Shopping with Awareness and Interconnection
The holidays are around the corner, and I just read that Macy’s will be open on Thanksgiving for the first time in its history. The leaders of the chain of retail stores want to capitalize on the market demand for holiday shopping as much as they can, following the lead of retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, among others. By extending the shopping season by even one night, they are able to increase revenue substantially.
Many stores kick off the holiday season with black Friday deals so that they can increase income throughout the season during the time of year that they make the most. Here are a few examples of websites that give a taste of the shopping fervor that begins to churn from Thanksgiving through the Christmas holiday.
If you want to skip the hassle of people and lines, an online shopping experience can ease the stress. But the pressure to consume is as alive online as in the retail outlets. I am not against shopping during the holidays, and I love to give presents to those I love. But I experience stress when I get caught up in the frenzy and fever, and I move further away from an experience of being in relationship with all life.
What we spend our money on is important for sustaining life. Behind every product we purchase are interwoven connections that stretch across the globe. Many of these connections remain forever hidden unless we make the effort to see into all the interwoven connectedness of everything and everyone.
To take one small example, buying a cotton shirt involves multiple systems around the planet.
- Wikipedia gives a large-view explanation of the cotton industry.
- Mechanization and dependence on petroleum products are part of growing cotton in the U.S.
- In India, the methods are much less mechanized. Pesticide usage in India impacts the harvest, the food supply, and the cotton growers. In much of the developing world, overuse of pesticides is common.
- Cotton is milled in highly mechanized factories, spun into yarn, and then woven into fabric. The fabric is turned over to the garment industry.
- When thinking about the garment industry, remember the factory that collapsed in Pakistan this year. The faces of hundreds of people, mostly young women, working in that factory haunted me for some time.
The suffering garment workers experience in much of the world is a daily experience, caused by overwork, minimal pay, difficult working conditions, and sometimes slavery. This suffering is woven into the fabrics of the clothing we buy. This suffering is hidden from us, and it is difficult to remember it when we are buying stuff.
Patagonia provides a great contrast to business models that squeeze costs out of every step of the supply chain without consideration of the impact on people and planet. Patagonia is committed to sustaining life. They work with each step of their supply chain to ensure organic, environmentally sustainable products and ethical and integral manufacturing processes.
This has been a challenging process that has taken commitment and perseverance from the Patagonia leadership. As an example, their recent effort to examine and improve down production has been a 6-year journey to evaluate and improve how geese are treated during the production process. Reducing animal suffering is part of their commitment. The commitment to sustainable business and environmental practices are critical threads of Patagonia’s business model.
When it comes down to holiday shopping, however, it is easy to throw sustainability out the window. We want to maximize our purchasing power when we shop, especially around the holidays. (It is important to acknowledge that people celebrate differently around the winter solstice, and many traditions do not buy gifts as part of their celebrations.) With the economy continuing to be fragile and politics in the U.S. a crisis-driven exercise in brinkmanship, there will be the added pain of unfulfilled expectations and reduced spending capability for many people. Holidays bring stresses and strains to most household budgets.
The desire to get the best deal on a gift or needed item begins to drive shoppers when Black Friday arrives after the Thanksgiving feast. In many parts of the country, people line up at 4 a.m. and push their way into the store, whether Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, the Gap, or Best Buy. It's a frenzy!
Shopping is difficult. This process is stressful. To create an antidote, two friends and I have created an event we’re calling Mindful Black Friday. We aim to provide a space for people to develop mindfulness that will help them be more present as they shop. Through guided meditations, we will remember the interconnectedness of all things. It’s against the stream, but we’re hoping to join and be part of the stream of economic activity on Black Friday.
It is valuable to bring greater awareness into everything we do. It is especially important for us to bring awareness and insight into our purchases. As the holiday shopping season begins in the US, by creating a space to remember the web of all things that is present in everything we buy—from our clothing to our food, from our automobiles to our travel—we hope to provide an understanding of interconnectedness and an experience of peace that can prevail within us.
The economy depends on consumers. May we be mindful and remember the interconnectedness of all life as we engage economically.