To Live Is To Consume
Our existence revolves around consumption. From the food to the drinks we ingest, through to the books we read, and the movies we watch, down to the conversations we have with others. We absorb experiences, images, information and substances daily.
It’s never been easier to consume. It’s not only our level of consumption but also the rate of it that has continued to rise. Evidenced by the growing scale of landfills filled with plastic waste. What we want is frequently available on demand. A click of a button or a simple tap of a card through a contactless payment system separates us from attaining almost anything we desire. This incessant need for consumption is a defining factor of capitalism. Its ideologies influence what we consume and how we consume it daily.
Widespread access to computers, tablets and smartphones coupled with the growing popularity of social media platforms have made us even more inclined to seek out moments of instant gratification by carefully curated pieces of content, designed to catch our consumer gaze, inflicting feelings of deficiency on the masses.
Social media has been a long-time villain for a variety of reasons. From the rise of eating disorders to mental health problems. Its addictive nature can account for a lot of negative phenomena that has sprung out via our collective adoption of these platforms. Their design frequently mimics a slot-machine system, with the users hoping to be rewarded each time they pull down the lever or ‘the feed’ as we know it, in order to refresh it.
There are of course various positives too. The possession of a simple smartphone opens up the average person to the availability of an unimaginable depth of information. A simple ted talk can deliver a life’s worth of work and research. Wikipedia pages along with countless free online courses on almost any topic enable humans to acquire knowledge at a pace like never before.
It’s clear the inevitable will to consume is programmed into our very being. Enforced on us by our very own survival mechanisms, on guard to protect us and ensure we keep on going.
Since consumption is unavoidable, the question I’ve asked myself recently is; how do I ensure what I consume is good for me? Not only on a physical level but emotional and spiritual too. I believe the answer lies in mindful consumption.
What Is Mindful Consumption?
Let’s start with its opposite; mindless consumption. Ever been stuck on a mindless loop? You’re not hungry but you keep eating. You’re bored so you keep scrolling. You’re already quite drunk but you keep drinking. This unconscious form of repetitive decision making is the backbone of mindless consumption. This form of consumption is often used as a distraction. An unsuccessful attempt at filling an existential void with activities that occupy our senses and distract us from reality or the need for a necessary change in our actions.
This pattern of the compulsive need for consumption can manifest itself in a range of ways.
It can be overt like overspending and substance abuse to the more subtle form of our over-reliance on technology as a tool for distraction.
By any means, it diminishes us to mere consumers and reduces the available space for our own creations. During my recent journey, I discovered a strange paradox. You cannot create and simultaneously consume. In any single moment, a consumer cannot be a creator. Yet, consumption is the fuel of creation.
How do you unify the two without sacrificing the other? Through adopting a practice of mindful consumption, and there are several ways to do this;
Fast and Think
Fasting, most commonly known as the act of abstaining from food for prolonged periods of time has many proven benefits for ‘rebooting’ our bodies. I’ve extended the fasting protocol to other areas of my life too. Being mindful of what I eat and when I eat it boosts my overall wellbeing. When I fast I tend to delete my social media apps too. They’re a distraction and I’m hesitant to fully admit the extent of my dependence.
My fasts usually last anywhere from 16-38 hours. I like taking three-day social media fasts once a month too. Though I don’t always succeed, I do find that reducing my levels of consumption makes me happier and more creative. Once that thing is back on my home screen, it’s like it was never gone, I very quickly tend to switch back into overuse. My prolonged social media fast work best for me as opposed to simply attempting to reduce my screen time.
For me, fasts are all about reducing distractions and becoming mindful of how I spend my time. They’re an invitation to slow down and rethink how my physical and emotional digestive system is doing with all this input. Is it harming me or producing goodness in my life? It’s usually the former. Breaking habits is hard, but fasts can act as a starting point for the realignment of priorities.
Slowdown and Think
We often act without thinking. Mindfulness entails the need to slow down and to think before we act. It requires us to pause and observe our mindset prior to making any decision. It gives us space to really consider the utility and implications of our actions, on ourselves and those around us.
The word mindfulness gets thrown around a lot these days, and it seems to mean different things when used in various contexts. Within the context of consumption, mindfulness is simply the act of being extremely selective about the physical and psychological inputs we put into our bodies.
It’s a well-documented fact that the food you put in your body directly impacts your well-being. If you eat trash, you’ll feel like trash. In the same way, if you’re overconsuming trash content – more often than not, it’ll leave you feeling worse.
Over-consumption comes at a cost. It’s a sacrifice we all make that prevents us from being true creators. It resembles a bottomless bucket we attempt to fill with contents that keep slipping away.
Mindful consumption entails a conscious effort to fill the bucket with the right materials to sculpt something worthwhile. Less mindless consumption and more mindful creation should be the mantra we adopt as readily as we adopt the distractions that fuel our lack of creativity.
Breaking the Cycle
The dissolution of harmful patterns and the cultivation of creativity requires conscious attention which is available to us via daily mindfulness. Rethinking and recalibrating our experiences, and what we choose to fill our precious minds with acts as a catalyst for change within.
The challenge is not in identifying the things we need to eliminate from our lives but rather, in sustaining a practice that’ll overtime fuel our creativity.
Our outputs into the world are a byproduct of what we consume. What you consume, begins to consume you. Now, the choice of what consumes you is up to you.