I’ve just perused an issue of Yogi Times, a magazine published in Santa Monica, CA. Its tagline is, "lifestyle for the modern yogi." I’m always left with mixed feelings when I read a magazine devoted to yoga or Buddhism, primarily because of the advertising of products associated with "spirituality." The commodification of the spiritual path is not a uniquely American phenomenon, but, thanks in part to the constant bombardment of advertising we endure, we have become the masters of buying products in our search for enlightenment. And yet, how many altar items does one "need" to facilitate meditation? How many t-shirts with "OM" written on them in Sanskrit? How many pieces of symbolic jewelry with sacred emblems or special gemstones?
I’m reminded of a great scene in an Albert Brooks movie called "Modern Romance." In an effort to forget breaking up with his girlfriend, Brooks decides to get in shape by taking up jogging. At the sporting goods store, where he expects to buy some shoes and be on his way, the salesman (played by his talented brother, Bob Einstein) makes it clear that if Brooks is truly "serious" about jogging, he needs to buy a complete jogging outfit, including accessories. Einstein’s deadpan delivery opposite Brooks’ neurotic anxiety makes the scene especially funny. Sure enough, Brooks comes out of the store overloaded with his new jogging gear, clearly believing he’s now on the path to "jogging nirvana."
Believe me, I’m not professing innocence here. I’ve bought my fair share of stuff to enhance my own efforts to become more "spiritual." I regularly wear a baseball cap with "Peace" embroidered on it. I doubt that it’s really contributing very much to a peaceful world, but I enjoy making the statement. More helpful would be my personal efforts to create peace by being a peaceful person. And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? Less focus on stuff, more focus on our actions in the world.
© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob