One of the main reasons I started living in a van was because my life was lacking meaning in a big way. I was buried and suffocating in meaningless stuff. I needed a paradigm shift and a way not to have to scramble from paycheck to paycheck. So I moved out of my apartment and into the Hilton.
What I already knew on an intellectual level, but really learned on an experiential one, is that meaning and happiness, and life memories are not built on stuff, but on experiences. Quality of life is really about experiences, and granted, money can eliminate some of the misery in life, and can provide us with experiences if that’s what it is used for, but it also removes us from what is essential and visceral.
I am convinced that consumerism is a spiritual and cultural illness that leaves us separate from ourselves, from the earth, and from the very essence of what we are. And we don’t have to be affluent to buy into the consumer value system. We can experience the disconnect of consumerism by being on the “have-not” end just as much as we can on the “have” end. It’s just that if we are on the “have-not” end, we think that our profound discontent comes from not having rather than from the cultural value system itself.
When I lived in my apartment, I had the latest and greatest Keurig machine to make coffee convenient, and an espresso machine in case I wanted a latte. But every morning I would have coffee at work and on the weekends I would go out to a coffee shop. The only time I ever used the machines was when I had company – and that wasn’t often because I’m never home. The value in drinking coffee was the experience of company and environment. The machines really provided no added value to my coffee experience. Recently I’ve been visiting an old friend of mine in Santa Rosa. When we get up in the morning, we have coffee together, strained through a paper filter placed in a plastic strainer. The simplicity of that doesn’t take away from the warm experience of drinking morning coffee with a friend. Happiness, and no Keurig necessary!
Whether we are ensconced in luxury, or even elevated on a second floor in a second rate apartment (as was my case), our modern consumer based existence removes us from the experiences that have bound human beings together since we’ve been walking upright, generation after generation, and we have no chance to experience the awe and wonder that compelled our species to create cosmological myth. My first true experience of meaning was perhaps a cold moonless night alone camping, or maybe it was my first experience of a thunderstorm while living in the Hilton. And although such profound experiences promise to be plentiful during my residency at the Hilton, it doesn’t take such a myth-making experience to provide life long depth and bring about that paradigm shift. I’ve been struggling with a leaking roof this winter, and I’ve had to change my bed situation. But this morning, I woke up and I was so comfortable, and it was dawn, and the quiet of the morning settled into my consciousness. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just lay there, warm and content, and the beauty of the moment struck me deeply and profoundly. I smiled. Life is good!