Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I grew up in a family of shoppers. My grandmother's home was filled with items large and small: gemstone rings, TV-offer-only Cuisinarts, Coca-Cola collectibles, random flea market tchotchkes, fake flower arrangements, trinkety Walgreens finds, candies and family heirlooms and little kleenex packages and all the items sold on 2am infomercials.

Her favorite quote from my childhood: "Paw-Paw makes the money and Ma-Maw spends it!"

I think she found shopping relaxing, or perhaps elating. My guess was it grew out of her childhood of poverty and her experience of the depression. She was a cupboards-jammed-full kind of woman... finding a sense of stability and assuaging her many anxieties in the process of possession.

What is interesting, however, is the way her behavior then passed to my mother - another shopper at heart. Like my grandmother, my mother (I think) has integrated shopping into her modes of communication and introspection.

We were a greeting card family - a care-package bunch; my mother, I suspect, sometimes uses trips to the store as a form of meditation or solitude... and she communicates her love, in part, through things that resonate, for her, with the frequency of the intended recipient.

I find that much of my understanding and meaning-making when it comes to family, parenting, home-life is linked to a lifetime of shopping. I enjoy window shopping, gift-shopping, grocery-shopping, card-shopping, bath-and-body/decor/artwork/furniture/music, books, and more-shopping. I spend hours on errands that should only take minutes, and I find myself fighting the urge to buy my daughter something on every trip. So that she will know I am thinking of her. That I love her. That she is important to me.

Even though my relationship to consumption of goods has changed in the last few years, I still find myself drawn to the act of buying... of selecting and owning and carrying things... as an emotional touchstone. I go to the store when I'm sad. I sometimes equate my sense of self with the things I possess. I wish to believe (if I am honest with myself) my love can be communicated with a thing - because I so often fail to adequately communicate my heart through my words and deeds.

Consumption is a funny thing when you begin to really notice it... a sort of integrated and inescapable thread that runs through infinite aspects of our daily lives. It's so ingrained in our culture - in our senses of self.

Food, clothing, cars, homes, media, technology, electricity, gas - necessities and luxuries and everything in between. It is such a wide spectrum along which we tread, sometimes it's hard to know whether we are filling a need that is real or one that is an illusion.

As I seek to become more aware of my relationship to consumption and to consider the legacy I will pass on to my daughter, I have started to seek out what might best be described as a sense of insatiable hunger. It is the empty aching longing of the hungry ghost... and when I am awake to it, I notice it showing up in many areas of my life. Today I realized that every time I am a hungry ghost, I begin to consume.

This translates to eating cookies when I am not hungry, plodding mindlessly through Facebook when I am lonely, buying Starbucks when I am directionless, searching real estate listings when I am restless, driving my car when I am emotionally stuck, watching TV when I am resisting, and looking for clothes my daughter does not need when I am missing her.

It is no mistake, I think, the definition of consumption includes both the act of consuming and the state of being consumed. It may be impossible to consume without, on some level, being consumed by the thing you are consuming. The hungry ghost is suffering personified. It is the self of attachment and longing and mindless consumption driven by illusory goals.

The Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta (founder of Buddhism) said:

Peace comes from within.
Do not seek it without.

Of course, sometimes the simplest of notions is the hardest to put into action. But I am trying. Striving to consume mindfully and consider my legacy and confront the ghost within so I may replace her with a sense of peace.

May you be alert to your needs and your desires - and strive to discern the difference between the two.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Back in May, I heard a story on NPR about a monk who had completed 1,000 days of walking meditation in order to reach the next level of enlightenment. This practice is called Sennichi Kaihogyo and takes place around Mount Hiei. It is unclear from poking around if the monks who undertake this practice primarily walk, run, or both... but the end result is the participant has essentially transversed a distance equal to the circumference of the Earth at the end of the 1000th day.

At the time I caught the broadcast, I had been thinking a lot about art, Buddhism, commitment, and forms of dedication... or rather, the ways in which we imbue meaning or purpose to action via consistent commitment/dedicated focus.

There is something powerful about renewed intention toward some aim or purpose. I'm not sure it even matters what it is we turn our attention toward (so long as it is not harmful or maleficent)... so long as we choose - again and again - to put our energy toward some form of expression.

Pressfield, I think would support this theory, as do the sometimes surprising pop culture or social phenoms sometimes thrust into success or rewarded with support, such as Matt Harding or Marina Abramović. And, of course, you find this sort of repetition of focus or activity via many world religions and spiritual philosophies.

I think, perhaps, we transcend the day-to-day when we shift something from the realm of mundane routine and elevate it into something extraordinary... simply by committing to repetition.

To dance in a silly way once or twice is one thing... to do it an infinite number of times in an infinite number of places suddenly transforms its meaning and purpose. Same with sitting in a chair, or taking a photo each day (think Smoke or check out this blog), or writing a daily blog entry, or asking the same question to hundreds of people.

I have been thinking about it a lot - this magic and miracle of repetition - and I think it may come down to this. These long-form processes of dedication (be they artistic, personal, spiritual, or whathaveyou) place us along two simultaneous paths of understanding.

1. Everything is special. Distilling experience to the level of recognizing it moment to moment often enables a perspective cognizant of how miraculous life is. All the time. Nothing is ever the same... and there is deep and magnificent, awe-inspiring grandeur in the singularity of experience we enjoy each second. I think this becomes more noticeable when we seek to capture it in some form... pin it down so we can record it and look at it and hold it up to the light.


2. Nothing is special. There is something profoundly simple in everything we might choose to do. All action carries as little and as much import as any other. Walking around a mountain is simply walking around a mountain - whether one chooses to do that one time or a thousand times. And once we move something from a space of unique to a space of routine, it offers the opportunity to better understand how our attachments define our perception of our actions. Particularly in the context of ego and the all-too-common pitfall of comparing our lives to the lives of others... or deciding we can't do something because it is too hard/too much/too big/etc.

There is beauty in seeing something again and again - and through repetition we are aware both of how singularly special everything is, and also how it is all one thing. How the lines of distinction we attach to name, form, substance... the ways in which we categorize or differentiate the things of our lives... how really it's all illusion.

There is no separation. No beginning. No end. It just is. And in that paradox, that circle of never-ending-never-beginning-always-ending-always-beginning, there is a kind of freedom and knowing one might glimpse. A moment of being defined as always/never/divine/mundane in which all things are... well, they just are.

That's my guess, at least. I'll let you know if my perspective changes should I ever walk across a mountain for a thousand days.

May you find renewal in repetition of all kinds. May your dedication (in whatever form it takes) bring you peace.