Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Sneaking Up On Willy-Nilly Consumption

Gift - Over ConsumptionBeth Terry – the amazing plastic-less advocate – has a brother named Will.

Will is a “normal guy and not some tree-hugging freak.”

He says he’s a slacker by nature. But he clearly loves his sister and he’s proud of her too.

As time moved on, he couldn’t help but fall under the spell of her plastic-free passion.

Remarkably, he’s now standing up and confronting his own plastic consumption. He’s searing a hole through his irrational beliefs that have allowed him to consume plastic willy-nilly.

But he needs help. Its’ not easy. He can’t go plastic-less overnight. He needs to sneak up on mindful consumption. So he’s asked Beth to come up with 3-5 of the most important and high impact ways to reduce his plastic usage.

Bravo, Will. You have guts.  And an awesome sister too.

Fostering Understanding and Acceptance

Let’s face it – most of us are like Will. Even if you are a card-carrying green living, plastic-less, minimalist, vegan activist right now, chances are you were once like Will.

It’s not easy to be green.  It’s not easy to suddenly engage in mindful consumption.  It’s not easy to be different in a culture that lures you into competitiveness and a sense of scarcity through Black Friday mega-deals.  How do we support and help each other? How do we avoid righteousness and arrogance?  Because people change through receiving love, not hate.

I’m not 100% pure myself by any means, but I’m willing to keep training to become better.  In the meantime, I want to foster understanding and acceptance instead of judging people for their current choices.

Reflection: Nourishment and Healing

This week’s reflection is one way to train in mindful consumption.  It is one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Thich Nhat Hanh called “Nourishment and Healing.”

What’s the real point of conscious consumption?  It deeply nourishes your body, mind, and spirit. It makes you happier.  At the same time, it nourishes and heals the planet. It’s a win-win for all.

“The practice of mindful consumption and mindful eating is the object of the Fifth Mindfulness Training. The Fifth Training is the way out of the difficult situation our world is in. When we practice the Fifth Training, we recognize exactly what to consume in order to keep our bodies, our minds, and the Earth healthy and not cause suffering for ourselves and for others. Mindful consumption is the way to heal ourselves and to heal the world.”

Nourishment and Healing – The Fifth Mindfulness Training

“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 looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. 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, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.”

from The World We Have, A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology by Thich Nhat Hanh

Yep, Thich Nhat Hanh is suggesting a few huge leaps.  What, no alcohol!

As a start, this passage is simply food for thought, something to reflect upon.  Later, you might enjoy reading it – or the parts that resonate for you – regularly as a way remind yourself of the main point and to help you gradually train in mindful consumption.  Or you might like to read Oprah’s Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh to give you more of a feel for his beauty and approach.

I realize for a guy like Will, this might sound exotic. He just needs it straight.  But I hope this quote might inspire and resonate for some of you.

Will, thanks for helping me to remember what it’s like to make new changes. I will definitely be thinking of ways I can make it easier for others.

I would love to hear your thoughts about supporting each other and about the Fifth Mindfulness Training.  Does it resonate for you?

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Thanks for reading. If you liked this article, please share the link with others.  Thanks so much,  Sandra


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  1. I really loved Will’s post! I’m really glad Will was able to turn around. I find that my efforts to go green has an influence on my friends, even if that’s just on a tiny level. It’s also influenced my parents to at least start watching documentaries and gaining awareness.

    I’m not sure the ‘Fifth Mindfulness Training’ came across to me properly. But I enjoyed the quote on nourishment and healing. It’s important to recognize the consequences of unmindful consumption, and try to be more mindful because of those consequences. I really liked the last bit:

    I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

    • Hi Lynn,

      Oops! I made a few changes to make The Fifth Mindfulness Training clearer. Thanks for the feedback. It’s exactly the part under nourishment and healing.

      I like the selection you selected because so often we attempt to submerge uncomfortable feelings in one form of consumption or another.

      It’s nice that you’ve had an impact on your friends too if only a tiny bit. Each little bit helps. You never know when someone is going to take a bigger step like Will. So patience and kindness really pays off in the long run.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Glad to see you back in the blogosphere. Your first post back was so powerful.

  2. Amato

    Wow, very interesting post! As an environment student here in Brazil we are trying to stablishing some “green” educational programs in the poor communites (without appropriate sanitation conditions) and is incredible how the concepts of consumption are strong and rooted! So, we have a lot of work here about this subject.

    Thank you for the post!

