I just wanted to share this clip packed with wisdom with you 🙂
I recently watched Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 TED talk called ‘Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence‘ – have a look:
In it, he talks about how seeking transcendence is a part of being human:
“Most people long to overcome pettiness, and become part of something larger. And this explains the extraordinary resonance of this simple metaphor, conjured up nearly 400 years ago: no man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
And it reminded me of these words I wrote on the “My Philosophy” page of this blog in 2010:
“There are many who are already transcending the old divisions of the past and shackles of tradition, forging new identities based not on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or political factions, but, instead, rooted in a higher awareness and understanding of themselves as unique and powerful individuals that are part of a greater interconnected whole.”
The words on that page remain true for me. I wrote about the necessity of moving “past tribal dependency towards individualised awareness”. But this does not mean that I think one has to renounce all “tribal” loyalties. And if what Haidt contends in the video above is correct, for most people this is actually impossible to do. Even individualists “circle” around a sacred value, a sacred cause… liberty.
In contrast to the pure individualism I was into in my mid 20s, today, I nourish my roots to place and my kin/group in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. I am concerned about the conservation of our traditional lands and healthy development. But I also know that the safety and well-being of my kin is deeply and inextricably connected with the well-being of us as individuals, the well-being and survival of all of humanity, and the health of the ecosystems that sustain us. This – these linked concerns – are the highest priority. And they are linked to my love and concern for the country in which I was raised and am grateful to live, Australia.
So here is my broad contention: we face multiple global threats as a species. Given this, it is the people pursuing a form of self-transcendence that allows them to perceive beyond loyalties to tribes (subcultures, cultures, nations, religions, ideologies, “people like them”) who will lead the way to safety. This is because their self-transcendence will enable them to fully comprehend that our survival depends upon a global consciousness, the ability to see how our localised realities and concerns do connect to one shared human destiny.
They will lead the way – and are leading the way – by being able to speak to and mobilise their tribes, their groups, to safeguard humanity’s common destiny, and in turn the destiny of their group. They will lead (the individuals in) their groups to progress towards more holistic, healthier ways of living and working together. And they will mobilise (the individuals in) their groups to connect with, cooperate with, and care for others who are doing the same. I have discussed such leaders in the past. In posts to come, I will discuss more.
“In other words, most of the work that needs to be done is work to make the lower (and foundational) waves more healthy in their own terms. The major reforms do not involve how to get a handful of boomers into second tier, but how to feed the starving millions at the most basic waves; how to house the homeless millions at the simplest of levels; how to bring health care to the millions who do not possess it. An integral vision is one of the least pressing issues on the face of the planet.”
“I believe that the real revolutions facing today’s world involve, not glorious collective move into transpersonal domains, but the simple, fundamental changes that can be brought to the magic, mythic and rational waves of existence.”
“All of those waves have important tasks and functions; all of them are taken up and included in subsequent waves; none of them can be bypassed; and none of them can be demeaned without grave consequences to self and society. The health of the entire spiral is the prime directive, not preferential treatment for any one level.”
– From ‘A Theory of Everything’ by Ken Wilber
Consciousness is not cutting yourself off from the suffering of others.
Consciousness is choosing not to participate in, support, contribute to the suffering of other bodies, and beings.
Consciousness is global concern, compassion, justice, mercy, empathic understanding.
Consciousness is not being a dick 😉
“Wabi sabi is a Japanese philosophy that teaches that beauty and wisdom are not “out there” to be discovered, but are instead here in this moment. Many of its concepts correlate with ideas of Zen Buddhism, because the first Japanese involved with wabi sabi were tea masters, priests, and monks who practiced Zen.”
Readers of this blog will know I have a core interest in creative simplicity, universal thinking and ‘Middle Way’ philosophy. Truth be told this perception makes its way into all of my posts, sometimes unconsciously, whether they be on art, culture, psychology, or personal topics. I have attempted to articulate aspects of this perception consciously on the ‘Philosophy’ page, and in these previous posts:
Recently, I discovered another piece of what is shaping up to be an awesome lifelong puzzle: Wabi Sabi.
Wabi Sabi is “a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.” It is the art of finding beauty in that imperfection, wisdom in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It is simple, slow, and uncluttered. Modest and humble.
Characteristics of the wabi sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.
