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Mindfulness and Sustainability: Week 1

Week 1 of changing my spending habits has been both positive and relatively easy. It has been a period of further reflection on old habits, and a chance to practice mindfulness as a way of improving my decision making.

It has now been just over a week since I stopped buying and consuming unnecessary material things, things that I want but don’t need and things sold or marketed to me through a website or app.

One week of this is no big deal, and I intend to make this as permanent of a change as is possible. But, between you and I, I had only set a target of doing this for one week. Making unrealistic targets over long periods of time is not conducive to success. Taking things one week at a time seems far more sensible, regardless of how unimpressive going one week without giving in to a temptation may seem.

The week has been relatively easy, and I have managed to stick to my pledge without issue. The importance of mindfulness has become especially clear, and I have enjoyed learning about the subject greatly. In fact, I can see this blog naturally turning into more of a mindfulness and sustainability blog over the coming weeks and months.

So, what has happened during this first week

Well, I have moved back to London, having been stuck (quite happily) at my Mother’s for months. I was visiting her for Christmas when a national COVID lockdown began. My return to the city means that I am now surrounded by temptation, from clothes shops to extensive Deliveroo options.

On the other hand, I find myself back in a relatively small flat which accentuates the fact that I probably own too many things. My wardrobe here is bursting at the seams and, having lived out of a single bag of clothes for a month, I am again sartorially spoiled for choice.

This does not mean that, when I accompanied a friend on his search for a new jacket this week, I was not tempted to buy something. I used to be very bad at leaving a clothes shop without making a purchase, something that I now feel awful about. Why was I so vulnerable to temptation? And where are those shirts that I bought, probably without trying on, now? I had always lived within my means when succumbing to such temptations, but, as my wardrobe suggests, I was not shopping sensibly.

This time around, I was very mindful. I had made the decision to not buy anything before I had even entered a shop. As I watched my friend peruse the flash shirts in All Saints, I acknowledged that they were nice, but that I did not need, or even really want them. I knew that if I had bought one, it would sit next to another under worn shirt in my wardrobe and never appeal as much as it did when I saw it in the shop again.

It was not that I was not allowed to buy anything, but rather that I did not want or need to buy anything. When I saw something that I thought I might want, I asked myself questions like: ‘do you have something similar at home?’ or ‘will the shirt have the same appeal once the idea of owning it has subsided?’

My friend is far more sensible than I often am. He took photographs of the jackets he liked and decided that he would return another day once he had decided for sure which jacket he liked most.

Historically, when I decide that I want something, even if it is an illusionary want, I cannot wait to have it. Decisions are very important and giving them just the right amount of time to be pondered upon is crucial to overcoming such illusions. I made my decisions early that day, stuck to them, and I am still happy with them.

After all, life is a series of moments and many of these moments involve decisions. Each decision is within our control. These decisions also have an impact on future moments. By asking questions and making decisions mindfully, we can improve our future moments before they have even arrived.

There are many important moments and decisions involved in sustainability, especially when shopping. We can often reduce our consumption by making a decision early in the shopping process. When we consume unsustainably, the damage has often already been done at the point of purchase. Unsustainable consumption is a separate moment created by the earlier decision to buy unsustainably.

For instance, by food shopping mindfully we can ensure that the only food available to us in future moments is sustainable, and that the food we have purchased is not excessive or wasted.

The quality of our diet is also largely decided by what happens when we go food shopping, and not what happens in our kitchens. By using mindfulness and asking things like ‘Do I need this?’ ‘Will this benefit me?’ ‘Is the taste of this unhealthy food as great as its appeal would suggest?’ By being honest and disciplined at this early point (the point of purchase), we take future moments into our own hands and improve them before they have even reached us.

On a another, final note, the only real conundrum that I have after week 1 surrounds beer. Beer is one thing that I had largely avoided during the latest lockdown, but with pub beer gardens reopening and the chance to see friends presenting itself, I have decided that beer should now be something that I can spend money on. This is perhaps contrary to my recent lifestyle change.

I have asked myself whether or not I need beer, but the answer is not necessarily straight forward. Beer definitely does not nourish me or do me obvious amounts of good. But I have decided that beer is a necessary evil in finding balance in life, and a social enabler that it is too important to be overlooked. I could live without it, but would I be the same Phil without the occasional beer and the social encounters that it surrounds? I would not.

My next post will be on Diderot and his observations on identity and the cause of wants.

Phil

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