    • Hi Amato,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective from Brazil. It’s interesting to see how rooted consumption is. Naturally, if you are poor you want to have more. I can fully understand that. I think you would like Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, if you ever have a chance to read it. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts as it helps to see the contrasts from different countries.

  3. One of the best arguments for mindful consumption is how much money is saved. “Spend $100 and save $20” or some variant are key marketing ploys to get us to buy more. But, my attitude is “don’t spend that $100 and save……$100.” The whole idea of the more you spend the more you save is so silly on its face, yet it is a very effective advertising gambit.

    Thinking of TV shows and some web site (not this one !) as being toxins is a very powerful tool to help us rid ourselves of unnecessary distractions.

    The timing of this post is perfect for me, I’m about to go outside and pick up the Sunday paper, which is 75% advertisements. I’ll do my best to ignore them.

    • Bob, That is a great argument for people in developed countries. We really need to remember these practical arguments in order to make these ideas accessible to more people. I’m really glad you brought that point up.

      That is an interesting angel on most TV shows, movies, electronic games, etc. “Toxins” seems like a heavy but, but when you stop to think what we are putting in our mind, it is alarming.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. You know, I always take an international view on topics since I was raised in Europe and Africa. I think life has always been more consumer oriented in the U.S. than in Europe. I know we are told that the U.S. economy is based on people spending more, and yet, they also have a movement to save, and become environmentally conscious. I’ve always found this to be such a contradiction. Scandinavia is way ahead as being mindful of over-consumption. For years now they’ve been ahead of the game with saving the environment, not using plastic, using wind energy, etc. Especially Denmark, and funnily enough, they are supposedly the happiest people in the world.

    • It is really beneficial to bring an international perspective. I’ve lived in Europe too and there is a different culture there although some European countries like France are woefully behind when it comes to environmentally issues. I loved hearing about Denmark. Americans tend to think this is the best country on the planet, but in truth we fall way behind in health care and on the happiness factor too. I really appreciate hearing your perspective.

  5. Sandra,

    Your blog is definitely contributes to our mindfulness and awareness of consumption. Thank you for that.

    Like Lynn, I was drawn to

    Our culture has programmed up to cover up uncomfortable feelings and situations with things that aren’t good for us, such as food and overspending, and worse of all, just make the situation worse. I’m committed to reaching this level of understanding and living as set out in this quote.

    Even more important was what preceded in the quote

    I’ve long believed that many things in our environment, including people, can be just as toxic as poisons. Prolonged exposure to them will pull us away from the present, causing us to miss the beauty and joy around us. I’m grateful for becoming aware of this. I continually practice acknowledging when I slip and pulling myself back to the present.

    • Flora,

      I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this topic. You’ve clearly given it quite a bit of attention and have a good approach to living consciously.

      The question of toxic people is an interesting one. There’s no doubt in my mind that we influence each other strongly and that negativity is contagious. One positive person can transform the energy of a room of people and one negative person can bring it down. At the same time, negative people also need love and compassion.

      Thank you for your thoughts, Flora and you dedication to bringing more happiness to others.

  6. Another great post, Sandra. You know how much I love that book by Thay. His message — and that overall way of being — is so timely this time of year.

    Seeing consumption for what it is and how what we consume is interconnected with so many (all?) other elements of our life and the bounty that comes from the Earth is can open up so many doors. Thay helps reinforce that ‘consumption’ goes beyond just material things to include thoughts, ideas, dogmas, etc. That always a helpful reminder as I try to keep the body-mind-spirit balance in check.

    Enjoy the rest of your Sunday! Be well!

    • I always love seeing your shining face! I like your focus on the fact that “consumption” goes beyond the material realm. So much impacts us in so many ways. Thanks for highlight that. Hugs!

  7. It’s often a little too easy to be caught up in things we strongly believe in and forget that our best chance at persuading others is through kindness, acceptance, and encouragement. Thank you for the reminder of how we can help each other and ourselves.

    Like Bob, I’m intrigued by your idea that some forms of media can be toxic. We’re all exposed to so many toxins, chemical and ideological. I’ve always thought that all ideas are worth thinking about, but I can also see that, accepted uncritically, some of them can indeed by dangerous. I’m going to have to think more about building up a stronger mental (or spiritual, if you will) ‘immune system.’

