Boycott as a Spiritual Practice

Happiness beyond the body is given. Perception is not. It is won. Anyone who meditates knows that attention develops the will. However, more forces vie to command our attention than our own volition. We can either invest in what we care about, or boycott causes that don’t resonate with our values. This requires not trading our experience of the world for a concept of it. The spiritual practice of boycotting is surrendering vain world views, which strike out independently against physical reality. There is no short cut to honing perception than to align with sense experience. This includes the mind as a sense, common to Buddhism, and I would venture to the 12 senses describes by Rudolf Steiner. The senses which might be unfamiliar to some are: the life sense, balance, movement, warmth, meaning, language and the I/Thou senses. We can cultivate our senses and protect them from being ignored or overstimulated.

Life is a comedy, a rather dark one at that. Since, by grace, all works out in the end, it is easy to kick back and coast, passing the buck along to the next generation, but even comedies have a moral to them. The moral of every story is- what to cultivate? What to protect, against who? That’s why it’s funny. Hunting for the “enemy” or the “problem” always winds up with the finger pointing back at the self. The most important thing to boycott is the concept of “us against them.” Boycotting is an act of reverence and gratitude, the kind of spiritual work that is on-going, like the Noble Eight-fold Path.¬† It requires no breaks, special rites nor paraphernalia.

Witnessing ourselves in solitude, whether we are alone or with others, we can contemplate owning the price tag of enjoyment. This is not an intellectual task but rather to acknowledge what we feel. Such honesty forges a vessel strong enough to catch the winds of wisdom and survive the depths of truth, because what we feel with our senses includes our conscience, the mind, which is inseparable from all others. Civilization has accomplished many things, but consumer culture sadly caters to the trait in us that wants to be independent and abandon work required to maintain a body, relationships, the environment. It is easy to feel small and helpless when we see systemic corruption, but we can interact directly with the qualities that govern the universe present in ordinary life all around us. What Capitalism teaches is that the best things in life are free, and the whole is contained in the parts. Have you ever noticed how Google works compared to other search engines? Compared prices between Amazon and local shops? Does it bother you that you cannot access music you already purchased without paying for a monthly subscription? Have you tried admiring the geometry or counting the seeds inside genetically modified fruits and vegetables only to find they have none?

Nothing is inherently bad, as long as we resist foreclosing on our own sensitivity. Sensitivity is kindled not by understanding things necessarily, although making an effort to do so is a loving gesture, as much as by sustaining our interest in them as they transform. Dismissing societal fabrications, we can explore how subjective experience changes our mind again and again. This is the integrated spiritual path: sensing the body, admitting mistakes and trying to do better, continually. We become more human when we boycott stimuli which diverts our concern away from the scene we play a part in. We know how our character must improvise by intuiting the entire scene impartially. Our role fluctuates between being an inert prop, fodder for some greedy scheme, to being a trained actor, like a sailor exposed to the weather, and eventually the weather itself . In the context of climate change, how much power do we have? What is going on back stage? I’m not encouraging boycotting anything in particular, just thinking about my death bed and paying respect to the spiritual ground where our intentions, our longing and our thoughts are already active.

I’ve been pondering this post for a long time, wondering when will I be walking the talk enough to write it. I talk about renunciation often, an aspiration, not something I have achieved. It took me literally two years to pay off my Amazon credit card, not because I owed a lot of money. I was addicted to the “rewards point” program. Of course, I paid them so much more in interest than I ever saved. What’s worse, the small businesses which lent character to the rural towns of Southern New Hampshire where I live have mostly all gone out of business. Buying cheap products rather than local ones is familiar. If we paused to enjoy the substance, beauty and meaning transmitted to us from nature and the beings around us, how much would we buy at all?

I often feel hostage in civilization. I pump fuel, fund the war machine, waste plastic, even eat meat. The red carpet of greed lined my cradle since I was born, and I am not exempt for pretending to be a nice person. The global economy is rapidly snuffing out local culture all over the world. Loved ones are dispersed, or sometimes they are unrecognizable due so so many economic compromises. It is important not to lament the victims of one’s happiness, and feel guilty and hopeless about the wounding of the earth which may well become uninhabitable because of prototypes like me. We are causing harm when we envision destruction. Destruction is the beautiful symbol that peace and justice is the answer. There is nothing that we can perceive that does not point us eventually towards unconditional love if we take responsibility to feel what our perceptions are reflecting back to us about ourselves, that we DO care. What would exist of the earth if humans are not on it? The entire universe is nothing if we don’t conceive of it. At least it is nothing that has ever been conceived of before. Consider rationally the power of what we imagine and believe about history, the present moment, and the future.

Corporate products, especially stimuli which alters our perceptions, such as recorded sound and screen imagery, has a very profound effect on our values by tampering with the reward system of the body. They grant pleasure without our limbs making the effort to produce that effect, and they condition us to crave intensity and ignore subtlety. Consuming what appeals to us virtually produces enjoyable sensation. This time could be spent learning what activities induce true beauty in our own environment, make us less dependent on purchasing chemical hits of pleasure. Boycotting mainstream media for example liberates considerable time and energy from Capitalist objects of awareness and reinvests it in honing fantasies that are fully embodied. We can also boycott our own negative predictions of the future and imagine harmonious visions.

