Mindful Consumption and “The World We Have”

jason theaker, thich nhat hanh, mindful consumption, mindfulness, the new pursuit“We touch the Earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of life.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Is there a silver bullet solution for turning around the Throwaway Culture of Convenience? An elixir of unmatched potency to remedy many of the ills that plague our world?

If there is, I think I have found it. It is called Mindful Consumption.

Two simple words that convey a deeply profound message and way of being within our world. Two words that could hold the key to unlocking a future that many of us dream about and are working towards.

Mindful Consumption is the foundation for the book The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology by famed Zen monk, peace activist and author Thich Nhat Hanh. It presents the case for why approaching consumption of all things (material and immaterial) through the lens of mindfulness could be the most powerful tool in the global effort to bring our environment — and ourselves — back from the brink of disaster.

What I love about Thay’s (as his students call him) writing and message is its absolute simplicity and accessibility. While he taps into Buddhist — and to some extent that of the major monotheistic faiths — philosophy and teaching as a foundation, his call to action is open to all, regardless of your spiritual orientation or lack thereof. Mindfulness is a universal practice. And when coupled with elements of the philosophy of deep ecology, it makes for quite the one-two punch.

Thay presents the impermanence and inter-connectedness of all things as the pillars of Mindful Consumption.

Impermanence helps us accept that all things change — allowing us to navigate not only our moment-to-moment existence but also the broader existence of society and the planet. We cannot stop change but we can take action to help define it — both positively and negatively.

“Perhaps you agree intellectually that things are impermanent, but in your day-to-day life, you act as if things are permanent. Impermanence is not a theory; it’s a practice. We should practice the concentration in impermanence… All day long, wherever you look, whatever you hear and see, concentrate on it with the insight on impermanence… With mindfulness we can keep the insight of impermanence alive…”

(As an aside, my friend Sandra just wrote a wonderful reflection on the nature of impermanence that helps us see how it can be a catalyst for living life to the fullest. Well worth the read.)

Along with impermanence, lies the inter-connectedness of all things — also known as inter-being. This is the recognition that all living and non-living things are made of the basic elements of existence and because of this we are all One. Such Oneness should allow us to see how one life form (let’s say humans) cannot be more important than all the rest. Practically speaking, this Oneness should open our eyes to how each of our behaviors and actions have an impact (positive and negative) on all life that calls the Earth home. We are the Earth and the Earth is us.

“We humans think we’re intelligent, but an orchid, for example, knows how to produce symmetrical flowers; a snail knows how to make a beautiful, well-proportioned shell. Compared with our knowledge, ours is not worth much at all… The feeling of respect for all species will help us to recognize and cultivate the noblest nature in ourselves.”

Thay then offers his readers clear ways for engaging in the world and putting to work the practice of mindful consumption to turn around our environment and the world; the importance of cultivating the self and our communities; teaching these lessons to each other and our children.

The most amazing thing about this book though–for me, anyway–is its simple validation of so many things that I feel and believe personally. The World We Have might just be the manifesto of The New Pursuit for it weaves together the intersection of Life, Nature and Being better than I ever could.

While checking off things on our personal and collective to-do lists are an important part of living a life engaged in the change we want to see, it’s only half the battle. The other half lies in shaping our being and our perspectives on how we view ourselves and all the other beautiful life that calls this planet home.

It is, as I have called it before, the pursuit of a new and deep eco-being. A shedding of the unnecessary and a return to those things — both material and immaterial — that bring about a new ethic and connection to the people, places and world around us. We’re not saving the world, an entity outside of ourselves. As One with all, we are simply saving ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay, mindful consumptionAs Thay puts it:

“Our ecology should be a deep ecology and not only deep, but universal. There is pollution in our consciousness. Television, movies, and magazines can be ways of learning or they can be forms of pollution. They can sow seeds of violence and anxiety in us and pollute our consciousness. These things destroy us in the same way that we destroy our environment by farming with chemicals, clear-cutting trees, and polluting the water. We need to protect the ecological integrity of the Earth and an ecology of the mind, or this kind of violence and recklessness will spill over into even more areas of life.”

What do you think? Could the practice of mindful consumption be that silver bullet solution we’ve been searching for? Could it be that simple? Are there other things that bring the intersection of Life, Nature and Being together for you?

Be well,

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[top image: jasontheaker]

6 Responses to “Mindful Consumption and “The World We Have””
  1. Rob says:

    Bill, Nate Byrnes recommended your blog to me. I live just down the road in Barrington, RI. Right now I am taking a course on Sustainable Consumption, at the Marlboro College MBA in Sustainable Management program. We are reading Tim Jackson’s reader on the subject. Your post really hit home because our prompt for discussion this week was: Is sustainable consumption an oxymoron? I used to subscribe to Adbusters, and I am very aware of the constant drone of marketing messaging that we face in our daily lives. This is not the first time that Buddhist philosophy piqued my interest. Anyways I think Thay’s two pillars are intriguing, and I hope to read some of his work.

  2. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Rob // Thanks for stopping by (and to Nate for the recommending the site!). I’ve read about that particular MBA program before; when I got mine at Northeaster, I often wished there was more focus on the role of business in driving a new sustainable economy. I wonder what you might think of my open letter to CEOs.

    “Sustainable consumption” is not an oxymoron in my book. Prior to the modern industrial age, generations of humans did just that. We lived within our means because that was just the fact of life. Granted there are examples of past civilizations who grew too big for their britches and met their demise — and there are some who believe we are on a similar path — but for the most part we survived because we did not take more than we really needed and kept a surplus of resources around for the next time.

    Not so these days. Western society has to severely dial back its consumption — not only because it is the necessary thing to do, but in an attempt to balance out the rising consumption patters of the growing middle classes of developing nations such as China, India and others. Throw in a human population that doesn’t appear to be leveling out any time soon and…. it starts to give me a headache thinking about it.

    That said, humans do have a tendency to over-complicate things. That’s why Thay’s message is so refreshing — on so many fronts. It’s a fantastic read –> maybe it needs to be part of a future MBA curriculum! :) Hope to see you around.

    Be well.

  3. Sandra Lee says:


    I am so inspired by your mini-capsule of Thay’s book. I’ve been wanting to read more about it and am so glad that you wrote this post. I loved this quote from the book. “Impermanence is not a theory; it’s a practice.”

    I love the term “mindful consumption” because it marries to approaches deep in my heart – the practice of mindfulness and the practice of ecology and living with respect for ourselves and the earth.

    I also loved this insight: “We’re not saving the world, an entity outside of ourselves. As One with all, we are simply saving ourselves.”

    You are a spectacular writer. I appreciate you so much and also your writing here at The New Pursuit.

  4. Sandra Lee says:

    Oh, and thanks so much for the link luv too!

  5. Bill Gerlach says:

    Thanks so much for the kind words, Sandra. I appreciate it greatly.

    Since writing this post, I’ve thought even more about what it means to consume mindfully. It’s such a powerful practice — and one that is within all our collective power to embrace and live out each day.

    Spending three days backpacking through the pristine wilderness of New Hampshire this past weekend helps to bring this home too. As I touched the Rock that has been there for millions of years or the pine sapling just beginning its slow and steady rise into the sky or even the plush green moss brimming with the previous night’s rain, I felt an unbelievable connection AND the deepest of responsibilities to ensure my life and theirs had equal opportunity to thrive. Consuming in any other way but mindfully compromises all of that.

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