It is a misconception that Eastern mysticism condemns materialism. The perspective in Zen isn’t that we should own less stuff, but rather that the stuff we own shouldn’t own us.
Materialism is okay; as long we understand that owning more-and-more possessions will not create a happier life, as we are led to believe by the media.
Capitalism depends on materialism, so we are regularly bombarded with a non-stop conveyor belt of corporate marketing that continually brainwashes everyone into believing that happiness and fulfillment can be found with the purchasing of the newest hot product.
However, as we all know, the gratification that comes with a new purchase quickly wears off and so we go looking for that next fix and then the cycle repeats itself over-and-over.
The way out of this repetitive cycle is to see the game for what it is and to regularly remind ourselves that buying more stuff will not create a happy and fulfilled life. Happiness has been proven to be a by-product of making peace with oneself and living a life of purpose, but this path isn’t advertised by our culture because it doesn’t generate a profit. Happy people do not spend money, a fact that marketing executives are well aware of.
Our culture and educational systems don’t promote a life path that inspires happiness; it promotes one that fuels Capitalism.
Get an education… get a job… get a car… secure a home… get married… raise a family… save a pension… buy lots of stuff… go on holidays… bank our savings… invest our money.
There’s nothing wrong with these aspirations, as long we recognise the fact that this life template breeds nothing but stress, exhaustion and misery for the majority of people. The capitalist system is functional, but far from being inspiring or joyful.
If creating happiness and contentment for ourselves is the goal, then we must develop the courage to build a life around whatever it is that makes us smile and feel most alive. Courage is required when our life aspirations don’t fit in with societal expectations, as going against the grain often attracts judgement and misunderstandings from the community. People often attack that which they either do not understand or more commonly, that which reminds them of their own shortcomings and fears; their insecurities are threatened by the courage of a free spirit to live an authentic life outside of social conformity.
Following the capitalistic template is one of the main reasons why depression and anxiety are the predominant mental health issues of modern times. We win by stepping outside of the paradigm of cultural expectations and instead, follow our heart wherever it may lead. The heart always knows the way to happiness; the challenge comes when trying to tune in to its whispered directions above the chitter-chatter of the mind, and trusting its wisdom when we hear it.