Even comedies require adversaries, and the adversary is within. Boycotting is a motion away from denial, from competing, from pretending we don’t know how ‘doing unto others’ works. There is a battle going on, but we are all on the same side. Those who profit from the military industrial complex want the same thing as indigenous elders. Survival. Survival does not arise from natural resources. Natural resources arise from art. Growing in awareness reveals that the highest duty is to be happy, for destruction is replaced only by happiness, and happiness requires honing perception which is embodied. The sense world, which took so long to evolve, out of frigid eons of solitude, needs to be maintained. Culture is what preserves perceptions, not in the form of entertainment but in the form of ordinary life which must be stewarded to inspire culture in generations to come.

What arises and passes away as objects of attention are like weeds in a garden. We can learn to recognize their medicinal values and decide which impulses to follow and which to resist. Learning to be content with what we have and to let go of what causes harm, we heal wounds of the past. “My mom loved Valium and lots of drugs. That’s why I am like I am, ‘cos I’m like her. My mom liked Valium and lots of drugs. That’s why I’m on what I’m on, ‘cos I’m my mom.” -Eminem. It is not wholesome to boycott chasing desire altogether, because when we observe how attention and the will operate, they include desire wisely. Boycotting is a way of being more conscious of the origin of various desires and how appetite is balanced out eventually through suffering.

One of the things I have experimented with boycotting is the internet. To make space for insight, we must clean our sensual palate between tastes. In other words we must go through regular periods of withdrawal to calm the mind. Electronic devices pierce the ear drum with targeted sounds and haunt the mind’s eye with mass-produced imagery. The more I protect my eyes end ears, the more rich everyday life becomes. It is amazing how my relationships have deepened when I replaced social media with telepathy. The internet is not a free pubic place like many people falsely believe. It is designed like a theme park, catering to the addictions of every surfer. “How generous, all this free content,” one might think, bobbing along the river of hearing-what-you-want-to-hear. Luckily, no matter how deeply one sinks into the belly of the beast, it is always possible to discern whose will is causing perception and to free oneself. I had to get internet again during the Covid 19 pandemic to work from home, but I can still boycott how much I use it, like the pack of cigarettes in my freezer which I only smoke for ceremonies.

Boycotting places human values over creature comforts. The key is attitude. People with money can easily boycott crappy products and purchase organic, five-star ones. Authentic boycotting is an inner reclamation, rather than an outer presentation. “Throw down your arms and come,” sings Sinead O’connor. Facing mass-extinction caused by obsession with pop culture, the weapon we must throw down is our own pride. It can be embarrassing to reject the latest trends and steward the quirky things we really cherish. Screen technology has perverted aesthetics to cause people to crave artificial goods. Ethics is about taste, and everyone has this in their own unique way if attention is devoted to it over the long term. There are “poor” people who cannot afford fancy goods and are stuck with subsidized toxic products. Financially affluent people who retire early to study bio-hacking, making themselves appear forever young, do not necessarily know how to die and be reborn again and again as happens in meditation, or to savor the energy of cause and effect with true compassion, like poor people do. Boycotting is not about taking sides nor placing blame. It is acknowledging authenticity. Our own basic goodness is enough to heal the world without judging anyone if we allow it to shape the perceptions that touch our sense organs. “Someone is calling my name, saying I’m not to blame. I won’t be ashamed of love.” (Philadelphia soundtrack)

Boycotting is the desire to not cause harm. The mess we are in is an end, not a means. We can boycott living for the future. We are not here to get somewhere else. We are here to perceive the humanity within us mirrored by our own experiences, to see through this veil and meet the fellow beings sharing the world. Many people thus enjoy the transparency, the rawness, the uncertainty of reality beyond personal projections. Meeting even one such role model can be enough to affirm jumping off the make-believe train into the wilderness of conscience. To boycott is the opposite of trying to improve the world by changing it. It is a motion towards being changeable, towards trust. Humans are obsessed with technologies to make the ego endure, but the ego improves with age effortlessly if we allow it to be touched. Instead of trying to impress our ego onto others, we can be gentle, patting its head and comforting it and saying “yes you will die alone, but here are other beings who understand.” It’s humiliating until it’s funny for the ego to accept the menial tasks at hand. Nature does not buy things. It kills things. The poor stay poor and the rich get richer. This lonely process of failure is familiar to everyone, until we boycott the lens of status and see through the lens of karma. Poetry is the only thing sweeter than love, and that can be found even in dumpsters or under a bridge somewhere. Such gratitude adjusts our expectations about how much freedom we have been given.

Wisdom belongs to no one. We are all pretty much the same. Attachments blindfold us until we determine the difference between wholesome and unwholesome love. Then our hunger to be seen lessens and our duty to imagine without interruption becomes an offering. Still and calm, we sense, as an act of service, with heart. The voice of the beloved speaks, clear and universal, excluding no one.

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