What am I really trying to buy?
I’m drawn to advertisements that convey confidence, connection, and excitement. Those are my indicators of a successful, fulfilling life.
But none of these things can be attained by buying the great shirt being sold in the ad.
Still, I want that shirt.
The unbridled consumerism present in our culture fosters the belief that all we have to do to be happy is satiate our desires, mostly by spending money.
But even when I do get what I desire, another object to yearn for always takes its place.
Yet lately, since I moved up to a Buddhist meditation retreat center six months ago, that desire to “get” has lessened.
You might assume that it’s easy for me to buy less because I must have no money and am completely isolated up here in the mountains. On the contrary, I’m developing quite the bank account and can order the latest anything online.
But I still don’t buy much.
I suspect the needs that I used to try to fulfill with purchases are now being met by being in a strong community.
In my unique situation, my community provides me with everything I would usually pay to have.
I’m living up in the Green Mountains of Vermont where I receive free room and board plus a small stipend in exchange for my work. All my food, electricity, internet, water, etc. are provided for.
Plus, I live with about 50 other like-minded people, so even my social life is supplied.
Beyond just the basics of food and shelter, I’m able to access many resources for free through my relationships.
For example, if someone needs to get picked up from the airport or get a ride into town, I and 15 other people who have cars can help them.
If my computer is broken, there’s someone here who knows how to fix it.
If we want to bake a cake, there’s a kitchen with all the supplies.
If I want someone to come visit me, but there’s no room in the house, there are people close by who are happy to put up my guests.
And if I want some new clothes, we even have a “free box” where everyone in the community donates items they don’t want or need any more.
I get experiences and entertainment for free, too. Just last week, I sat in a hot tub on a deck and looked at the stars with my cohorts because one of us was house sitting.
I take care of a cat every weekend, so I get to have a connection with a pet and a little privacy in the owner’s home without the burden of owning either.
The point is, not everyone in my community has to have money to pay for a luxury for us all to experience it. And getting something for free doesn’t cheapen its value.
All these shared resources help me to save money, but it also supports my emotional needs.
In Buddhism, greedy, desirous, and grasping states of mind are represented by “hungry ghosts.” These characters are depicted as maundering wraiths that are unable to satisfy their insatiable desires.
Hungry ghosts represent how, when we’re in this mindset, we attempt to avoid pain by seeking satisfaction in a way that actually causes more pain for ourselves and others.
“When you are continuously yearning, your contentment leaks away even before your needs are fulfilled, even as you are addressing them,” writes Sunyana Graef in Taming the “I Want” Mind.
The constant desire we feel as a result of this belief is really the manifestation of a misplaced need. The real need could be feeling valued, attractive, accepted, or any other important feelings.
When someone is willing to give me a ride, it saves me money on a rental or an Uber, but it also makes me feel loved. Someone wants to give me a ride just because they want to help me.
In my community, there are always people around who are available to listen and connect with me. This fulfills many of the needs that I’ve tried to satiate with purchases in the past.
I’m providing that for other people, too, which further quells my desires.
“It is hard to be grasping when we are reaching out,” writes Paul Hawken in the foreword of Hooked!: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume.
Feeling supported and connected is an unending need. Fortunately it’s free, there’s an infinite supply of it, and fulfilling it might help you save money.