Tuesday, 12.30 P.M. Sitting comfortably on a chair at the hairdresser, waiting for my hair dye to do its job. Forty-five minutes of patience in which, inevitably, I open my Instagram application. I mechanically unroll the feed, see photo after photo without truly looking at them: the images look so much with one another (accompanied by insipid paragraphs, formulaic, and lacking any substance) that I instantly click on “unfollow” for several accounts. After 30 to 40 posts, my eyes fall in a quote, reposted and recirculated, which’s owner got lost in the thick bushes of non-crediting social media. This time, the quote was: „Happiness is the new rich. Inner peace is the new success. Health is the new wealth. Kindness is the new cool”. I read it and, instantly, I feel annoyed, irritated, rolling my eyes up and thinking “oh, for fuck’s sake…”, but I don’t have too much time to linger in this state. Cristina, the one taking care of my hair, taps on my shoulder, signaling that it’s time to have a hair wash.
Several hours later, I remembered Beyoncé’s interview in Elle US, of a November visit in a Nature Decouvertes, of the embarrassing launch of a $75 scented candle, with the olfactory signature of Gwyneth Paltrow, of the countless shelves with wellness books, wonder-diets, mindfulness in 5 steps and 5 minutes, of many online yoga classes on “fast-forward for busy people”, of matching sets of yoga mats/multicolored leggings/body-shaping tank tops/BPA-free bottles for multivitamin water/hairbands/towels that sum up a good amount of money, healing crystals that function only if receiving a certain blessing and only when bought of a certain store, of the eco-friendly product explosion and meditation kits and perfume diffusers that can put you in direct contact with serenity and interior divinity… All of these are in handy, as it’s enough to put them in our cart and pay for them.
At the beginning of this year and decade, the search for joy and inner peace seems to become trendier than an Off-White pair of sneakers, more precious than a haute-couture dress. It’s a state that appears positive on paper but clamps my stomach.
Because, contrary to the reconciliation state people once looked for inside a church, during a solitary walk, during the hours spent in the company of a good book or in the simple and clean effort of a few asanas made on a discolored yoga mat, the hunt that is proposed today comes accompanied by a different kind of cost. And I don’t make reference to the financial one alone… The cost is a life lived in the absence of interior guiding marks, which we easily compensate through acquisitions, literally.
Because isn’t it so, how can you blame yourself when you spend £30 on a yoga mat made out of recycled plastic if it is possible for it to bring your enthusiasm and happiness that you no longer enjoy in your relationship? How can you not pay £100 on supplements that inject joy directly into your veins? How can you not reach your pocket for £150 to buy a Tibetan bowl purified by the Himalayan’s air, which sounds make stress and anxiety go away in an instant, which balances your chakras and brings you a state of relaxation? How can you not pay 3000 pounds for a one-week retreat in Bhutan, if you know that’s the only place where the secrets of eternal youth will be revealed to you, plus physical, mental, and spiritual rebirth?
We are, in mass, extremely vulnerable and influenceable in front of promises for a more balanced life. Unfortunately, this vulnerability is Achilles heel that is used as support by many marketing and advertising campaigns. Our need for “better, but with minimum effort, implication, discipline, perseverance”, laziness, gullibility, appetite for magical pills and 3-step maximum formulas are out neuralgic points. In the process to monetize the impalpable, profoundly human values – joy, authenticity, balance, calm – they were compressed by substance and transformed into new religions, into competitions, into commercial.
My findings noted above came out after a conversation with a friend, who told me that we are re-living the 70s, at a different scale and by following different guidance marks. She also told me about the quotidian ritual of her parents, young in that particular decade.
They had, at that moment, 3 children and used to live in a Moldavian village, having the habit to drink, every morning, cold water coming from a well, in which they mixed a teaspoon of raw honey. Her father, a teacher at the local school, had several beehives at the back of the house. He had a pottery wheel as well, at which he used to work now and then. Her mother, a nurse at the dispensary, prepared homemade bread, sewed dresses for her and her sisters, knitted scarves, braided their hair and, with discretion, taking care of 2-3 persons who lived in a more isolated manner in that village. The life of her family enjoyed more rhythms at lunch, when various relatives came by, during homework every evening, by milking a cow early in the morning, looking for mushrooms or blueberries, by making a visit to the neighboring village… Shortly put, they used to live in a simple manner, were healthy, and they took care of themselves and of others as well.
Today, this family would be tempted to monetize this “way of life”. They would organize an elaborate “retreat” in the middle of nature, maybe by renting an elegant renovated mansion in the area. They would frequently post on social media well-made photos of artisanal ceramics, vernacular, made with the “heart” of a father, would send samples of their magic potions to influencers, would coordinate their attires from a chromatic point of view during holidays and would have an Instagram post for every walk in the nearby forest, which would be immortalized and accompanied by an inspirational hashtag. And, on the same account, any altruistic and unselfish endeavor would be elaborately documented, described, and used for advertising and every photo would appear accompanied by one of the used brands: the rubber boots used for cleaning the stables, the willow basket used for a spontaneous rustic picnic, the cement bag used for leveling a side wall, the glass jar that used to have yogurt and now has a fly stuck in it, even the slices of wholegrain bread or raspberry jam, bought from the local mini-market. Because you never know where the next sponsor will pop out from…
What’s the difference between the 70s and the neo-seventies? The innocence, authenticity, spontaneity and, especially, authentic simplicity and lack of interest regarding material profit.
In what concerns me, in spite of the sarcastic tone used for the first part of the article, I can understand, up to a point, the desire to monetize and reach exterior validation. Any alternative and legal source of income are welcome and, if it proves to be profitable, is worth being followed. On the other side, what I feel and know to be important for me – I don’t speak on behalf of others – is to weigh the marketing show with my real needs, to exercise my perception, to observe the places in which symbolism is masked by the manipulation of naivety and beliefs. I don’t want to mimic the need of finding something that brings alleviation, healing, health, and faith – I question though the way in which we have the impression to reach them, the “crotches” we buy while ignoring the path (or the process, however you want to call it) to reach that something.
I certainly know that interior peace can’t be found for sale on the bio tea aisle of some health store, like wearing of some grey Labradorite bracelet that costs £50 won’t help me better understand how the Law of Attraction works (in spite of a conversation had with a taxi driver!), like an overdose of green juices won’t compensate for all those years of sedentarism, like some prestigiously-branded leggings plus a viral hashtag won’t replace the lack of mental space and won’t heal emotional trauma.
I know, with as much clarity as before, that kindness and common sense exist without any slogan spoken by a celebrity, as buying a kit of meditation is just as useless as installing a stationary bike inside an apartment when you don’t constantly exercise, as the joy at the end of a spiritual of physical practice doesn’t depend (and should not be motivated) by the number of likes I could obtain by posting a sweaty picture on stories, and that a very “instagramable” trip to an ashram is not a sine qua non to smile on the inside.
Where are you at?