Spiritual Blindspots: Materialism
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you declare yourself spiritual, that you are therefore a virtuous being in every way. But that is of course a complete fallacy. Being spiritual is a process of continual growth and if we were already perfect in every way – well, this life would be pointless quite frankly. Life is a great school and I think most “spiritual” people would agree, learning is a large part of life’s meaning.
I don’t know about you, but I regularly discover my own blind spots and have to stop for a moment and say “woah!” when I realise I have adopted certain thoughts and habits without noticing. To be honest, the first couple of blind spots I discovered were a bit of a shock. It’s a bit like discovering that you can’t trust your best friend when you really thought you knew them. Well, finding out you don’t know yourself as well as you thought is, at first, quite startling. For some people it can be quite confronting and the reason why we might often choose to ignore our own hypocrisy. In psychology they call this Cognitive Dissonance.
These days I celebrate discovering my blind spots. It doesn’t mean I am able to instantly eradicate the behaviour or thinking, but it is no longer hiding in the attic covered in dust, it’s sitting more immediate to my consciousness so I can address it whenever old patterns arise.
One of the most significant blind spots I discovered about myself was related to materialism.
My friends know me as a minimalist. I own very few possessions, I have always hated shopping and I also travel lightly, I mean REALLY lightly. I can do a week-long business trip with just one carry-on sized suitcase or tote bag – that’s with a laptop and a folder of meeting notes inside. My colleagues would always have a medium or large suitcase to check-in for the same trips. I’ve backpacked in Central America for 3 weeks with just a carry on backpack that was largely filled by my camera. I’ve had taxi drivers ask me to show their wives how to travel light. Being a minimalist has been a badge I’ve proudly worn. So of course, I was 100% convinced that I was not materialistic at all.
One day, one of my best friends (and housemate at the time) bravely made a comment that I originally deflected. We were discussing the fact that I had no money and didn’t understand why I could never save any money because it’s not like I buy lots of things. He just laughed. He explained that actually I do buy a lot, but maybe just not in the way that other people do. I resisted. I argued that I don’t buy lots of clothes or shoes like most girls do, my biggest extravagance is travel and maybe my camera. He laughed again. He insisted I do. He made the observation that whenever I start a new hobby or pursue a new interest (which is often) that I go and buy all the gear that’s associated with it, sometimes before I’ve even started. Not just that, he further added that I also seem to buy the top of the range options, which probably adds to the expense.
He was right.
I used to think I observed the very same things in him, but was totally blind to the fact I was actually doing it myself.
Here’s how I spent my money.
Sports Gear. This is a great example. That same friend is a triathlon coach, so while living in his house I became interested in fitness and triathlon via osmosis. I’m not even a fitness type of person. But I bought a racing bike and all the accessories. I then bought a lot of other triathlon gear, including a fancy bike computer, running computer, the tight lycra sportswear and all that jazz. I figured, that’s what he has so I need it too. I did two triathlons in all (and a few running events), but my sporty life was pretty brief.
I also had scuba diving gear, photography gear, camping gear (for cold & warm conditions – essentially two sets), knitting gear. I had backpacks for every different kind of backpacking use. I had a second bike already for commuting. I got a fitness tracker (because it tracks sleep as well!) and another running computer. You get the picture. Most of the gear I used a little, only some of the gear I used a lot.
Added to that is the truth that I rarely buy the cheapest options, I always invest in quality items that will last me a long time.
I spent a lot of time arguing, mostly with myself, that I needed all these things to be able to participate in the activities that fulfilled me and made me who I am. I was blind to my participation in materialism because I saw them as necessary equipment. That’s fine, but the truth is I know I bought things as though the object itself will bestow upon me all the good virtues of the activity they reflect. For example, buying lots of nice, expensive yoga or gym gear but never actually going to classes. Or saying I can’t go to the gym until I buy lots of new gym gear. The values were the wrong way round.
This is actually the basis of how marketing works – it preys on our mental and emotional vulnerabilities and insecurities by promising that a product will fulfil an emotional need for a better life, status etc.
But slowly, over time, I began to the see the truth.
I could have done without most of it, I could have borrowed items for the rare occasions I needed them, or bought them second hand. There was no need really to have three different types of fitness computers when one would have done the job – really I could have just gone for a run without having to record it at all. It’s true that I was a professional photographer and needed a good camera, but I didn’t need every single lens and accessory on the market, nor did I need the biggest and most expensive camera to do the job.
In the end, my financial situation forced me to sell everything. It was a gradual process over a year and done in batches according to how low my bank balance was that month. Eventually all my things were gone and all my bills were paid. Even more thankfully, it actually taught me a very significant lesson.
I still occasionally have to give myself a talking to when I consider buying new things, but it’s usually the other way around. Now I need to really justify to myself why I actually need to buy something in the first place. Oh, how my attitude has changed.
I think I can honestly say these days that I’m a minimalist. All my belongings fit into two suitcases (which still feels like too much to me) and the physical object I value most is my kindle, not for the object itself, but the books and knowledge I can nourish my mind and soul with.
I am NOT saying that an ascetic lifestyle is the key for a spiritual life. Just that we should be conscious of our motives for wanting to buy or possess things. I just happen to like being a minimalist.
My current financial situation is not that much different than before, but I live within my humble means and I have all the things that are important to me. I’m sure I still have lessons to learn around this theme, but I am experiencing how the universe supports us when our motives are right and it may not involve lots of money or things. The life I have at the current moment feels richer than what I’ve had before. I have a really comfortable bed to sleep on, my home is surrounded by nature, I eat well every day and I spend time doing activities I love. I also have a partner and two cats that I love.
So you know the moral to the story already right? It’s like that fable of the fisherman and the businessman. Materialism will never buy us happiness.
But really the moral of my story is to be mindful of, and open to discovering, your blind spots. Because we all have them and they will always be unexpected in their nature, not just in their discovery. And I honestly believe that they are probably the most important teachers for us when we do become aware of them.