- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
I rarely go into department stores or malls these days - The only shopping I seem to do is at the local supermarket or hardware store. I guess that's why I was so surprised at what I saw the other day when I walked into a shopping mall. It was barely November and the entire place was already decorated for Christmas, apparently the holiday shopping season is now in full swing.
Not that long ago the stores would wait until the day after Thanksgiving to initiate the annual shopping frenzy, but the stores in the mall I was in were already advertising all their big holiday sales - some of them joyfully announcing they would even be open on Thanksgiving Day. But what really caught my attention was the sign in the windows of one big department store announcing their huge, amazing, upcoming "Shop 'til you Drop Sale." The store will reman open for 24 hours so you can buy stuff all day long, buy stuff until you have no more money or you maxed out your credit cards, buy so much stuff that your feet ache and you are so exhausted that you just can't go on anymore - "shop 'til you drop."
As I see it, this is all kind of scary - symptomatic of a society in spiritual distress.
In her book, Minding the Earth, Mending the World, Buddhist teacher and author, Susan Murphy, makes this wise observation about contemporary American, Western culture:
What does shopping till dropping say about your sense of what your life is for?
How does your soul respond to the word 'consumer?'
Has a less imaginative, more ignobly reductive and petty idea of human beings
ever been dreamed up and foisted so completely upon the one large human spirit?
Hordes of people buying stuff all day long, frenzied, mindless, endless rampant consumerism supposedly to celebrate some upcoming holidays - the thought of it makes my soul shrink also.
The "shop 'til you drop" syndrome demeans the nobility of our common humanity. As I see it, that spirit of unbridled consumerism is eating us up and tearing us apart. It may well be that "making a profit" will be more destructive to our society than bombs and terrorists will ever be.
The Buddha teaches that "craving" and "desire"are the greatest causes of our human suffering, always wanting more, bigger, better, newer, more and more stuff to accumulate in piles and store away in closets. It is the bloated ego that craves and desires so much more; and living inside the fortressed walls of "ego" is a pretty lonely place to be.
It's only the beginning of November. I'm not even thinking about Christmas or the holiday season yet. I do know one thing, however- I won't be going out to the mall any time soon, and I certainly won't be "shopping 'til I drop."