The point at which Spirituality converges with Consumerism is such a bedlam of contradictory ideals and practices with everyone talking and thinking they are speaking the same language. Which if you’ve ever had one of those conversations, you know how confusing and frustrating and downright infuriating it can be. You get to the end and you realize you are using different words to mean the same thing or you were using the same words and meaning completely opposite things and you just want to scream or beat your head against the wall or both.
Spirituality includes teachers/gurus/medicine people/clergy who live a life of service and try to help people to improve their lives through the belief system, techniques, wisdom that they profess and hopefully live. To do that they make choices not to become CEOs or entrepreneurs or race car drivers and they spend their time working with people. Never a money-making enterprise as anyone will tell you. Students or seekers that come to them learn and grow and become more of who they are and can be and in return they offer their support to the teacher as a fair exchange for the value of what they have been given. Which can take the form of apprenticeship, support staff, money, anything that the student and the teacher agree upon. Barter is not unique to the Spiritual community but is very much thriving and is a healthy way to support good boundaries and good human relations. This is not to say that spiritual people are not human. As with all positions of perceived authority or which have power, there are those who will abuse the system or attempt to make a gain using others. Charlatans abound and are not new under the sun. There’s a reason we have the phrase ‘snake oil salesman’. It comes from the medical profession which is still rife with them, by the way. Buyer beware, of course, but if you do a little research or spend a little time you can usually pick out who is just in it for the money.
Consumerism teaches that everything can be bought, that you should always try to get something for the least amount, and that gratification is immediate. Which in Western culture to some extent is true. And even more so now with the internet and e-commerce. However, you really can’t purchase spirituality. You can be spiritual, you can have a spiritual journey, you can have a spiritual teacher, but you can’t go out and buy spirituality for yourself. You can buy all the ‘stuff’, books, candles, bells, bowls, meditation clothes, yoga mats, self-hypnosis tapes, there is plenty out there to get if you want to spend your money. But a spiritual journey is in the doing of it. So going up to a teacher and saying “tell me how to do it” is not only somewhat rude and confrontational, it’s not going to get you what you want. Giving you words to use as a mantra doesn’t teach you how to do chanting meditation. Giving you a bunch of poses for yoga doesn’t teach you form or how to listen to your body or how to use the poses to achieve that next level of you. Giving you a costume and choreography doesn’t give you the joy of dance.
Consumerism also teaches that it’s all about money. Everything has a cost and everything should be looked at as valued against currency. And for some reason spiritual teachings, while highly valued and in demand, come up with a dollar value of Zero. Spirituality should be given away for free and everyone should have access to it all the time like a McDonald’s that’s open 24 hours. Well, spirituality is in the doing of it and if you want to be doing it 24 hours a day, have fun with that. Personally I like to sleep sometimes and I enjoy a good movie like everyone else. But going back to the barter system, everything has value. And that value, which there can be consensus in community about it, is really between the two people involved in the exchange. With both parties being respectful of the other and building trust through open communication, it’s possible to create a barter, whether that be money or time or item or service, that is equitable and fair.