Book Review: The Dharma of Fashion

This book discusses our attitudes to the clothes we wear and buy from a Buddhist perspective, including many interviews with Josh Korda of Dharma Punx, of whom I’m a fan. As a postgraduate student of Buddhism, I was expecting a lot more from this book, it seemed to be aimed at those who identify as shopping addicts rather than general consumers.

It discusses the dopamine hit we get from the search for new item (which decreases when we actually buy the item, which perpetuates the cycle of shopping), and about Buddhist views on attachment and craving. The author puts forward a theory that what drives our attitudes to shopping and fashion is an aversion to facing up to the fact that we will grow old, experience illness and eventually die.

The section on how clothing makes us feel, and how we use it to feel part of a tribe, but also how we compare ourselves with others was interesting, how we dress to become our desires. We need to bring more awareness to our desires and motivations, being curious about our “vedana”, our feeling-tone (are things experienced as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). The way to overcome this, it is suggested, is to reflect on the fragility of human life, which will help to suppress our cravings for consumerism in the realm of fashion. Whilst the practice of contemplating the “foulness of the body” is known in Buddhism, this is usually a practice aimed at monks, rather than lay people, and certainly not one with which to start one’s Buddhist journey. The suggested practice of starting a “desire diary” seemed a better place to start for those in the grips of shopping addiction.

There were interesting points made in this book, but could have been better developed (the book is only 96 pages). The pages were littered with quirky drawings, many of which did not resonate with me and did not appear to connect with the text.
I was expecting much more on our attitudes to consumerism in general, and more on fast fashion and the ethics of this industry, from a Buddhist perspective.

I received a free advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

Round-up of 2019 (1): my best books

I love the end of the year, such a great time to reflect on how things have gone, and time to look forward and plan. It’s been quite a challenging year for me in lots of ways, I had major surgery halfway through the year, which had quite a long recovery period – a great opportunity to slow down and take stock (whether you like it or not!). One bonus of spending a lot of the summer on the sofa was I got to read some awesome books! These are not necessarily books that came out in 2019 (although some are), just ones that I discovered and enjoyed this year. Reading is a great ‘slow’ activity, I’d much rather spend a few weeks immersed in a novel than watch a film and have it all over in a couple of hours!

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I discovered the awesome American Gothic of Shirley Jackson this year, so atmospheric. The characters really stay with you after the novel is finished (always the sign of a good book). Written in 1962, the story features two sisters (one of whom has not left the house in 6 years) who live in a large, isolated house, and their wheelchair-bound Uncle who lives with them. The rest of their family died tragically, and the novel unravels what happened to them, through the intense relationship between the two sisters. The writing is brilliant, and I’m definitely going to check out more of Jackson’s work.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zuzak

I loved The Book Thief, but this is totally unlike it, but still brilliant. At almost 550 pages, it’s a bit of a doorstopper, and was quite slow to get going, but once it did, I genuinely couldn’t put it down. The story is about six brothers (the Dunbar boys), and their relationship with their father, but also with the land they live on. A beautiful, gentle, and slow book at times, but this wasn’t a negative for me. The ‘bridge’ is both a physical bridge and also a metaphorical one between the boys and each other, and the other characters. Beautiful.

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

I’ve already reviewed this book here, the bible of the slow movement. If you’re interested in the idea of slow living and how it can apply to many different areas, such as travel, cities, relationships, work, family, etc, then this is a must-read.

My Struggle (Book 2): A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Knausgaard is a bit like Marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it. I definitely fall into the first category. His 6 book epic fictionalised autobiography features the minutiae of his life, meandering from detail to detail. This volume focuses on his relationship with his wife and their children, and her postnatal depression. The writing is exquisite (if you like this sort of thing), and I can’t wait to read volume 3 in 2020.

Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary

I heard about Brooke through her awesome Slow Your Home podcast, so was keen to read one of her books. If you’re just starting out with slow and simple living, this is a great place to do it. She talks about daily rituals to help you to slow down and live a more intentional life, and also the great concept of ’tilting’ towards things in life that we need to give our attention to, such as family or work, for a while, and then tilting away from them when the busyness dies down. Tilting is a great idea, and helps you to maintain a sense of balance, and prevents overwhelm.

I’m looking forward to more awesome reads in 2020! What was the best book you read in 2019?

