This is not an article about how easy online shopping has made it to purchase material goods on a whim, and it is not about undergoing some retail therapy to lift your spirits, because this would only deal with our propensity for consumption of material goods which is only a small facet of what consumption means to a person.
What is consumption?
We consume food, we consume media, we consume for most of our waking hours — with our ears, our eyes, with all of our senses whether it has been invited or not. Whether we catch a glimpse of a billboard, overhear a conversation or just binge watch a Netflix series, we are taking it all in — in to our minds, in to our bodies. Depending on what we consume and how we relate to it, we react with judgement, empathy, shock, satisfaction etc.
So where does it all go?
What goes in must come out! We take a dump, talk about an idea, cry, laugh, write, whatever!
We produce for others to consume. We produce something original completely different to the original feed. Your poop is digested anaerobically by microorganism which produce energy, your ideas are consumed by the listener or reader for their own process. The processes are infinite.
Sometimes, however, we consume but don’t produce. The things we have taken in, may sit with us and manifest itself in physical symptoms trapped in the body because we can’t let go of them. There are so many stress related illnesses which relate to both conscious and unconscious stress, which we must release.
Some things we take in mindfully, but with so many things going on in the world around us we have adapted multi-tasking and unconscious consumption.
Think about the following example, you are cycling to work with your headphones in, listening to a podcast, while simultaneously navigating the streets, engaging your reptilian mind to survive the busy road traffic, filling your lungs with noxious emissions from cars, worrying if you will make it on time, all with a single objective of getting to work. While there is a tendency in this age to try and multi-task in a bid to be hyper efficient, this detracts from every single act. We arrive at work, having no recollection of what the podcast was about, we have no idea how we got to work, all we know is that we have produced a shit tonne of cortisol and the ideal way to release this would be in a hulk like manner as we roar while tearing through our clothes, but instead we go and sit in front of a computer and let our bodies marinate in this hormone.
While scientific evidence has shown that stress on the body in terms of overindulging in toxic substances like alcohol, smoking, overeating etc. can lead to cancer there is not much to show that psychological stress leads to cancers, but it would be a monumental task to determine which stressors by way of repressed or suppressed emotions or psychological burdens affect each one of us differently in the somatic mind-body connection.
Consumption however, is a two way street. We have heard the expression ‘being consumed by something’ and that is what is happening in the exchange with your interaction. The computer is consuming your energy, the jog is also consuming your energy. Are you paying a fair price? Is that energy used in the jog paying your health and mental wellbeing dividends or is it damaging that iffy knee of yours. Is the Netflix documentary educating you or relaxing you after a long day or is it consuming time you should be spending on something ‘more productive?’
It is difficult to stop and think before making any purchase about how worthwhile it is to you. Ask yourself, how long does it take me to earn that money and am I willing to trade that time and energy for this product? Do I need this product? Am I buying something inferior because of affordability issues? Am I buying beyond my solvency?
Beyond this is a deeper level of who benefits from my purchase? How much of my £3 coffee goes to the farmers that grew the beans? The importers that shipped it over and that entire network of logistics? The Barista serving me the coffee? The coffee machine manufacturer? or the coffee shop owner who is fortunate enough to charge the end user at the highest profit margin in the process? Am I willing to pay to enjoy my coffee in this well designed environment? Is the Barista going to serve me with the same burnt coffee grinds left in the sump?
Some would call this mindful, some would call it neurotic, I just really like coffee. But it depends on your mindset. Are you watching the swirling colour emitted by the teabag into the hot water and noticing how the steam is a dance of thousands of microscopic water droplets, or are you annoyed that you just paid £3 for a tea that cost 10 pence to make?
These examples may seem innocuous but are truly the difference to having a fulfilling and enjoyable experience to feelings of guilt shame or unfulfillment.
I offer you no solutions, because there is no problem here, only observations. We cannot be mindful of our consumption all the time — we are ‘flawed’ beings and that is what makes us so endearing, and this we should not be judging ourselves for mindless consumption, but try to be more mindful of how we consume everyday experiences and you will start to notice that you spend less time on things that do not add value to your life and seek out those things that you do want to invest in. It’s nice to escape from reality with some form of external media every now and then, and it’s nice to indulge the senses with a tasty treat, even when you’re not hungry, but these things only become treats when we are more frugal with our time and energy. We live in such a sensory rich environment, it would be a shame not to indulge in it, but to be aware of everything you consume throughout the day is the starting point to build conscious barriers for things that don’t sit well with you.
We are not binary beings, we are individuals, being exposed to different stimuli and situations on a daily basis, interpreting and internalising things differently based on our nature and upbringing. While there are general rules to leading a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically, we must still adapt these ideas to suit ourselves and spend some time mindfully ‘digesting’ what we consume so that we can produce something meaningful.