Back to the Garden

* Disclaimer: I can already tell that I'm going to get a lot of flac for this essay, so I just want to point out, before you read any further, that I in no way support political nor social anarchy out of a spirit of a rebellion. This essay is instead written from a spiritual perspective, based on very basic principles from Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism that I happen to agree with. I am not urging any of you to "stick it to The Man" to prove a point -- I am instead inviting you to a way of life that is higher, truer, and more spiritually fulfilling. Without any further ado.... *

It began in the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve lived in complete harmony, complete peacefulness, complete satisfaction with each other, with nature, and with the Lord of Hosts. Surely, this is communion. Surely this is what it means to live: no stress, no strife, no fear, no anger, no hatred, no sadness. This is the definition of coexistance—the very substance of life: to live and to live; to walk and talk in the Garden in relationship with God and with each other.

The first man and woman were entirely self-sufficient, much like the nomads—the hunters and gatherers—at the dawn of civilization. However, unlike the nomads, Adam and Eve weren't hunters inasmuch they were gatherers. They lived in communion and maintained relationship with Jehovah Jireh—the God who provides; they merely had to maintain a healthy relationship with God and He ensured that all their needs be met. As Tom Hodkinson points out in his book, The Freedom Manifesto, “(Adam and Eve) don't work work but neither do they consume. It appears to be a pre-agricultural era, where the food you need is simply plucked from the trees and hedgerows” (115).

Indeed, this is a pre-agricultural era—Adam and Eve had no knowledge of nor experience with farming; they merely lived off the fat of the land. This is an era that predates agriculturalism, industrialism, and even consumerism. This is a time when all the trading and bartering was done in an economy of mercy and grace between two parties. The Lord of all creation offered His services and goods (food, vegetation, and life itself) and, in return, Adam and Eve offered their love, praise, adoration, and an open line of communication. The world's first economic system was built on the guarantee of fair trade.

This is the beauty of simplicity. Utopia.

Then, everything changed. The itch for something better set in, the desire for the next best thing consumed Adam and Eve's hearts and clouded their minds. Consumerism was born. Not coincidentally, consumerism's arrival was synched with the arrival of advertising in the form of the serpent—the greatest marketing agent of all.

He came on the scene with an agenda to sell. So he found the only object in the Garden that was off limits and built up his advertising campaign. He described the advantages and benefits of eating the fruit of this particular tree, then disavowed everything that the “other expert” said about the fruit. He made it seem as though this object—this fruit—was the latest, greatest thing on the market and that their lives would be all the more complete if they were to have it (even though they already shared an unsurpassed intimacy with the Lord of all. Their lives could not have possibly been more complete and, in their hearts, they knew that).

But they bought into it. They salivated at the sight of the fruit and the capitalistic beast inside them woke up, demanding to be fed. The two of them were banished from the Garden and sentenced to a lifetime of toil and trudgery. Need gave way to a fleeting desire and civilization has been spiraling downward ever since.

* * *

Nowadays, our lives are dominated by the material world that surrounds us. From every angle, we are bombarded with advertisements for everything from toothpaste to vacation destinations to shoes on a daily basis: billboards on the highways and even on the sides of public transportation, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, every website we visit, and even in the movies we watch. Companies will pay millions upon millions of dollars to place their product's name on surfaces their top-notch marketing specialists deem “great real estate” (like jumbotrons in sports arenas or on the backs of seats in airplanes).

Even we have become walking advertisements because of the clothes we wear or the mp3 players we listen to. It is no longer enough for corporations to sell their shit to us, we are now expected to help them sell their shit with our shirts and hats bearing the name or logo of the brand of clothing they are. Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Aeropostale, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle. All of these outfitters proudly display their names on everything they design: their t-shirts, their sweaters, their hats, their jeans, even their socks! These businesses design their clothes this way because it's effective marketing—what better way to have your business's name spread all over the world than to plaster it all over the clothes that your customers are buying? This is the precise reason I refuse to wear novelty clothing.

