Growing up in a middle-class California household, a child of the 80's and 90's, I had most of my needs taken care of and more. When the latest video gaming system would come to market I would beg my parents for it and would most likely get it.
Moving into adulthood I began to explore my relationship to stuff. I prided myself on a simple and clean room, and I found contentment in only having the bare necessities. Because of this, the simplicity of Buddhist monasticism appealed to me.
Though once a monk, what I didn't expect was that even though I enjoyed the physical freedom of a minimalist lifestyle, I still suffered from a gnawing sense of isolation and a strong conditioning towards transactional relationships.
Transactions seem to be just the way things get done in the modern world, as less and less attention is being paid to the humans (and other beings) behind our food, goods, and services, and more and more of our personal and romantic relationships are being reduced to swipes and likes.
Some Buddhist teachers call materialism a disease, and similar to a disease, when the conditions for it to spread proliferate, we have fewer and fewer options for containment. Thankfully, materialism is an ideological disease.
This means that even though it persists in the systems around us, we can change our relationship to it through a shift in our perspective. Our first step in shifting this perspective is bringing our personal scars of transactional materialism out into the light.
A regular meditation practice of developing awareness is one of the most powerful tools for engaging this. Here we learn to observe and bear witness to our internal reactions, finding a growing inner contentment in the recognition that our thoughts and emotions are not as solid as they appear.
This changes how we relate to the world, and where we seek happiness, as when we cease to get hooked by every emotion and thought, we have the inner insight to see through the shallow mechanics of transactional environments and relationships.
We also start to develop the real tools to turn the mind towards a deep unconditional love and compassion for others. This directly connects into our next step, which is to nurture this awareness and compassion by making sure we do not fall into the trap of transactional meditation.
In traditional forms of meditation it's purpose is not simply to soothe and aide in personal relaxation, but is rather to recognize our inner potential and responsibility to others rooted in altruism.
Here altruism is based on an understanding and confidence in our own basic goodness and that of all beings. As we grow this confidence we begin to see through the illusion of self-obsession, and the thick walls we place between ourselves and others. We move beyond the conditioning of transactional meditation, and wake up to a deep sense of interconnection.
At this point our meditation practice can become fully meaningful, as we do not just cultivate awareness and compassion for ourselves alone, but on behalf of all others.