Sunday, January 17, 2010
A New Year's Intention
I don't always make New Year's Resolutions, but I do find it useful to stop and reflect on how I want to live the coming year; whether there are any changes I'd like to make or new projects to undertake. Lately I've noticed that a recurring theme in my life has been the notion of mindful consumption. I wrote a post in the fall about not spending any money for a month in order to replenish my bank account and think about how I consume (slow month), and I find myself increasingly drawn to blogs and articles that offer Do-it-Yourself recipes or other ways to be more self-sufficient and spend less (I also welcome any links or suggestions you may have!).
There is also a component of my mindfulness practice that addresses the idea of consumption quite explicitly, the Fifth Mindfulness Training. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are basically guidelines on how to live your life in a way that will increase your happiness and well-being; not commandments as such, but ideals to strive for and to work on (which is why they are called 'trainings'). Here is an excerpt of the Fifth Training, which I'm particularly drawn to at the moment:
"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.... I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me...I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption" (for the full text see 5 Mindfulness Trainings).
I've never been a big consumer or shopaholic, but I've had my share of impulsive buys and I spent a year paying down a hefty credit card balance before moving to France. I don't have a credit card here, which helps cut back on the mindless spending, and in general there's less of a culture of conspicuous consumption here than in the US; that makes things a bit easier (The French are notoriously big savers vs. spenders, though that seems to be changing as buying on credit becomes a little more widespread). Yet I'm still very far from the notion of mindful consumption that I strive for, even as I become increasingly solicited by a new category of consumer goods: Baby stuff.
I'm expecting my first child this summer, so I've been suddenly plunged into a whole new world of 'needs,' fed in no small part by my own mother who has already started buying stuff for her first grandchild and sends me endless links to different products and websites. And of course there are plenty of other people around to tell me what I need or should get, and I find it completely overwhelming. Obviously some baby items are completely necessary, but probably just a fraction of all of the things that are advertized to expecting parents. How then to make the difference between what I need and what I don't, to avoid getting dragged into a consumer frenzy over baby goods?
I don't have it all figured out yet, but finding a way to stay mindful through this period is my major intention for the year (other than preparing for the birth and parenthood, of course). All the more so because I plan on cutting back to part-time work once the baby is born, which necessarily means my income will go down. Luckily France offers a fair amount of financial assistance to parents, so we should be able to get by without too much hardship. But I'm making the choice to earn less in order to spend more time with the baby, which gives me even extra motivation to cut out all unnecessary spending in my life, starting now.