You know, it was one thing when businesses no long viewed us as people, but as dollar signs. However, even those days are gone. We, the consumers, have gone from the target to the real estate, from the victim to the enabler.

Here's the sickest part of it all, though: we listen, we watch, and we buy. Then, once the latest fad bores us, we we wait for the next thing that will improve the quality of our (apparent) empty lives. We're like ducks, snatching up whatever bit of bread or crackers that gets tossed our way.

Consider the iPhone, for example. The iPhone was produced by Apple and released in 2007. for three or four months leading up to its release date, the market was saturated with advertisements. Apple's ad campaign was relentless and, ultimately, successful. The iPhone was a huge hit for the software giant and Steve Jobs made a lot of money because of it. However, in one short year, the iPhone became outdated and unfashionable—especially since an updated, less expensive version of the Blackberry was released within a few months. So in 2008, Apple released the iPhone 3G (which, really, isn't much different than its predecessor). And we ate it up eagerly. Even those of us who still had the original iPhone ate up the new one.

Our self-sufficiency has been replaced with boredom. We are so spoiled with all the toys, gadgets, gizmos, and entertainment mediums that we become bored with all of it almost as fast as we fall in love with it in the first place! We have a hunger, a craving, an insatiable appetite to be entertained at every turn. We move on from one fad to the next, from one interest to another, even from one lover to another in a heartbeat! We do not know how to live in a world of simplicity—in a world where the only joys and worthwhile experiences in life are the ones we have to make for ourselves. The marketplace spoon-feeds us, Uncle Sam turns us over his shoulder to burp us, we regurgitate whatever we just ate and then whine until we are fed again.

We are living off the fad of the land.

No longer do we rely on a Higher Power (or even ourselves) to have our needs met; we are almost completely dependent on the tangible objects and superfluous things of this material world. We are sick and becoming increasingly crippled. So we consume. We obey the orders of the capitalistic physician who says, “Buy it—it will make you feel better.” We blindly spend, blindly consume, never realizing that the weight of all the shit we buy is what's crippling us. Meanwhile, the physician is lining his pockets with our hard-earned pay and spending it on devising new marketing schemes to get us to buy more stuff.

Even them that realize their affliction continue to consume. To many, it's an addiction like alcoholism, drug use, or gambling. Our inability to ignore fire sales is not totally on our own shoulders, though—our peers and the world surrounding us also contribute heavily to our need to buy more stuff. See, the amount of things we buy—and the brands of things we buy—have become indicative of our identities and social classes. Therefore, we consume to keep our identities and to maintain our social statuses, lest we be confused with a lower class, a person of lesser standing, or a complete invalid. God forbid we be defined by our actions or the words we say or even the amount we love. After all, the brand of shirt we wear is a much more reliable indicator of who we are as people.


Then, most paralyzing of all, we become emotionally attached to the stuff we buy. There are people who will hold onto some stupid little something for decades, regardless of how often they use it, regardless of how often they even look at it, regardless of much space it occupies, regardless of how often its get packed up and moved from town to town, and even regardless of what it is! They hold onto this stuff for all sorts of reasons: a loved one gave it to them and it's all they have to remember said loved one by, the object is the last of its kind, and (my personal favorite) “I might still use it one of these days.”

Allow me to let you in on some things, here: first of all, if you've been holding onto a coffee mug for years because it's the only thing you have to remember your grandfather by, you are shallow. Either that, or your grandfather wasn't worth remembering. I know that sounds heartless, but I find it even more heartless to commemorate a loved one's entire life with something as frivolous as some silly little man-made thing. Secondly, if you've had something for a long time and haven't used it yet, you probably never will. It will rest in its keeping place and collect dust until you get rid of it or donate it to someone who could really use it.

Such items do nothing more than clutter our homes and our very lives.

* * *

I am reminded of the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler.

