Empty Friday

Black Friday ShoppersWhen I was a kid, every American who didn’t have a critical job (such as providing medical care or policing) got a holiday on Thanksgiving day, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It was truly a hallowed day, one to be spent eating good food with your loved ones. No stores were open then, and there was no shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, it was common for festive families to get out of the house and do some Christmas shopping together. This was often a lot of fun.

Post-Thanksgiving shopping was also fun for retailers, and after awhile, they started to open their stores earlier, to give people more shopping time. Eventually, stores were opening at 6am, 5am, 4am. Now, they open at midnight. If their employees are lucky…

More and more stores are now starting to open on Thanksgiving day itself, which deprives their employees of any semblance of a holiday, along with the shoppers. It’s just not Thanksgiving if you clean your plate and head to the mall, leaving behind everyone else who might have been hoping for a little conversation or a board game or two.

Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” because it’s when they make their profit during the year. It can have other connotations, too, as people get so desperate for deals that they camp out overnight in front of the store and then fight one another inside once the doors open. You can quite literally get a black eye on Black Friday. Or worse.

There is nothing wrong with shopping for what you need or buying holiday gifts. But the spectacle of Black Friday just keeps getting bigger, and while people decry such blatant consumerism, it continues. People willingly give up their comfort and family time in search of the cheapest TV set, and every year people get hurt. Sometimes, someone dies. What is up with that?

I think we should start calling Black Friday “Empty Friday,” because that’s how people really feel. When we crave the “next big thing” or “the next big deal,” it’s like an addiction. Until we heal it, everyone has an addiction like this. The addiction says, “I cannot feel loved/whole/fulfilled/complete without X.” And it doesn’t really matter what X is, but it is always external from ourselves; it’s never within us, so we always need more, more, and more of it. In particular, many Americans use buying stuff as a means of fulfillment. Of course we do. We’re told it’s our patriotic duty to buy, buy, buy, and then maybe the big corporations will give us a job or two. Shopping gives us a rush. Yay! I have the New Thing! And after a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks, the emptiness gnaws at us again. We need a new thing. We need a new rush. Our landfills are full of “old rushes.”

Ironically, Thanksgiving is the holiday about gratitude for what you already have—not for what you might find on sale the next day. We are forgetting how to appreciate what is while we search continuously for what we might have.

Thanksgiving 2011 has come and gone. For some people out there, this was their last Thanksgiving, although they don’t know it. Between now and next November, some people will leave their earthly vehicle and return to Spirit. They may be old. They may be young. Their deaths may be lingering, or fast and unexpected. How did they spend their last Thanksgiving? Were they enjoying the company of their friends and family? Were they out shopping? Did they camp out overnight at Best Buy? How tragic, if so.

Empty Friday doesn’t have to be empty. A Fulfilled and Grateful Thursday can come before. A more reasoned Joyful Friday could follow. Instead of grabbing what we can, maybe we should remember how to be of service to one another. Sometimes, all that takes is playing a board game or two.

Another perspective

I’ll leave you with the perspective of the Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir. What would Jesus buy?

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

Native_Americans_from_Southeastern_IdahoPeople naturally believe that the way they are living and the way their world works is the “right” way or the “best” way to live. The status quo must be fundamentally correct, because this is all we have ever known. Yet, we probably all agree that the status quo has some significant problems, and that we as a race have some tremendous challenges ahead of us. In order to solve these problems, we’re going to have to reconsider some “truths.”

Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.
~Albert Einstein

The original Native Americans had no sense of property ownership. They had no money. If someone needed food, it was given. If someone needed clothing, it was made for them. The closest thing to ownership that they had was their sense of boundary:  “These are our hunting grounds; those are yours.” If there were wars, food pressure was the driving force behind them. “Our hunting grounds have no food; we need to hunt on yours.” To these people, the land belonged to everyone, including the animals. It belonged to their ancestors. Most importantly, it belonged to their children. They cared for it with this understanding.

When Europeans arrived on the scene and declared “ownership,” it was probably shocking to the Native Americans. The Europeans did not inherently “own” the land, but they took it anyway, usually by force. In the US, a government “of the people” (except Native Americans and slaves) gave away the land to white settlers, who declared ownership of it. They worked the land and made a living for themselves. There was no “boss” for most people, no “company.” Just the rewards of your own hard work and dumb luck.

