On the Road in the Kingdom of Materialism

Squirrel Hoarding Walnuts

Babbie and I are on a road trip through the Northwest. So far, we have driven more than 2,500 miles. We have experienced the baking heat of the high plains of the far west; rafted down the North Fork of the Flathead River, along the edge of spectacular Glacier Park and traveled the Cowboy Highway on to Calgary, Alberta. From there, we went to the Okanagan Valley, then to Vancouver and continued by ferry to Victoria, BC. We have been blessed by the hospitality of friends and relatives.

In addition to the beauty we have seen all around us, it is hard not to be impressed by the visible success of the worship of materialism. We live in Panama, and going to the grocery stores up here in the first world is like a trip to Oz. The big markets bulge with food and an infinite variety of food “products”.

It is estimated (I asked around) that between the stores throwing food away and the customers not eating it all, nearly 50% of all this food goes to waste. The point, in every store, seems to be to have too much, to have shelves overloaded with inventory. As we experience all this abundance, I can’t help but think that perhaps we are near the climax of the promise of materialism.

Is there a difference between needing something and wanting something? The line seems to have blurred. We played a game with this: What do I need and what do I want? And how much do I need or want?

Immediately we began to enter a confused state. Try it. On our trip we are tempted by an abundance of beautiful artifacts as well as plain kitsch. When we are aware that our thirst for the new has arisen, we ask, “Do I really need this?” This process has saved us quite a bit of coin, and it has also awakened an awareness of our love of new things and the thread of desire ever running just beneath the surface of our lives. Does this desire arise from a fundamental, inner discontent or yearning? Is it a misdirected or subverted desire for something deeper and more profound, something more spiritual and fulfilling? It seems to be a very good idea to stay aware of the true nature of our material desires. It puts us in touch with the truth of things and keeps us from accumulating too much attachment.


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