, alternative financing (like slow money), alternatives to petrochemicals and the typical lawn, alternatives to buying anything. Its a world where we don’t see spirituality, practice, and ecology as separate but connected to the whole. We share and support each other. We live in a bit of a utopian “bubble” world that is somehow separate from the rest of what’s out there–and that’s an amazing and wonderful thing. And really, I don’t actually find myself thrown into mainstream American culture all that much and so as I distance myself from it, it becomes harder and harder to stomach.
There is a deep-rooted challenge in this shift I’ve been experiencing. I can see myself, over time, becoming more and more attracted to the “off the grid” hermit lifestyle (which has its benefits, but as one of my blog commenters below has posted–its not a viable option for most due to overpopulation and strains on our resources). And I know people who do live off the grid and are very happy doing so. I would certainly be one of those people if given the opportunity. But at the same time, I feel like if I remove myself entirely from mainstream America, I lose my ability to interact, to educate, to inform, and to empower. I lose my ability to understand the system by being in the system; to teach those who are new to sustainability and druidry about alternatives. To be a good role model; to be a person whom others can go to for advice about local eating, raising chickens, seed starting, and related spiritual matters. And so, I seek ways to balance my need to remain connected to a system that drains me (and that, for all my concern, I still require things from) and the need to disconnect from that system and be free.
What are your experiences with this, my dear blog readers? Do you understand that of which I speak? How have you learned to handle it?