    • Hi Jennifer,

      The idea that media can be toxic is not necessarily one that we think of so often, except perhaps in relation to kids. Media is powerful and really influences our being. I know how a violent movie gets my system going physically. Like you, I think ideas are important too. We wouldn’t want to close our minds, that’s for sure. Its’ an interesting realm of discussion. I like your new phrase: “mental ” or “spiritual immune” system. Thanks for sharing this slant with us.

  8. Hi Sandra! I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. I haven’t read the book that you mentioned but this passage touched me so deeply that I went ahead and ordered this book at the library. I can’t wait for it to arrive.
    Thanks for your guidance towards conscious consumption. Loving blessings!

    • Hi Andrea,

      I’m so happy this book is speaking to you! I would love to hear your thoughts after reading the book. I hope you will write a blog post on your impressions. I found it incredibly inspiring and beautiful. Enjoy!

  9. varuni chaudhary

    Dear Sandra,
    great post! may be we can take a few small steps with Will and become greener( have read the post)

    The bit about mindful consumption highlights so many, many unthinking consumptions that i shall have to work in a phased manner. The passage also has to be fully understood.

    • Hello Varuni,

      I agree – there is so much depth to this passage. It could be read and reflected upon again and again. There are so many different ways we consume! Taking a few steps at a time is definitely the way to make it workable; then a few steps more. I like that approach. All the best!

  10. Hi Sandra,

    Great topic and post! And yes, the 5th mindfulness training resonates with me VERY, very much!

    As we grow, evolve, and allow ourselves to awaken into broader and broader ways of existence, our eyes and ears see and hear so much as if for the first time, and this for me leads to great change.

    When I embarked on my spiritual journey, which is as far as I am concerned, never ending, it was impossible to grow in only one area and close my eyes to other aspects of life.

    And so the more mindful I got about my thoughts, the more mindful I got about everything in my life…. the food I ate, the products I bought, the things I participated in and the list goes on….

    Sure, Will and others like Will, which as you point out so well, were all of us at one point or another, won’t make these changes necessarily overnight…. but it is good to be aware, and grow in mindfulness on every level, for that drives change, on every level in our lives, and vibrates throughout the entire world.

    We become the change we want to see. We live the change, and hence create a better world for us and for all 🙂

    • Evita,

      This is such a beautiful expression of the power of mindfulness to bring about the most wonderful changes in our life. This insight really touched me, “When I embarked on my spiritual journey, which is as far as I am concerned, never ending, it was impossible to grow in only one area and close my eyes to other aspects of life.”

      Mindfulness is very powerful and you have fully captured its power in your words today.

      “…but it is good to be aware, and grow in mindfulness on every level, for that drives change, on every level in our lives, and vibrates throughout the entire world.”

      Thank you, Evita!

  11. Hi Sandra, I liked that you warned of the danger of the perfectionism in this area. Making a sincere effort is progress, and much better than nothing. I would like to be more “green” but sometimes it conflicts with my need to take care of myself in other ways.

    I agree with the existence of toxic people and toxic media. They can be bad examples and wear you down emotionally. One of the advantages of not having cable TV is I have more control of what goes into my brain. It’s much easier for me to close a webpage than it is for me to change the channel.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I completely understand your dilemma. Sometimes green options also conflict with my health status. My bamboo cutting boards get moldy for one tiny example. Thanks for bringing up this angle. It’s another reasons why it helps to have tolerance and understanding and not judge people. We often don’t understand their situation completely.

      That’s an interesting point about the difference your find between t.v. and the internet. It seems to ring true that it’s easier to become glued to a t.v. program and easier to click away from a blog spot.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  12. “edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness…” … that’s got me thinking.

    • I can see why. I’m not sure I understand the full meaning myself. Sense impression and edible foods are obvious. I need to consider this more too! Thanks for you thoughts.

  13. Hi Sandra

    This post was so perfect for the holidays-when most of us are sucked into the land of over- consumption. For me the key is everything in moderation. I don’t necessarily agree with complete abstinence from all the things Thich Nhat Hanh strives to remove from his life. I find having an awareness around what I am “doing” helps me to make better choices in life. Taking a step back and evaluating the consequences prior to committing to the action makes the consumption mindful.

    • Hi Lori,

      I really like the points you raise here. Even in Buddhism there are different approaches. Abstinence from alcohol isn’t a “requirement” by any means for lay people, for example. Some people do wish to take these basic vows, but it’s optional. I agree that awareness is the key and moderation is essential. The Dalai Lama also stresses moderation in Ethics for a New Millennium.

      Thanks for these thoughts!

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