Spending Wisely

Peter Alsop speaks with Allan Hunt Badiner

Peter Alsop

© Allan Hunt BadinerAn excerpt from
Mindfulness in the Marketplace
Allan Hunt Badiner, ed.
Parallax Press, 2002
264 pp.; $18.00 (paper)

By Bo Lozoff

A friend of ours here in North Carolina recently lost her beautiful nineteen-year-old son to suicide. She told us he was the sixth among a small group of friends who had committed suicide in the past two and a half years. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teenagers (murder is number two, car accidents are number one).

We need to start asking ourselves some searching questions about why life seems to be of so little value to our kids. From a spiritual perspective, one sentence can sum up the whole thing—not only our own and our kids’ problems, but our planetary problems too, from pollution to war: Human life is very deep, and our dominant modern lifestyle is not.

Life is inherently joyful, yet we’re not enjoying it. We’re caught in the details, in the “hundred other tasks” which will count for nothing if we don’t wake up to our spiritual depth. Even the best, most loving people often seem to be working themselves into the ground, keeping up a frantic pace just to pay the bills and keep resolving each day’s repairs, breakdowns, details, and little crises. We seem to be knocking ourselves out in pursuit of a vague image of success and meaning, while the real quality of our everyday life with our families and communities steadily declines. We’re asleep at the wheel, swept up in a fitful, agitated dream, and we’re missing some gorgeous scenery that only passes by once.

When the Buddha experienced his great enlightenment, he got up from where he had been sitting and walked toward the village. The first person who saw him was awestruck by his radiance and power. The man approached him and said, “Sir, what are you? Are you a god?” The Buddha said, “No.” The man said, “Well, are you a spirit or a demigod?” Again, the Buddha said, “No.” “Are you a human being?” Once more, the Buddha said, “No.” The man said, “Well what are you, then?” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.” And then he spent the rest of his life making it clear to us that we can awaken, too. The joy is right here right now; we just need to wake up to it.

So what has gotten so out of whack in modern times? Why does it seem so complex and draining merely to pay the bills and just get by? For one thing, our consumer culture encourages us from the time we’re born to have ceaseless desires. To put it simply, we want so much, all the time, that we have not even noticed how much quality of life we have given up, how much peace of mind we have sacrificed, how much fun with our family we have forfeited in order to have the right shoes, cellular phones, TVs in every room, sexy cars—all the stuff that counts for zero in the deeper part of ourselves.

American life especially has been about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but it is time we noticed that the Joneses are not happy. One of their kids is on drugs, the parents are in divorce court, Mr. Jones is on antidepressants, and Mrs. Jones is taking anti-anxiety medication. This is no joke; this is the reality of the American Dream for most people in the twenty-first century. Time to wake up from such a bad dream.

A second, related culprit of our imbalance is the role of “career” in our lives. Career seems to have become the accepted hub around which everything else revolves. We choose career over our health. We choose career over our mates and children. We choose career over our time to study, pray, walk, hike, meditate, participate in community life. We fuss over our children’s potential careers like it’s the most important thing in the world. If our child wants to take a year or two off between high school and college, we freak out. We worry they’ll “get behind.” What does that mean? What’s the message? ▼

© 2002 by Bo Lozoff. “How Not to Feast from the Poison Cake” orginally appeared as “Simple Living, Simple Joy” in the Spring 1996 newsletter of the Human Kindness Foundation.

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