I just got back last night from a weekend meditation retreat, during which I sat in silence, ate in silence, walked around the retreat center in silence, and then snuck into my room to read Chapter 4 of No Impact Man. (Reading on retreat is discouraged. I do not encourage you to do such a think. Tsk tsk. Bad Beth!)
I’m really kidding about the “tsk tsk” because Chapter 4 actually fit in quite beautifully with the spirit of this weekend. While it’s one of my favorite chapters because it’s where Colin Beavan writes about plastic and its effects on our health and that of the planet, it’s also beautiful in how it explores what causes human beings to overconsume in the first place.
One day, early on in the project, Colin gets it into his head that if he can only find a particular type of net shopping bag that he saw in France, his life will be so much better and he’ll suddenly be the environmentalist he wants to be. He’s looking for a superficial solution, isn’t he? That bag will make him look the part. He certainly doesn’t need it, as he has plenty of other bags, including used plastic bags, stored in his apartment. He reminded me of my own post, “Be Careful On The Reusable Bag Bandwagon” back in 2007.
He spends all day looking for the net bag instead of shopping for food for the family, and in the end, he runs out of time and has to order take-out once again. What he learns is that in his quest to look the part of the environmentalist, he is trying to buy his way into a solution, which doesn’t work. He realizes that once he gets the net bag, he’ll just want something else. It’s maybe the human condition to want things.
But as my meditation teacher, Jon Bernie says, “Wanting is not getting.” It’s okay to want. All of us want. In fact, Colin writes exactly that:
…I see that when I get what I want, my want does not go away, it just turns to the next thing. It’s more correct to just say, “I want,” in the same way as we say, “I ache.” If I got the net bag, I would have just gone on to want something else. I wonder if, understanding that wanting is at the base of human experience and that it is not alleviated by fulfilling the capricious desire of the day, I might perhaps allow myself to get off the hamster wheel.
This weekend, as I sat, I noticed all kinds of wants. I smelled yummy cooking smells wafting from the kitchen and wanted the meditation session to be over so I could eat. I saw delicious bread served on the table and wanted it even though I have cut gluten out of my diet recently. I wanted my back to stop aching. I wanted my turn to get up and speak during the dialogue sessions. I wanted someone who was speaking to finish because I was bored. I wanted all sorts of things. But what I realized was that wanting these things was not bad or wrong. It’s what we do. The key, or the doorway to freedom, was simply recognizing them and then letting them be. There was nothing to do. Nothing.
Can we go ahead and let ourselves want what we want without feeling that we have to fulfill every want of the moment? Can we expect less plastic-wrapped convenience, realizing that many convenience items (like bottled water for instance) come packaged that way so that we never have to wait for anything? How can we ever mature if we’re spoiled into thinking we can have whatever we want indefinitely? It’s not good for us or the planet. How about if we all grow up?