Serious Tuesday with Robert Bridges
We are always extremely keen on starting new and exciting projects (finishing them is a different matter…). This time it’s an idea to discuss all kinds of topics with interesting and wise people – artists, photographers, crafters, writers and even scientists (if we can find one…). These dialogues will be published once a month and we are going to disguise them under the title of Serious Tuesdays. You are welcome to participate: please suggest people we should talk to and also let us know if there’s anything in particular we should ask them.
You might remember Robert Bridges, his brilliant artwork was exhibited on Decor-Art (you can still view it by clicking just here). He is the only contemplative photographer I know and I absolutely love his attitude towards certain things in life. This time we talk to Robert about mass consumption and happiness and all this, believe it or not, viewed through the prism of Buddhism.
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DA – Robert, lets start with something that scares me more and more these days. Mass production and, of course, consumption scares me! Yes, it really does.
If I see lots of cheap, tacky products on the shelves immediately I have at least two questions: who buys them? (well, you could argue that tastes differ and so do our needs, but I am talking about fluffy dice for e.g.) and where does this all go, once someone has decided that it’s really not worth keeping!?
This brings me to one more serious question – our needs and also what we need in order to feel happy. Psychologists have long ago established that there’s a certain hierarchy (according to Maslow: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization) and I agree on that, as I wouldn’t get far on an empty stomach, but I live according to a rule (a saying that I’ve heard from a friend, actually) that has summed up the higher of the needs really well. For a person to feel happy you need only 3 things: to love some, to feel loved by someone and to feel that you are needed. (If we get back to the mass production/consumption subject – one mug is enough for water that will quench your thirst, right?)
RB – Happiness and mass consumption don’t go well together. Unless of course one is a member of the ever so trendy “job creator” class of 2012.
In terms of psychology and the concept of happiness I think Maslow had some very important ideas to remind us of such as that we all share certain universal needs and that very few of us can really achieve all or even a good part of our potential if we are concerned where our next meal comes from. And his breakdown of human behaviors into D and B needs was surely a good step towards moving away from the deeply pessimistic view of human nature espoused by Freud.
Buddhism, which is a science of mind rather than a deity based system, essentially offers very practical tools to transform life. As a psychology, Buddhism I think has uncovered unparalleled insights into the mind and the heart and of course we are starting to get western scientific validation for many of these insights through brain studies and developing technologies to map the mind.
This is all sort of inter-related with mass consumption because mass consumption is basically selling the idea that happiness can be acquired. Bought. Buy a new home, new car, new kitchen appliance. Take a trip – spend some money accumulate things. It’s all very circular and for good or bad, being able to acquire stuff for the heck of it is becoming less affordable for most of us. Buddhism says simply: “all beings wish to be happy.” What this might mean on a practical level is more complex than what the surface shows.
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An example: you are standing in line at the grocery store and the person in front of you is not having a good day. They are upset and taking it out on others. A customary reaction might be to think “what a jerk”, but then you remember we all want to be happy and you have to step back a bit and maybe consider that they are acting that way for reasons you cannot know and the simple mental act of “stepping back” can soften us and maybe we are not so quick to judge another next time.
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A favorite practice is to go about my daily life such that, when I do cross paths with someone who is having difficulty, is to remember that “there go I”. Growing up I and many still do say “there but for the grace of God go I” in similar situations. So It was a revelation to me to experience that saying: “there but for the grace of god go I” serves to create or maintain distance from others – from their suffering. The ego latches on to the idea of being special and the story starts that “thanks to God we have been saved or spared that pain”. By removing “but for the grace of god” from the clause, doesn’t alter the literal meaning. It does though help us awaken to our essential unity as human beings.
Yes, for sure I believe and my experiences confirm the need we all have to love, to be loved and to contribute. I am not sure how happiness fits into the equation though. Happiness (which we all want) is a mind state. An idea. An idea combined with an emotional tone. In Buddhism, all that we think, feel, sense, know, experience are mind states. Mental-formations or aggregates are the official terms. I’d really recommend some books to explore these ideas further – they are counter-intuitive to western ways.
DA – Thank you, Robert, for sharing your ideas on happiness and a little, and at the same time very useful, exercise that can teach us to step back and not get involved into producing more bad energy. I do agree that we all want to be happy, yet also hope that sooner or later we all realise that happiness can’t be bought.
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If you’d like Robert to recommend you some books, to explore these ideas further, please e-mail us on: email@example.com