Being in the Cycles 1 – Autumn

One of the easiest (and free!) ways to bring a little more simplicity into your life is to get back to nature – checking in with the season of the year, the energy it brings, and then acknowledging that in everyday life. Here in the UK right now, we’re deep into autumn, and have had so much rain over the past month. Whilst we haven’t been able to get out for as many nature walks as we’d have liked, we have still embraced the elements and our waterproofs and enjoyed the abundance of funghi we have seen.

Even though we live in the city, we try to get out in nature as much as possible. Here in Brighton (on the southern English coast), we are lucky to have the sea a mere 15 minutes’ walk away, but also the South Downs National Park and many beautiful forests a short drive from our home. There is no better way to connect with the cycles of the year than to visit a forest regularly – the vibrant colour change of the leaves in autumn, the bare branches exposing different views in winter, the buds and new life in spring, and the fullness of summer. Although I love to walk by the sea, there really is something soothing about being in the woods, whatever the season or the weather.

Reflected in the leaves falling from the trees, autumn is associated with a letting go, thinking of those things in life that no longer serve us. That might mean decluttering before we build our cosy winter nest, or it might be simplifying our commitments, or just putting summer clothes away for the next six months. Autumn is also a time for harvest, literally harvesting autumn squash or blackberries, or perhaps a more metaphorical harvest – once we have let go of what no longer serves us, we can see things as they really are, see what is essential and what is superfluous. Equipped with this knowledge, we can use it to reap the benefits of a slower simpler life.

This autumn I’m:

Reading: I’ve just finished the amazing Know My Name by Chanel Miller, and am currently curling up by the fire with The Choice by Edith Eger – both uplifting books by strong women

Watching: We recently took the kids to an Into Film Preview screening of the 2040 film. So much hope about climate change, a fantastic film! We’ve also enjoyed watching the starling murmurations around Brighton pier

Listening: I made a playlist of my favourite songs for a long car journey, and it’s become my new favourite

Eating: I’ve been making lots of Ayurvedic kitchari lately, a kind of lightly spiced dahl and rice combination, comfort food heaven and great for this Vata time of year

Making: Together with my 14yr old daughter, I’m knitting socks as a project for the autumn/winter months. We’re using a self-striping yarn, loving watching the magic happen with every row.

Looking forward: to catching up with an old friend this week, and also to the opening of The Feminist Bookshop in Brighton!

Book review: In Praise of Wasting Time

Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.

Thoreau

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and in particular the challenge of doing nothing. So when I came across this little book, I had to read it. At only 128 pages, this is a must-read for anyone curious about the benefits of dropping everything and just being.

Professor Lightman outlines our fixation with time, with how long everything takes, with filling every minute of our waking time with activities and projects. He argues that our lives have become “frenzied”, that we get angry if we have to wait to see our GP. We have lost the ability to take the meandering way home, to daydream,

The problem, Professor Lightman argues, is that we are constantly plugged into “The Grid” – the internet, digital communication and social media (although he does also argue that the general pace of life outside of this has taken on a frenzied pace). Consumerism and an obsession with productivity have lead to a “heightened awareness of the commercial and goal-oriented uses of time” at the expense of genuinely free time for reflection and doing less. Even the speed at which we walk has increased in recent years.

He extols the benefits of unstructured time in terms of our creativity and mental “replenishment”. This non-stop stimulation from technology is having a detrimental effect on our mental health, leaving us with an inability to be alone with ourselves.

Lightman also talks about how childrens’ lives are overscheduled and the amount of pressure parents feel to have their children reach certain milestones by particular points in their lives, to keep up with peers. Play, both for children and adults, has many well-documented benefits. The joy of doing something simply for fun or amusement allows the mind to focus on means rather than ends.

The author outlines the well-known benefits of meditation on wellbeing, although he says that this is not strictly necessary, what is needed is simply downtime from The Grid. Downtime enables us to rest and develop our creativity.

Whilst this was an interesting read, I did not come away feeling like I had learned anything new. I think many of us are well aware that our lives and those of our children are increasingly overscheduled, and the disadvantages of technology for our mental wellbeing. What was most interesting to me was in the final chapter, Lightman talks about the difference between chronos – sequential clock time – and kairos – time created by human events, such as a meal or a relationship, a memory.

Surprisingly, despite mentioning meditation, Lightman does not really mention mindfulness, which I think is the key to what he is getting at – when we are aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, then we can truly slow down time (as it were) and begin to create some space in our lives to appreciate the little things, to create gratitude, appreciation and the sense of kairos he mentions.

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