Though I have no lover
I too rejoice
The change of clothes
All too often I will pick up a gentleman's magazine and spot a $4000 suit that would look fantastic on me. Billboards, commercials, and magazines throughout the Western world teach us that if you want to look good, you need to have these few thousand dollars you can pour into your wardrobe. As a meditation practitioner I have come to realize that this is simply not the case.
I have had the good fortune to spend time with some of the greatest Tibetan teachers of our generation. While they wear very simple robes, they always appear radiant. This radiance that shines forth is known in the Tibetan tradition as ziji, which can be translated as "brilliant confidence" or "radiating splendor."
The uplifted and dignified appearance of these teachers comes from confidence in their own innate goodness. Through connecting with their own heart, they are able to share this goodness with others, which is magnetizing. In Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, the meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote,
You may not have money to buy expensive clothes but ... you can still express dignity and goodness. You may be wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but you can be a dignified person wearing a T-shirt and cut-off jeans. The problem arises when you don't have respect for yourself and therefore for your clothes.
As Trungpa Rinpoche is saying, we don't have to blow $4000 on a suit or gown to look good; we do so by expressing dignity and goodness. Similarly, if we are always angry and out of touch with reality, it doesn't matter how fine our clothes are, we will look like a jerk.
The first step in expressing our dignity is going deep with meditation practice. The Tibetan word for meditation is gom, which can also be translated as "becoming familiar." Through your practice you truly see your mind for what it is and become familiar with the vast landscape of emotions, fantasies, and discursiveness that runs through your head all day. By staying present with the breath, we are anchoring ourselves in the reality of our situation as it is.
A funny thing happens when you develop a daily meditation practice. At first it feels like you are trapped under a waterfall of your own thoughts. You previously had never really sat down and paid attention to the present experience of being Right Now, but now that you have, it is almost scary to see how fast your mind can move!
Over time, though, you develop a sense of humor about this torrential downpour of mind activity. You begin to fall in love with the practice, which is the same thing as saying you are falling in love with yourself. As Trungpa Rinpoche mentioned, you learn to have respect for yourself. Through meditation practice we touch our heart, the source of our innate goodness. As we continue to explore and unearth that we become dignified, even if we are wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
At the same time, we should respect our clothes. I'm a firm believer that a nice suit never hurt anybody. Many young Buddhist practitioners I know abhor the suit. It's too tight around the neck. It's hot. It costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I, for one, relish it.
While dignity is something that we can access through our practice, our clothes can serve as meditative aides. When I go on retreat, I always bring nice clothes. Even though no one will ever see me, I feel a sense of happiness from putting them on in the morning. When I see myself in the mirror, I am perked up by the cleanliness and vibrancy of the colors. I look uplifted on a superficial level, and that inspires me to connect with my innate dignity.
While there may not presently be many "Mindful Shopping" retreats, it does not mean that we can keep our mindfulness on the cushion as a solely spiritual experience and leave our spending habits in the secular realm. We call meditation practice just that because we are training in the ability to apply the care and precision developed on the cushion to the vast majority of the day we spend off the cushion.
So what would Mindful Shopping look like? It would begin at home, where you can survey your closet like a tiger does its landscape; finding out what it is you truly need to buy so you don't heedlessly purchase the first flashy thing you see. As you leave your home you can bring a sense of discernment to your shopping experience, picking beautiful items that are affordable. You slow down and appreciate the experience, considering the material and the craft of each garment with precision. When we finally make a purchase, we have brought mindfulness into the activity. When we take this level of care, we end up feeling good about the items we buy.
The Buddhist belief system states that we are all basically good, that we possess buddha nature. The more we meditate and tap into our heart and unearth that innate way of being, the more radiant we become. We are innately dignified -- and a good outfit can only aide us in expressing our dignity.