Here's a page out of my sketch book (made from recycled paper). I've been sitting in the evening by the fire (am I using up non-renewable resources?) and playing in my sketch book. This Buddha is done in a grey conte crayon. Is conte crayon stuff, is it toxic, how and where is it produced? Do you see where I'm going with this? I know, I need to offer a few more clues, no not Colonel Mustard in the Library with the candlestick type clues.
This afternoon we went to hear Annie Leonard (from The Story of Stuff) speak. I'm thinking about what she has to say from a spiritual and more specifically a Buddhist perspective.
Stuff.... Big topic. And Leonard never takes a holier than thou, guilt inducing stance. She staunchly says she is not anti- stuff. In fact she comments how a lot of environmentalists shoot themselves in the foot (my words, not hers, but ouch, it still hurts) by pointing pinkies and making people feel guilty for using the wrong light bulbs or forgetting to turn the water off when we brush our teeth. Did you ever learn anything in this way? Did guilt ever make you a better person?? So in a way, Leonard is a lot like a Buddhist. No proselytizing. She aims to motivate, inspire and empower.
But back to stuff. Does stuff make us happy? From a Buddhist perspective, hitching your happiness to the wagon of outer things, of any ilk, takes us down the road of disappointment or the boulevard of suffering at some point. Leonard talked about how the happiness quotient in the US and, by extension, we will presume the western world, has gone down since the 1950's. We have a record amount of stuff available to us, a mind tangling array of goods, and yet we are less happy. Logic would tally that equation and tell us that stuff doesn't make us happy.
Studies, Annie tells us, report that the experience of meaningful community is what makes humans happy, not stuff. Yet we have, at the urging of corporate and media influence, become consumers first, members of community second. And here in lies the angst of the modern world, we are hamsters in the corporate ferris wheel. We often define the solution to environmental issues in terms of buying "different" stuff, get that green light bulb, that organic t-shirt, green gratification. Not so, says Leonard. In fact changing our buying habits may lull us into the complacent sleep of thinking we have taken environmental action. Things really need to change from the top down, Leonard tells us. She calls things like recycling the bottom end of the chain (is that out-house environmentalism we're practicing?), not that things like recycling are not important. But they won't ever fully solve the problem, the one that has us using 1 1/2 planets when we only have one.
She frames the problem like this. We are hurting the planet. We are hurting each other. And we aren't having any fun doing it. And the good news is, there is a way to do things differently. Sounded a little bit like an environmentalists version of the 4 noble truths. 1. There is suffering, that would be in the hurting. The way we are using up natural resources and producing toxins hurts all sentient and non sentient beings. The sad news flash that you won't find on Fox news is that the corporate appetite for increased economic growth and profits over human health and well being is impacting this planet in a big way. For most of us this is not news. We're just not sure what to do about it.
Interestingly Leonard points out we're not having any fun wrecking the planet. Our general experience as modern humans is one of less happiness, more hours of work, less leisure time, more stress and less community engagement. And what do we do when we're feeling less happy? According to Leonard we watch TV (Americans on average watch 5 hrs a day, so Canucks we probably do too) and then we buy stuff because the ads on TV tell us stuff will make us happy or at least improve our lives. In my mind this corresponds to the 2nd noble truth, attachment is the cause of suffering. We're attached to the belief in stuff as a solution to our unhappiness and we're attached to the temporary pleasure we get from having new stuff. Pleasure is the short story and not a substitute for happiness, which is a deeper sense of well being. We are lured by the temporary hit we get from the endless cycle of new stuff (eek, we're stuff junkies).
The third noble truth (there is a way to the end of suffering) is tied in to Leonard's comment that we're not having any fun and we can do something about it (maybe we might have fun in the process). The 4th noble truth offers the path to the end of suffering (the 8 fold path in our Buddhist list of lists). This is the call to action in "the story of stuff's" version of the 4 noble truths. Leonard's premise is that we need to take action at the beginning of the cycle of stuff (it's kind of like draining the ditch, instead of spraying the mosquitoes). We need to design stuff that does not become obsolete, stuff that isn't toxic. We need to use stuff in ways that don't chew up our non renewable resources and spit them out in a toxic heap. And this takes grass roots action by educated, motivated and concerned citizens. We need to work the top end of the cycle to make real change. We need to get into those engaged community huddles and figure out how to do this.
So check out Leonard's site and another site called The Good Guide that rates consumer goods. It is all about being aware (a good Buddhist starting point) and taking right action. We do these things Leonard points out because "they are the right thing to do". Leonard spoke as a fund raiser for Raffi's Centre For Child Honoring, that's another topic all of it's own.