The person who introduced this aesthetic system to me last week said that the Way of wabi sabi was to “go with the flow”, to adapt to rather than fight inevitable change in life. And to stabilise oneself by “living in the now”.
Being wabi sabi is being true to ourselves, and happy with who we are.
He was ‘preaching’ to the choir. Yay wabi sabi! I see correlations to my Pacific cultural background. And my body conveniently fits this aesthetic 😉
“Wabi-sabi as way of seeing the world, states that nothing is permanent but change (nothing new in Eastern philosophy) but Wabi-sabi’s variation is that things are evolving from or devolving towards nothingness. And beauty lies at the borders of nothingness. Imperfection is hailed as a virtue rather than a defect. It is admired.”
Let’s commence this post with some relevant thoughts from the late great comedian, George Carlin:
Most of us love STUFF.
It’s amazing that there is an entire industry dedicated to storing our extra STUFF. And our appetite for stuff we don’t need is seemingly insatiable. I started thinking about the topic of this post after I read THIS PIECE by Richard Glover on The Age website this week, about our love affair with things, and this socially acceptable form of hoarding. We like to hold on to stuff. Stuff gives us a false sense of security, continuity, to blur the reality of impermanence and continuous cycles of change. We ascribe meaning to our stuff. We use stuff, even if we are not conscious of it, to give ourselves an identity and boost our self-esteem. We use stuff to gain the esteem of others. And we enjoy our stuff visually and sensually.
Because of this, it can be hard to relinquish stuff. Even when we know we have to, or when we have no need for certain stuff anymore, we sometimes find it hard to let it go. We can feel almost inadequate when we don’t have stuff. Our minds rationalise why we need to hang on to it: “I might need that later…” we might say. So we store our stuff away. This is fairly harmless if it’s just old furniture or mementos. But some kinds of stuff are just not worth hanging on to.
The STUFF we don’t love: de-cluttering the mind.
I love George Carlin. Truly. LOVE. I have loved him since I first discovered his comedy when I was 17. I found more wisdom and joy in Carlin’s work than during 13 years of mandatory public education. He gave me solid subversive laughs and simultaneously opened my mind, at a time when I desperately needed both of those things.
The VCE years were experienced as Dante’s Divine Comedy – in essence, HELL. I’m certainly not alone in that. During those years we moved into a rental property near white supremacists. Like, active white supremacists, who, despite never having introduced themselves formally or brought over home baked biscuits, let me know they were ‘in the neighbourhood’ thanks to welcoming stickers, love notes left at my bus stop and “Third Reich” themed messages carved into wet cement on a sidewalk.
Such nonsense would not phase me in the least today – I’ve been through enough STUFF in life, in general. Unfortunately, at the time we moved into this neighbourhood, I had secretly developed (again) quite serious anxiety – which I of course did not understand as such. The overwhelming feeling of being unsafe in my own house compounded the pre-existing anxiety, and, in conjunction with all the other challenges I was facing at the time (including physical symptoms of illness I was in deep denial about) the baggage on my mind was HEAVY. Making it difficult for me to give my best to my studies, my relationships, or anything else.
The important thing is, I got through it. I didn’t get through it well, though. Despite being told by teachers and counsellors I had an “intense” intellect that if I just focused on developing would serve me well, I didn’t believe them, and I certainly didn’t believe in myself. Consequently, I found inappropriate ways to escape, had uneven grades, and my relationships sucked. But I survived, and eventually was able to dump the psychological STUFF that this period of my life had cluttered my fragile mind with. That’s where Carlin went from amusing to mentor. Because one of the things that helped me do that mind de-cluttering was this: nurturing the natural ability I already had, that most of us have, to find humour in the most heinous and dark situations.
On the Philosophy page, I write that one of the important lessons I have learned in life so far from others and through personal experience is this:
Our realities and experiences are shaped by our perceptions. Much of the hardship and suffering we experience in life can be overcome simply by disciplined shifts in perspective.
