Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sticky Desire

- Morning at the Desert Retreat House -

I was at my local Starbucks yesterday and the young woman serving me my coffee was bursting with enthusiasm-- she just couldn’t wait to tell me that she would be off work soon and intended to spend the remainder of the day doing her Christmas shopping because there was a huge week-long “Shop ‘till You Drop Sale” going on at the mall.

Apart from the fact that it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet and the mall is featuring a “huge” Christmas shopping sale, I wondered why anyone could be so enthusiastic about shopping all day long, not only shopping but “shopping ‘till you dropped?”

As I sat in a little corner of the coffee shop yesterday I thought about something I read a while back by Buddhist teacher and author, Susan Murphy:

What does shopping till you drop say about your sense of what life is for?
How does your soul respond to the word ‘consumer’?
Mine shrinks.
Has a less imaginative, more ignobly reductive and petty idea of human beings
ever been dreamed up and foisted upon us than
‘shopping till you drop’?

It always seems odd to me that so many people in our society feel compelled to celebrate “Christmas” by engaging in rampant, unbridled consumerism. Even if you aren’t a Christian it seems strange if not wrong to celebrate the “birthday of Jesus” by doing exactly what Jesus warned people to avoid.  Jesus taught people to live simply, not to horde, accumulate and cling to the “stuff” in our lives.  He taught us to enjoy the abundance of life but to always share what we have to serve the needs of others. Somehow “shopping ‘till you drop” during the days leading up to Christmas doesn’t even come close to reflecting the teaching of the one whose birth is supposedly remembered during this time of year.

There is a phrase I often come across in the Buddhist literature, it comes from a Tibetan word, meaning:

Sticky Desire

The desire to accumulate more and more, bigger and better, is a sticky desire and this is an obstacle on any spiritual journey. Sticky desire is a virus that eats away at the human spirit, it feeds an already boated ego by turning us inward. I think that sticky desire is another word for “consumerism.” And as I see it, sticky desire is exactly what motivates any of us to “shop ‘till we drop’ all day long.

A little while back an interesting study was published in the Journal of Psychological Science observing that more and more Americans nowadays are victims of what the researchers called “mindless accumulation:”

There is a deeply rooted instinct in human beings
to acquire more than can possibly be consumed
even when this imbalance makes us unhappy.

Apart from the fact that unbridled consumerism seems so contrary to what Christmas is all about, it seems to me that endless day-long shopping reflects a spirit of “mindless accumulation” - a cause of suffering, a source of our unhappiness.

If we really want these days to be “the most wonderful time of the year” we all need to do a better job of ungluing ourselves from the sticky desire in our lives.

The priest and author, Richard Rohr, writes:

Excess turns all gifts into curses

Good advice for all those people at the big “Shop ‘till you Drop” sale going on at the mall today.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks--this can be such a crazy time of year

  2. I think the key word here is "excess" coupled with a distinction between buying gifts for others, which, through sharing, can bring people closer and pure materialism. Jesus also implored his followers to give up everything, including their families, to follow him, but taken as a whole that does not make Jesus anti-family as some might interpret.

  3. There is always a fine line between enjoying life and being addicted to it.

  4. Hello Paul . I have been quietly reading and enjoying your blog posts for quite a while now and just want to say Thank You . Best wishes . and keep up the very good work! ... Tommy