It’s easy to express words of love. But, as we know, love is most powerfully expressed through action. When we love someone, we automatically act in the best interest of our beloved. We want to protect them, care for them, and do whatever we can to ensure that their life is as rich and full as possible.
If we claim to love the Earth, then that love too should be expressed in actions of care, protection and enrichment of the Earth. And one of the most basic ways we can love the world practically is through living more simply and consuming more mindfully. Simplicity and mindful consumerism ensure that we live lightly on the Earth. But these practices also free us from the clutter and materialism that so often rob us of peace and aliveness.
In this episode of the EvoFaoith podcast, we explore what it means to love the world, and ourselves, by nurturing the spiritual practices of simplicity and mindful consumerism.
A few years ago I watched a TV programme—it may have been Oprah or some other talk show—that spoke about people who get all or some of their food and other goods from dumpster diving. They showed how much perfectly good food is thrown away in the USA and how many perfectly valuable, even luxury, items can be found unused in dumpsters. Just this week I read about a woman who gave up her job to dumpster dive full time, and who earns thousands of dollars each month from selling items she finds in dumpsters. She even furnished her own home—the downpayment of which she could afford because of how much she has saved—from items she found in dumpsters, including appliances like a coffee machine. There was even a couple of interviews on YouTube with people who said they eat far better from dumpster diving than they ever could when they were buying their groceries from the grocery store. Much of what they find—still wrapped and in perfect condition—would be classed as gourmet foods. And if these people weren’t rescuing these things from the dumpsters, they would have ended up in landfills somewhere.
Whether you find dumpster diving offensive or gross or not doesn’t matter. The point is that our human consumerism and waste is having devastating consequences on our planet. And it becomes even more upsetting when we realise that billions of people are starving in our world even as Americans throw away 96 billion pounds of food every year. That’s 3000 pounds every second! And that’s not only the case in the USA. Similar issues with waste and consumption exist across the developed world and even in wealthier areas of poorer countries.
Clearly, we need to find a better way to live. In her brilliant documentary, ‘The Story of Stuff’ Annie Leonard describes how our obsession with producing and accumulating is hurting the planet and harming poor communities. And it’s just not sustainable.
In the Jewish Scriptures, the liberated Israelites were instructed to observe a weekly Sabbath, a day of rest. They were also to observe an entire year of Sabbath rest every seven years which extended to all people, animals, and the land. And then, every fiftieth year, a Jubilee would be proclaimed in which debts were cancelled, slaves were freed, and the land was returned to its original owners. Essentially, built into original Hebrew spirituality was a system to reset the economy every fifty years and ensure that people lived simply and sustainably, ensuring that even the land got time to rest from the drain of consumption.
Somehow ancient people seem to have known what we have forgotten: excessive production, consumption, and materialism is damaging to our health and that of our Earth. When we have too much stuff it produces anxiety, it clutters our lives and adds unnecessary complexity and stress. And it creates distance between us and the Earth, robbing us of the rest, and the play, and the enjoyment of the natural world, the wonder that really can bring us to life. In short, we need to live more simply if we are to love ourselves, each other, and our world. It is a matter of health, of survival, and of thriving—physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
It’s not that we should all live as ascetics. There is stuff we need. There is stuff we want legitimately that enriches our lives. But then there is the stuff we’re addicted to that we don’t really need, but that we keep adding to our lives because we can’t stop ourselves. We simply need to be more mindful of which stuff is which, cutting out what is unnecessary and unhealthy, and limiting ourselves to what truly sustains and enriches our lives.
All our stuff, and the demand for more and cheaper stuff, takes a toll on our planet, it’s unloving toward our Earth. And it takes a toll on the poor people who have to work for unliveable wages to support the consumption of the non-poor.
Simplicity is not just good for our planet, but for our souls. And it does make a difference to the unjust systems that exploit the poor and hurt so many people. How you define simplicity will depend on your life, your work, and the world in which you live. But it always takes mindfulness and intentionality.
In a moment I’ll explore a few ideas about simple living and mindful consumption. But first, I’d like to ask you once again, if you enjoy the EvoFaith Podcast, please subscribe, like it, activate notifications, and share it as widely as possible. When you do, it helps others who may enjoy EvoFaith to find this podcast and it helps to sustain this work. Thank you so much!
Now I can’t claim to be an expert in simple living. But I do try to live mindfully and carefully. And so the ideas I’m going to share now may not be new to you, but perhaps they will help you to think more deeply about loving the Earth through simple living. You may have other—or better—ideas that you can share and I’d be grateful if you would add them in the comments so that we can help one another to love our world better.
I first encountered the idea of simplicity in the early 1980s when I read Richard Foster’s book ‘Celebration of Discipline.’ His chapter on simplicity contains ideas that are just as important and effective now as they were back then. And one of the ideas that really spoke to me was to use things for as long as possible.
It’s common, in our society today, to upgrade at the earliest possible chance to get the newest version of whatever bright shiny toy we love. It is even a status symbol to be able to upgrade quicker than others. But it is better for us and our planet if we use things for their entire lifespan. Simplicity calls us to wear things out and only replace them when absolutely necessary. What would it mean for you to do this more intentionally with your clothing, your shoes, your car, your cellphone, your computer?
And then, secondly, when you can’t use something for its full lifespan, for some reason, don’t just throw it away. Rather pass it on. Give your excess, or your unneeded stuff to others who can use it. And where you can try to repurpose, upcycle, or at least recycle. Just remember that, while recycling is important, it is not the panacea we may sometimes think it is. Our systems are imperfect, and not everything can be recycled. So we need to begin, before we get to the point of needing to recycle things, to reduce our waste and our consumption.
Finally, allow the things you need to become more important than tools that you use and throw away. Get to know and love them. That way you’re less likely to jump at the next and newest model.
For example, as a musician, I’m grateful that all my instruments have a story which gives them meaning. This means that I feel connected to them, I love using them, and I feel a deeper connection with the people behind their stories. And one day I intend to pass them on to someone else who will, hopefully, value them as much as I do. It’s much harder to throw something away when it has meaning and personal, symbolic value and so it can be helpful to be more mindful about what we own, so that our possessions become more important and meaningful to us, resulting in us throwing less of them away.
Our world doesn’t make simplicity easy. And I’m certainly not saying we should all live by dumpster diving. But in small ways we can all simplify our lives and be mindful of what we consume and how. Living sustainably is not just an issue of social justice—although it certainly is that. It’s also a spiritual issue. It’s about the health of our souls. And there is no question that those who love the Earth—practically through simple, sustainable living—enjoy great benefits to their health and their enjoyment of life.
In our next episode we wrap up this series on loving the world by exploring what we can learn from earth-based spirituality and from honouring the Earth as sacred and living in alignment with its rhythms.
But that’s all for now. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. And I’ll catch you next time!
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