The idea of a “conscious consumer” has always rubbed me the wrong way. Not the “conscious” part of the equation, mind you – it’s the “consumer” side of things that gets to me. Even in the most positive light, a consumer is still just that: someone who consumes things.
Although, according to a 2003 poll, 71 per cent of “American consumers” would purchase socially and environmentally responsible products if they were easy to find, we need to go even further.
I believe we can be much more than consumers in this world, and many other people are beginning to see things this way as well. I believe we can give back to the earth, and create a net positive impact on the world, if we work towards this end. In fact, this is the only way our species can survive, at this point.
Designer and architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart noted in their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, that we are accustomed to thinking of industry and the environment as being at odds with one another.
But McDonough asks, “What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?”
McDonough has designed many completely non-toxic, infinitely recyclable and biodegradable products, from chairs to whole buildings, which back up his optimism of such a society being possible.
Thanks to our past actions and the actions of our predecessors, the ecosystems of the Earth are at a point of decimation where merely reducing our consumption simply isn’t enough. In a world where we’ve lost sight of the fact that we need to breathe, eat, and drink, and that all of these essential things are threatened by our careless actions, where are we to turn for answers on how to reverse the negative consequences of our “consumer culture”?
The best place, perhaps, is the natural world, and how we view our place in it, as cliché as this may sound.
In fact, there is a broad consensus among some of the most brilliant people on the planet that our problems are not “out there”, but that they originate internally, in the nature of our minds: “…a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and ‘broken up’ into yet smaller constituent parts. Each part is considered to be essentially independent and self-existent.”
Dr. David Bohm, a quantum physicist who made dramatic contributions to theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, among other fields, is here echoing the concerns of many of his scientific colleagues – some of whom are now beginning to see in their research the underlying issue facing humanity: western society’s inability to see the true interconnectedness of all things, especially our connection to nature.
As novelist John Fowles once wrote “As long as nature is seen as in some way outside us, frontiered and foreign, separate, it is lost both to us and in us.”
What Fowles is hinting at, what Bohm and many other scientists of our day are telling us, and what many ancient ways of knowledge have been teaching humanity for centuries, is that we are connected to nature and the world around us through much more than just physical constructs. However, our very thought patterns have tricked us into functioning as if we are not.
The Shadow is a psychological term introduced by the influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung to describe everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. This includes good and bad aspects of ourselves.
Jung contended that the reason the world is in such bad condition is directly related to the fragmented nature of our “selves” and the repression of our shadow sides. A major repressed aspect of ourselves, he found, is our guilt. Although we are not conscious of it, we are in fact guilty of the “offenses” we are committing against ourselves and the planet at large. In other words, the conditions for human life on this planet are being compromised, whether we are aware of it or not.
Jung found that once we consciously access our own guilt, we withdraw and dis-invest our projection of the shadow onto others and the world. We recognize that the “evil” we’re seeing “out there” is simultaneously our own, thereby realizing we can no longer project evil outside of ourselves.
Once we see this darkness in ourselves, it is not necessary for us to hide from it any longer. With our increased consciousness, we can then become aware of the true effects we have on our environment and the world at large and begin to curb our destructive behaviour.
Jung said, “Consciousness of guilt can therefore act as a powerful moral stimulus. Without guilt, unfortunately, there can be no psychic maturation and no widening of the spiritual horizon.”
If it is indeed only through our guilt that we can truly become aware of our innocence, as has been experienced by countless individuals, then we are confronted with a paradox: No one is innocent, as we are all complicit in the troubles of our world, while simultaneously we are all innocent. A genuine “coincidentia oppositorum,” a coinciding of opposites.
Perhaps in this flux of opposites we can discover that our traditional concept of “self” is but an illusion, “a hallucination hallucinated by an hallucination” as cognitive scientist Dr. Douglas Hofstadter puts it.
Consciously experiencing the co-joining of guilt and innocence challenges us to snap out of the spell of our dualistic mind, which separates this uni-verse of ours into fragments that seem to be in conflict.
The only way to directly realize this union of opposites is to have an expansion of consciousness in which we recognize our interconnectedness, and develop a more complete and holistic vision of our inseparable relationship to each other, the planet and the universe as a whole.
Meaning as Being
Bohm: “Meaning is the bridge between consciousness and matter… …Meaning enfolds the whole world into me, and vice versa – that enfolded meaning is unfolded as action, through my body and then through the world… …I say meaning is being! So any transformation of society must result in a profound change of meaning. Any change of meaning for the individual would change the whole…”
Perhaps it is indeed time to further explore relationships with ourselves, nature and the world at large which bring meaning to our lives. Maybe then we could see that these relationships make up the very fabric of our world, and that they need conscious attention if we want to preserve nature.
Pulitzer-Prize winning sociobiologist, Dr. Edward Wilson of Harvard, has even found evidence that as part of nature people have an inherent need to be in contact with the natural world. He calls it “biophilia.” But the truth is we are nature. At the most profound level we are our environment.
The wholeness of our being, involving relations of meaning between ourselves, our communities and nature can only be renewed once we look within, rekindle our ties without, and join these in spiritual (conscious) union. Only then will we begin to see that true development is a process of personal growth, and not material gain.
by Trent Rhode