Don’t Be A Hungry Ghost

The choice between tourist and traveler

“What if we only bought handmade things?” That was a question that my friend asked me back in 2002 and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

The colonial mindset quickly reduces everything to a set of commodities. Commodification replaces the handmade with the machine made — soul for cheapness.

When I experience Nature, sometimes in my backyard, sometimes in a park, sometimes in the middle of the city, I am experiencing the holy — something just beyond comprehension.

As humans we tend to worship that which is incomprehensible, that which provides us with life. There is nothing more sacred than the breath we take, the water we drink, the food we eat. Our home, our clothes, the fire which keeps us warm — these become objects of veneration and adoration.

That is our human nature. Commodification reduces these handmade holy things to mere objects that we can purchase. It reduces the process of making these things with to cogs in a machine.

The colonial mindset tells us that we can take and keep and own and possess that which we desire. This way of being is at odds with the sacred. The word sacred means something that we set aside, something that we think of as holy. Holy means healing, and the root of the word heal is to make whole.

The pursuit of health is to make our spirit whole. To consecrate life as sacred is to understand that all things are within nature’s circle and all things have a beginning and an ending. Nature is holy.

Commodification discards the holy circle of sacred nature and views the world as a set of shiny objects to possess before death, a fast drive toward comfort before eternal darkness. It’s a terribly sad way to view life. And it is completely ignorant of the sacred reality of nature.

Every little thing has been on a journey for millennia back to its own soul. The terrible beauty of a rock found on the seashore should cause us to catch our breath, as it has spent millions of years to arrive in our hands. Our hands have spent millions of years learning how to find that rock. And now the two have met, a once in a lifetime experience.

Commodification tells us: It is just a rock. As a scientist we can analyze it, and write papers about the rock and add to the trove of information about rocks. As a capitalist we can pretend to own the rock for a period of time and then sell it for a profit. As an Instagram influencer we can take pictures of the rock and take its essence to gain followers. We can do many things with the rock instead of simply being with it, experiencing its sacredness.

All of these things we do with the rock are fun — they thrill us. But to actually experience the rockness of the rock, we have to be still, we have to look inward as well as outward. It means that we have to connect instead of disconnecting. As a people thoroughly entrenched within a commodified world that exhausts our very souls every day, all we really yearn for is a period of disconnection from that relentless onslaught that reduces our lives to data points for Facebook to mine.

And so we attempt to disconnect and we run away from our lives to places that we consider beautiful, and we think of them as mere backdrops for our own personal adventures instead of what they truly are — sacred.

The colonial mindset takes all it wants and throws the planet into chaos. The Indigenous soul strives to stay in balance with nature. One culture crashes and burns every few hundred years, the other lives in harmony with the land. The colonial mind glorifies commodification because it allows them to experience control even in the midst of mass destruction.

So the real question has never been “How can I make my life better?” it has always been “How am I taking care of the sacred?”

I grew up in a religious family and have tasted all the religions and spiritualities and so this language is comfortable for me, but I know that there are many who are agnostic, atheist, or secular who taste the hint of new age foolishness within words such as sacred or holy or reverence. And this is good — blind acceptance is why we have major religions instead of personal relationships with the sacred. Religion itself is the commodification of spirituality, easily bought and sold at a marketplace.

Commodification makes our world simple and straightforward and there is much that I enjoy about it on a daily basis but I can’t help but wonder if each bite I chew, each purchase I make, each swipe on my phone is slowly eroding my soul, until there is nothing left inside me but a hungry ghost that never stops consuming, trying to fill up a vacuum of emptiness.

And this is why it is important to be a traveler, not a tourist.

The tourist goes out into the world to take, to colonize that which he thinks is his to posses. He sees all around him as a backdrop to his own adventure — the Hero’s Journey. Life has been created by a god to provide him with happiness. He is the apex creature, and his comfort is the ultimate goal. Every activity, every picture, every meal is simply a commodity to consume and then account for in his journal — He did these things and thus has more worth because of it. And he may even feel a bit of relief from his thoroughly commodified life for a brief moment here and there, but he will never feel fulfilled because his hunger is endless.

The traveler knows that she is moving through her life like everyone else and that she is no more or less important than everything around her. Life is not a backdrop for her story, it is a collaboration with the world. She knows that everyone has their own story, and that every story is interwoven like a tapestry. She is friend to all, and healing is the ultimate goal. Every activity, every picture, every meal is sacred, something to be eternally grateful for. Sometimes vacation is more work than work itself, but the point is always to connect truly with Nature, with others, and with herself. In the end she is giving back as much if not more than she has received.

It is our attitude that defines our every moment. With gratitude toward nature we are filled with abundance and are satisfied with what life has to offer. With greed for a commodity we are filled with dissatisfaction and are always scrambling for the next fix.

So if we must travel, if we must journey to find ourselves, then we should respect nature as the sacred place that it is in order to help heal the whole system — our selves, our surroundings, and our fellow creatures- and not view the world around us as a commodity that we can consume.

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Words are Code - "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." - Rumi

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