This is essentially what finding the humour in a messed up situation is: Shifting your perspective. It’s not just a form of pain relief – it can be a spiritual practice, if you are able to find humour without suspending empathy or understanding. Carlin often failed on the empathy front, but when it came to looking at things from a different perspective, he was unbeatable. It takes a certain type of mind to be able to do that really well. In the past I was thus mostly attracted to men who’d lived through shit – real adversity of some sort – but could find light and humour in it too. Those who had a genuine understanding of the extremes of dark and light. Their humour had a depth of understanding, maturity and humanity to it. I’m still drawn to that, in general… a great perspective.
These days meditation is the primary daily practice that helps me regain a healthy perspective and unburdens my mind. But a solid laugh has power to burn off psychological debris. I recently met up with old family friends who have been living in PNG for the past 14 years. I listened as they told stories of multiple family tragedies, village hardship, and dangerous living in Port Moresby, interspersed with hilarious anecdotes about the seedier side of PNG’s capital, and it’s extremes – for example, a church that is a house of hypocritical worship by day, and drinking hole at night. Catching up with them hammered home two things for me:
1) I am friggin lucky to be living where I’m living now; and
2) Find the funny in everything. You’re going to go through hard, trying times. You’re going to grieve, feel pain. Don’t resist it. But as soon as you can, try and find what’s funny. It’ll make your way through life that much easier.
Living with less STUFF.
For spiritual and material reasons [explained in the post ‘Live Simply‘], I’m consciously striving to keep things light both inside and outside these days. I have gotten rid of a lot of material STUFF I just didn’t need or want, and am continuing to “streamline” my living space and routine. Accumulation is an impulse I don’t seem to have anymore – perhaps this is related to the meditation practice? I can’t be sure. Although I have tremendous respect for and truly admire the artistry and craft involved in making jewellery, I personally don’t wear or own “bling”. My daily uniform is a pair of Jasper Conran glasses, Issey Miyake perfume (clearly not completely non-materialistic), Aveeno moisturiser, blouse, dark jeans, and boots. I like consuming books and DVDs, but I mostly borrow them from public libraries. I don’t own or drive a car, and recently gave a whole heap of useless clothes away. I have no intention of changing any of this once I secure more regular and substantial income sources (other than the car/driving part). I want to continue living as simply as sociably acceptable, keeping the bulk of my resources for work things, fun things, family things, and charity. As Notorious B.I.G. said: “Mo money mo problems”. I like having less STUFF to think about, quite frankly. Frees my mind up to contemplate the bigger questions.
If you’re interested in lightening your load of STUFF in 2012, both inside and outside, here are some resources that can help you start the process…
For decluttering tips:
From Zen Habits.
From The Art of Manliness. Don’t ask me why I occasionally drop in on this site.
For selling or giving away your stuff:
The recycle superstore.
A re-use and upcycle website that allows you to give away items you no longer need – haven’t used this but know someone who has.
For instructions on how to start a veggie patch when you’re short on space:
Brilliant book from two lads raised in Italian households. They also run a successful business installing edible gardens. They know what they are talking about.
For EXTREMELY simple recipes:
4 Ingredients aims to SIMPLIFY all forms of cooking by creating quick, easy and delicious recipes made with 4 or fewer ingredients that can be easily found in your local supermarket. This would have come in handy when I was share-housing.
For minimalist inspiration:
A blog that celebrates minimalism in art, architecture, industrial & graphics design, fashion, and music. I like. Currently trying to find a good minimalist ecodesign site. There’s got to be one out there somewhere…
The Simplicity Collective is founded upon the idea that a ‘simpler life’ of reduced resource and energy consumption is a viable and desirable alternative to consumer culture. Philosophy + facts + consciousness raising intellectual fodder right here.
Not really about minimalism at all, but simply brilliant. Vasili’s Garden, the grass roots gardening show that explored some of the most epic food gardens in Australia, IMHO. Books + DVDs available. And recipes. Wholesome, unpretentious, GOOD.
Late last year, I had the good fortune of sitting down and chatting with John Foster, mental health nurse, counselling support worker, and karate teacher/practitioner. I had seen in a local magazine for people with disabilities a small advert for a “Wheelchair Karate” class John was running out of the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, of which I am a former inpatient. Still coming out of serious depression and under some pressure, I needed to come up with another idea for an article, and the concept of martial arts being adapted for wheelchair users genuinely fascinated me. Also, I’m a big fan of the movie ‘The Karate Kid’ 🙂 Prior to crippledom I thought martial arts in general was pretty kick-ass, but was never able to do it. So, I picked up the phone and made contact.
