Are you sitting down as you read this? You should be. UUCA can’t be held liable if you faint while reading the statistics that follow. And you can rest assured that the sources of the stats are legitimate (NPR, LA Times, and the U.S. Department of Energy to mention a few).
There are 300,000 items in the average American home. The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there are 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation.
The average 10 year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily. The average American woman owns 30 outfits – one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine. The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually, while the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year.
Some reports indicate we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago. Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education.
Are you OK? Just breathe.
With Halloween behind us, the jack-o-lantern is now sagging in the compost. ‘Tis the season of thanksgiving – even if the stores are already brimming with holiday merch that (falsely) promises to make you even more thankful. It’s a time to assess the harvest, to count our blessings, to appreciate the abundance that surrounds us. Why do we struggle with this?
In “Reclaiming Abundance Under Capitalism,” Gabes Torres explains: “Industries and corporations capitalize on our fear of scarcity. … When the idea of abundance is capitalized on, the emphasis is scarcity: Internal and external resources are running out. Time is running out. Opportunities are running out. Discounted products are running out.”
She suggests that we relate to the idea of abundance differently. “Reclaiming abundance is to understand and remember that, naturally, we already have all that we need. All that we are and all that surrounds us have always been enough.”
This has an ecological connection. “A foundation of abundance is the concept and practice of reciprocity,” she writes. “We have forgotten or are under-taught our capacity to participate in the survival and flourishing of non-human species – just as much as they do for us.A timeless example is how plants breathe out the oxygen we breathe in, and we reciprocate effortlessly with the carbon dioxide we exhale that keeps them alive. By simply existing, we benefit countless species that also benefit us.”
Abundance also relates to a Buddhist concept, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains in Your True Home. “The Buddha spoke about the practice of samtusta, recognizing that we have enough conditions to be happy right here and right now. We don’t need to obtain any more. Samtusta has been translated as realizing that one is satisfied with little. When we go home to the present moment, we view all the conditions of happiness that we have, and we may find that they are more than enough for us to be happy right now. We need to stop running after things because even if we get the object of our desire, we won’t be happy, and we’ll want to run after another one.”
To Buddhist scholar Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, we confuse temporary satisfaction and deep fulfillment. “We should never be in any doubt that the fulfillment of our temporary needs is quite different from the fulfillment of our more profound needs,” he writes in The Practice of Lojong: Cultivating Compassion through Training the Mind. “If we don’t recognize the distinction, we will constantly be frustrated by searching for illusory satisfactions that are intrinsically incapable of delivering such fulfillment.”
What can help us maintain a focus on abundance and resist the false sirens of scarcity thinking? “As the holidays approach, mutual reciprocity is a notion and practice that can keep us grounded, especially when we are susceptible to the noise and pressures of overconsumption during the holidays,” Torres suggests. “In this practice, we can start by evaluating our respective degrees of complicity to capitalist systems – the systems that interrupt our natural state of reciprocity, and therefore our experiences of abundance.”
She offers these guiding questions: “What are the products that I’ve been purchasing? Which corporations are these products coming from? Who are their shareholders? What policies and bills are they funding and supporting? Are they funding pipelines? Are they major fossil fuel industries? As long as we live in this world, we can’t escape capitalism, and it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how’ we are complicit. But that doesn’t mean we can’t actively diminish the extent of our complicity. In this process, we not only ask what we can give to the ecosystem, but also what we can give up for it.”
If we can manage to tune out the marketing and tune in to the bounty that is our lives, we can savor the reciprocity that undergirds our ecological existence. Scarcity thinking relies on fear, and, with mindfulness, we can thwart that fear. We have enough, we are enough, and we can give thanks.
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The Climate Action Team meets next on Monday. Nov. 21, at 7:30 PM, and we invite you to join us on Zoom. Contact Nicole Haines at firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.