I was in the grocery store today at the pharmacy counter. Suddenly I was struck by how cluttered the counter was. There was a sign about earning gas points, another about the latest remedy for cold sores, another about a product on sale, and 50 other things in the immediate vicinity all competing for attention. I suddenly had this vision of the whole store with minds abuzz about the thousands of myriad of products vying for our attention and purchasing power. I spend more time reading ingredients and nutrition tables because food isn’t really food anymore. It tends to be another gimmick with a greater price tag. The flashy packaging demands attention but gives no indication of the real value of actual product.
Then I had the image of a new sort of grocery store with empty counters, calm, knowledgeable and kind pharmacy staff, focused just as we are focused, on bringing health, vitality, and navigating insurance. This store sold the basics, no empty calories, nutritious foods fresh from local farms. Grains in bins. Beer in barrels. No plastic packaging destined for the landfill. Spacious aisles where you could chat with your neighbor without harried folks wanting to pass by or grab the pasta right now near your head.
My point is not to look back at the halcyon days of a pioneer village store. Rather, I am more interested in what today’s marketplace is doing to our minds. Are we addicted to all the flashy choices demanding our attention like neon on the Las Vegas strip? Walking down the aisles is like scrolling through social media, always looking for that new product and never feeling satisfied. My daughter calls it doom scrolling.
Contemplative practices cultivate just the opposite process in our minds: a return to unified consciousness by stopping the insatiable need to follow the next thought, cling to the current emotion, grasp the newest idea to flash across our mind’s eye. The monkey mind will carry on jumping and squealing, fragmenting our life energy into a million shattered pieces, never satisfied, always following the next shiny thing.
Then who are we? Are we the stuff that, as a result, accumulates in our homes and storage units? It takes time to sit and regather our attention from all the things, thoughts, feelings, emotions that clamor for our attention. It takes patience to return, again and again, to letting our thoughts arise and dissipate, and stop following them, grasping them, identifying with their momentary flash. It takes loving ourselves enough to practice peace.
It seems to me we live in a time we could call The Great Disintegration. Our consciousness is getting divided and conquered every time we look at our phones or drive down the street and walk into stores. If we are our consciousness, then we allow it to be dissipated in this fragmentation day in and day out. We not only forget who we are, we are then husbanded from an early age into consuming what we don’t really need. We lose our souls spending our hard earned money on empty things. And our essential self, our life energy, is lost, disintegrated, forgotten.
The secret is that it costs nothing but daily practice to regain who we really are, gather the fragments of our dissipated consciousness and rediscover the energy and power of our unified selves. Practices like Centering Prayer are effective contemplative methods to reverse The Great Disintegration. And yet, sadly, so few actually take it up. When we believe that because something is flashy and costs more it is therefore of greater and more permanent value, we have then been captured by The Great Disintegration. Instead, the pearl of greatest value is hidden within ourselves, in our own souls, and always has been, waiting there, absolutely free.
We have been captured by The Great Disintegration when we decided there’s no time to sit for 20 minutes cultivating peace and unified consciousness, self-knowledge and wisdom. Where will this road take our society, our civilization? What is it doing to the earth?
Instead, choose the road far less travelled. There are far fewer traffic jams and the sights are so beautiful they bring tears of awe. Give it a rest. Choose to cultivate peace.