Sunday, June 14, 2015

Searching for Thomas Merton in My Handbag

I have a favorite handbag that I’ve carried for years. It is perfect. It holds my files, journal, two kinds of pens, note cards, makeup and money. I love this bag. It cost less than $100. But when I go to New York City I fondle designer bags.  I pet the suede, calfskin and dyed canvas trimmed with leather. One of these bags costs as much as a car payment. But I want one. It’s lust. 

Then at home I look at the books piled on my coffee table, bedside table and desk. Books about personal growth and making a better life and having a spiritual connection and at the top of the pile: Thomas Merton—monk, philosopher, writer.  He had some things I want too: a life of contemplation, simplicity and, oh yes, renunciation.

How do I reconcile these competing and conflicting desires? What is a human to do?  Some of us are dashing around the mall wearing our name off our credit cards and others smugly announce they’re, “Making do with less” this year. I want both, always both.

Consumerism is based on the belief that problems have material solutions. We do it with bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger jobs. But we also do it by consuming more spirituality, trying more spiritual practices or teachers or even religion as “products” to fix our lives.  

Count me in: yoga mat, meditation pillow, charms, chimes, statues, wall hangings, a necklace—gold, expensive—to announce my belief in God. Even recovery jewelry. I buy more things to proclaim my belief in simplicity.

Yes, we all use consumption to create our identity. But it’s equally flawed to create a self-image based on refusing to participate in the dominant culture or by disdaining those who do.  The fundamental error is the same: whether we derive our identity from consuming or from not consuming we’re still focused on self.  Spiritual wanting is still wanting. 

How perfect that it’s a bag I’m craving now. I can look in my handbag—literally a sack to carry my identity—to see who I am. It holds my driver’s license, medical cards, reward
cards for the stores I shop—my cell phone address book displays the details of what and who matters. But I still think the outside of this bag—calfskin would be nice—will change the inner me.

As recovering women, we live at the intersection of spirituality and consumption. Could we choose peace in our hearts and at the mall? I am searching for Thomas Merton in my handbag and hoping for peace in my very human heart.

More on recovery, shopping and style in "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.


Kathryn said...

Oh, Diane!
Your writing is so powerful because you so clearly state universal truths. I totally get handbag lust. You know Dwyer's book, "There's a Spiritual Solution to every Problem."? I'm smiling, thinking of inserting "Shopping Solution" into that title. Ai ai ai. The eternal tug and release.

Diane said...

Kathryn--I love that…I have took long lived that shopping solution:)