The rich young ruler (let's call him Marcus, as it gives this character a bit more personality) was inspired by the statements Jesus made and the works he did. He wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple, going from place to place with him and learning the higher ways Jesus taught. So when Jesus came to his hometown to teach, Marcus ran out to him and proclaimed his intentions: “Rabbi, I want to be a disciple!” Jesus stopped to consider the ruler's proposal for a minute. He seemed genuine enough—he told Jesus that he was inspired by the things he had seen and heard, that he read and obeyed the Torah from the days of his youth, and that he was willing to do anything to be with Jesus. So Jesus agreed and invited him along by saying, “Sell all of your possessions and follow me.”

What an invitation! The son of God himself extended a personal invitation to the rich young ruler to see and hear the things that God did through him. Even if Marcus weren't a believer, this was still an opportunity too good to pass up! Consider: permanent vacation, seeing the world, experiencing different ways of life with fellow followers representing all sorts of different walks of life—the benefits of the trip were enough to lure the ruler out of his mansion! It's not like he had anything better to do with his time anyway. The rich young ruler, however, declined the invitation. According to the Scriptures, he didn't even offer Jesus an excuse as to why he couldn't go—he merely got this dejected look about his countenance, dropped his head, turned his back to the crowds, and moped back to his house. Wouldn't it be considered common courtesy to at least explain why he couldn't go? Even if he made up something ridiculous, like explosive diarrhea, would have been much more respectful than just walking away.

The story between the lines of the text suggests that the rich young ruler was so attached to his possessions, that he turned down the opportunity to experience a sliver of what life in the Garden of Eden was like. Jesus offered him the chance of a lifetime: to walk and talk, to share an intimate relationship—to live in communion—with the Son of God, much the same way Adam and Eve were privileged enough to live in harmony with God Himself. And the rich young ruler refused it. He chose the finite material things he had stored up during the course of his short life over the infinite treasures he could have been storing up in Heaven.

* * *

It seems—at lest in my experience—that only those who are in touch with their spirituality realize the benefits of living simple lives. The Shakers, for example, sing these lines from one of their hymns:

Tis the gift to be simple
Tis the gift to be free
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in a place just right
Twill be in the valley of love and delight

Mahatma Ghandi, the world's most famous Hindu, always preached the virtue of simplicity, Taoists pride themselves on their simple lifestyles, and there are even atheists who believe in the power and will of the human spirit to maintain a pure and simple life. Consider monks and nuns: these are men and women who detach themselves from all of their possessions, all of their worries, all of their friends and family, and instead embrace a life cut off from the rest of civilization. They make their own clothes, grow their own vegetables, prepare their own food, and live their lives in the peacefulness of isolation and presence of the god they follow.

Buddhism even bases its entire faith system on the virtue simplicity. Buddhists believe in what is called the Four Pillars. The four pillars are: 1) Life means suffering, 2) The origin of suffering is attachment, 3) Cessation of suffering is attainable, and 4) There is a path to the cessation of suffering (this path is known as the eightfold path and maps the way to reaching nirvana). In short, the very foundation of Buddhism is that man can reach ultimate enlightenment, but only by first detaching himself from his possessions and the world around him. As long as man is emotionally or spiritually attached to any tangible thing, his life will be one of suffering.

* * *

Am I saying it's wrong to buy stuff or to own things? Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying that all. There's nothing “wrong” with spending a little money on yourself and owning a fair amount of worldly possessions doesn't make you a “bad person.” What I am saying, on the other hand, is that before you can appreciate life for what it is, you must learn to appreciate and even embrace a life devoid of extravagance and superfluousness. Spend more time with your loved ones rather than the useless crap they've bought for you. Donate things you don't wear or use on a regular basis to charity. Find a hobby, learn a trade, refine your talents, meet new friends, catch up with old friends, stop to smell the flowers. But, for God's sake, don't waste your life away on things that will turn to dust, break down, or become outdated in the blink of an eye. Embrace simplicity!

It is high time we got back to the Garden. It is time we put off the things of the world that have been suffocating us for so long and finally live without the burden of our stuff, constantly weighing us down. Now is the time to experience the things in life that allow us to truly live (and to live “life more abundantly”).

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