Not three words that automatically collide in most people’s minds, I suspect. However, the more I read and think, the more certain I become that putting these three words together is critically important. Those of us on the pagan path already know that green and spiritual are inexorably intertwined. Our religion is our planet, any act of environmentalism, eco-awareness, sustainability or responsibility is also an expression of our spirituality. But how does that fit with economics?
The systems we live in are powered by money. While governments pay occasional lip service to the idea that people should live fulfilling and happy lives, when it comes to making choices, they remain servants of the economy. Slaves of the money system. Economic growth is the only measure governments seem to care about. Wellness, happiness, long term sustainability and not ruining the planet are not things they show any actual sign of worrying about. It’s all supply and demand, markets, gross domestic produce, wealth creation. The faster you move the money round, the more of it there appears to be. So, to be a good citizen you should be out there buying stuff, oiling the wheels of the money machine.
The trouble with ‘stuff’ is that we already have far more of it than we need. It’s made from finite resources, using finite energy supplies, shipped using our dwindling fuel supplies, and ultimately heading for the bin and all the issues of landfill. In terms of sustainability, about the last thing we need is this continual push to buy more ‘stuff’. But at the same time, this is how the system works, so what are we supposed to do with it?
I think the answer lies in moving away from ’stuff’ and towards experiences. If there’s money to spare after the essentials have been dealt with, why not direct it towards doing rather than owning? While experiences often create issues of travelling, it’s possible to be green about this, visiting places closer to home, walking, using public transport etc. Supporting live theatre, live music, reading groups, poetry clubs, stand up comedy and so forth gives incredible firsthand experience in a social context, making it far superior to a night in with the telly. So many of the modern gadgets are about having entertainment piped to you. But being able to make your own fun is so much more engaging. The hours you can get out of a musical instrument (without needing to plug it in) make an interesting comparison with CDs.
The people who believe in the market are forever telling us that the market knows best, that it’s all about supply and demand, and giving people what they want. And then what is supplied is more stuff, ultimately destined for landfill. Stuff does not equate to happiness or wellbeing and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to sustainability. What would happen if we stopped being so interested in owning things and started being more interested in doing things? What if we swapped passive reception for active living? What if we took to spending more time with people, doing things? It probably wouldn’t destroy the system, but it would change it, and everyone in it.
Once we start engaging with the world, active participants in our own lives, the scope for living spiritually is increased. How we deploy our money can easily be part of our spirituality, not as users or consumers, but as people seeking experience and opportunity. By stepping away from the ‘stuff’ we liberate ourselves, we become greener, and we have the potential to change the whole system.