In the latter part of the 19th century, something really interesting happened:  new technology spurred an energy revolution. People could now enjoy modern electrical lighting, indoor heating, indoor plumbing, and fast transportation. Machines had largely been the province of manufacturing, but now wealthy individuals could own them. With the rise of the automobile came the rise of the energy profiteers. And when Henry Ford decided to pay his workers well enough so that they could become his customers as well, it was the birth of a new consumer age.

Now, imagine for one moment all of the wealth in this planet Earth. We have monetized coal, oil, and gas—really, anything that can be mined. We gave it a value. And then less than a fraction of 1% of the population of the entire planet took control of that vast wealth. A handful of men took access to this wealth and sold it back to us at a tremendous personal profit for them, and at the expense of the health of our home world. How did this happen? Why have we assumed all along that the entire energy wealth of this world can or should belong to so very few?

If you buy land in the United States, chances are that you are not buying the mineral rights to that land. That’s right. This means that you could own 5,000 acres and not be able to profit from any oil, gas, or minerals beneath it. Sound crazy? Those rights were “sold” away long ago and now belong to megacorporations who do not care what happens to your 5,000 acres when they are done with it.

Because it has been this way all of our lives, most of us assume that the entire wealth of our world should belong to a few (they tell us so, after all). As a result, we have all subconsciously bought into this agreement. But that does not make it a truth, much less The Truth. Shouldn’t the people who are supported by the land, who rely on the land have a voice? And if they had that voice, wouldn’t they naturally be interested in alternatives that do not interest those who profit on plundering the planet? In Colombia, the government has basically given oil companies the oil that lies beneath the home of native tribes. Is it the government’s to give? Is it anyone’s to give? Is it the company’s to own and profit from, regardless of what the people who live there have to say about it?

And what about water? Food production? Monsanto would like to own the entire food chain and make us pay dearly for it. Who decided that our very means of sustenance would belong to a few? If we allow this to continue, we will all have opted for it by default.

There are other truths we have bought into as well, like, “In order to make a living, you must work for someone else.” Or, “In order to be successful I must have X.” As a result, many people in the so-called first-world nations have become wage slaves, encumbered by debt that is the new “company store.” One of the practices of late 19th- and 20th-century companies was to pay their workers in company scrip—in their own currency, which wasn’t good anywhere except “the company store.” (Imagine if your company paid you with Monopoly money.) All goods available in the company store were so expensive that workers were compelled to go into debt just to live. This cycle of debt effectively made slaves of the employees, who could not afford to quit their jobs because they could not afford to pay off the debt owed to the company store. This terrible scenario inspired the song, “Sixteen Tons” by Tennesse Ernie Ford:

You load sixteen tons what do you get,
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go;
I owe my soul to the company store.

Fortunately, this sorry practice was ended, thanks in large part to the efforts of many loud activists. But if you think about it, we’ve made our way back to this place. People are so fearful of losing (or not having) jobs that they have given up wage increases, benefits, and sane working hours. Don’t call them, Saint Peter, because they now owe their souls to the banks who hold their mortgage, car, and credit card debt. And if they can’t pay it, there’s always the streets…

This wasn’t our grandfather’s world, but the change happened so gradually that many people didn’t notice. Instead of feeling empowered to become entrepreneurs in their own right, people are fed messages daily that they should be fearful, powerless, and just grateful to have any bread on their plate at all. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The people who want to control others will always seek to disempower you with fear and their own versions of “truth.” Do not allow them. Empower yourself and leave fear behind. Know that you are a divine Creator in your own right, and that our wealth is something that we can share in abundantly without destroying the web of life. Seek the Truth and ye shall find it, but it won’t come from someone else. It will come from within you.

Angry people want you to see how powerful they are.
Loving people want you to see how powerful you are.
~Chief Red Eagle

Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naid

Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naid

The most radical people to walk the earth were also the most compassionate. These enlightened beings have been showing us the way. They were so powerful that they changed the world:  Krishna, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless other unsung heroes who championed the Way of the Heart by championing love and compassion for all living things. Where Love and Compassion go, Justice and Truth must surely follow.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Even though the reality of the times in which this was written didn’t reflect the true nature of these words, we still have the power to make the dream come true. Our first step is to examine the truths we take for granted to discover if they really are true, or if they are just another form of enslavement and control. When we as individuals take our own power and reconnect our hearts so that we can act compassionately, we will become the ones we have been waiting for. There is no one else. The time is now.

Blessings, and namaste.