A few weeks later, I interviewed him. I was curious as to how John came to this particular type of karate, his background. John is third dan black belt and teaches as well – karate is a way of life for him, it is very much integrated into his lifestyle. We talked about the physical side of karate, of course – how he adapted certain moves and sequences for wheelchair users, how he teaches the class from a wheelchair, and how he plans to grow the program. John also explained to me how he had been attracted to the idea that Seidō was ‘karate for all’.
The ‘Magnanimous Heart’.
Seidō was founded by Master (Kaicho) Tadashi Nakamura in New York City, 1976. What sets this style of karate apart from others is that it incorporates a physical, traditional style and Zen meditation. John said that Kaicho says how the karate should come from ‘magnanimous heart’.
Magnanimous essentially means generous in forgiving; eschewing resentment or revenge; being unselfish. Nobility in mind and heart. In the context of karate, John said this means that it should be ‘karate for all.’ Not merely for those who are coordinated and physically powerful, but available to anybody who wants to try it.
It is with this magnanimous heart, coupled with a long history of association with spinal cord injury services and his role in the Spinal Community Integration Service [SCIS] at Royal Talbot, that John decided to try to adapt this style of karate for anyone who wants to participate in it. Thankfully, he persevered, and last year pioneered the first courses, which he planned to continue this year.
The ‘Sincere Way’.
Karate is of course very much about doing, but there is a well-developed philosophy behind this style of the martial art form.
Much of this is encapsulated right there in its name.
In Japanese, Seidō translates as SEI: “sincere” and DO: “way.”
The word SEI carries the connotation of “calm” or “silence”.
The word DO carries the connotation of “energy” or “activity”.
In Seidō one strives to reach his/her own individual balance of these two principles.
Inner calmness, outer activity.
Humility and the “beginners mind”
There is something else about Seido karate I think is pretty awesome, and it is of course connected to practicing magnanimous heart: the concept of humility in practice, something called Sho-shin, or “beginner’s mind” – essentially, if you think you’re an expert, you’re probably not open to learning anymore. John explained that before a person is promoted to a higher level of karate, they go back to a white belt, for 6-8 weeks, to get in touch with that beginners mind. They stand at the end of the line, and do the basics. It is a good grounding exercise, to go from a senior line back into a junior line, in order to appreciate yourself and the people around you. Whilst it takes a lot of individual commitment and effort to achieve your own development, the support of others around you makes it possible. Interdependence is important.
Practitioners of this martial art are invited to hold “beginner’s mind” at all times.
Relationships of all kinds of course, can help us to balance ourselves, our perspectives, and keep that ‘beginners mind’ – if the dynamics are healthy (unhealthy eg: you’ve stopped listening, or actively and continuously provoke the worst in each other – a hard lesson about setting boundaries and letting go I had to learn last year). In a way we are all black belts and white belts, in different circumstances. Balance is also the goal of many philosophical traditions, and something I continue to work on in my life: to find that balance, that ‘Middle Way’, beyond opposing desires and drives within, and a healthy balance of activities in life. The two affect each other – the way you make time (or don’t make time) for certain things will affect your state of mind, and internal tension will likely be reflected in the way you engage with the world. I have noticed this in myself – inner tension > outer angst, inner calm > outer balance. Cause and effect. This is why I’ve decided to continue to work on it in a way that is practical for me personally – to cultivate a philosophical, “spiritual” lifestyle, which basically means that in addition to living simply at home, and doing all the regular stuff I do in life, I make time to meditate (in lieu of a karate class). I get angsty if I don’t do it.
And, of course, I practice empathy. Seeing yourself in all others (yep, all – hard to do, hence the need to practice), and trying (continuously) to understand other people’s perspectives. Which requires temporary ego suspension, if not transcendence… and that leads to greater objectivity and, oddly, love, as knee jerk emotional responses are not in control. YOU are. It becomes hard to hate people just because they offend you or “love” people just because they agree with you, yet you don’t necessarily eschew your own position or values. You just consider the other perspective, how they came to have it, respect their right to have it. And a kind of universal, “live and let live, and I hope they give me the same courtesy” kind of love comes out of that. They don’t necessarily reciprocate (something I addressed at the end of my last post, in regards to a few people having issues with me wanting to openly pursue conscious living for myself) but these days I choose to simply respect their choice, and roll on. My responsibility is my own empathy. And empathy, when practiced, prevents one from demonising in ones own minds people who are different, or even opposed to you.
Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham said this about empathy last year on Q&A:
“….I think part of what the novelist is here to do is to remind us that everybody is the hero of his or her own story. Part of what we’re here to do is to promote the empathy that is inevitable from somebody who reads enough fiction to go deeply enough into the lives of other people, which renders that reader, I like to think, much less likely to think it’s a good idea to bomb the fuck out of some other country. So it is inherently moral in that way.”
I actually heard someone say the other day that empathy is a “woman’s word” (in a negative tone). I’ve heard certain political candidates deride it as some kind of weakness. So here’s perhaps a “man’s word” (?!) for it, if you’re uncomfortable with the feminine version – CIVILITY:
“Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” …and it begins with us.
Civility is about more than merely being polite, although being polite is an excellent start. Civility fosters a deep self-awareness, even as it is characterized by true respect for others. Civility requires the extremely hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and perhaps fierce disagreements. It is about constantly being open to hear, to learn, to teach and to change. It seeks common ground as a beginning point for dialogue when differences occur, while at the same time recognizes that differences are enriching. It is patience, grace, and strength of character.”
From the Institute for Civility in Government website.
It’s unlikely I’m ever going to be a martial arts master. But, strangely, in meeting John and learning about Seidō, I discovered another name for the road I’ve chosen to take, for my own personal development, professional development, and peace of mind: SINCERE WAY.
It’s not about “purity”, or being holier-than-thou, or being better than anyone else. And it is definitely not about shutting oneself off from society – far from it. It’s about growing up, balancing your inner life and outer life, getting really clear and, inevitably, really FOCUSED, about how you want to live, be. For me, changing the way I, as an adult responsible for my own actions, live within society, and letting others make their own choices in regards to their own conduct, whether they support me or not – living and letting live. Being open to learning, from everywhere and everyone, as well as sharing what I know. Taking responsibility for what I put out in the world, privately as well as publicly, and listening to what comes back at me from the world. Respecting others who I come into contact with, whether they are in my life for a short time or a long time. And continuing to work on that thing called balance.
I’m relieved(!) to have finally reconnected with the specific tools and ideas that are helping me get there, other than relationships with other people in general. Of course, for everyone, the tools and ideas will vary. Martial arts, philosophy, spirituality, psychology, laughing, creative and artistic expression, WEAVING, downshifting, gardening, flippin house repairs – whatever activities or lifestyle helps you get there or thereabouts, whatever your “Sincere Way” is, however you want to do it, own it. LOVE it. It is worth the effort, for how you will feel and what you will put out in the world.
If you are interested in learning about or participating in Wheelchair Seidō Karate classes, contact John Foster via the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Hospital Spinal Community Integration Service [SCIS]
Perfect, sunny day 🙂 I’m going go sit in the garden and try and knock out some writing assignments. Here’s a clip of Mr Miyagi, being one upped by his student:
“I saw an exhibition of Miro once. Miro the painter. His very last painting was a dot. I was wondering why everyone says he’s a great painter. I can make dots. Yet he is a great painter. I looked at his evolution. First I thought he couldn’t draw. Then I saw his early drawings, and they’re works of art. His figures are full of detail, his landscapes. It’s like looking at a photograph. So I looked at his evolution, and saw that gradually there were fewer details. He was paying less attention to the external, and more to the internal. I thought about it, that little dot, and I understood. Everything else was false, he had just retained the truth.”
Other than watching Yamakasi again, last night I somehow found myself reading about simple living.
By this I mean the phenomenon, in many western countries, of people making a voluntary, long-term lifestyle change, one that involves accepting significantly less income and consuming less. The phenomenon is also known as downshifting, or the ‘quiet revolution’.
The 2003 Australia Institute Survey Into Downshifting found that 35% of downshifters – white collar and blue collar – were doing so to spend more time with the family. This was the most common reason for downshifting. They were swapping long hours to fund consumption-heavy lifestyles with fewer hours, simpler living and more time with their loved ones. Psychologist Jim McKnight’s research into downshifting found the same: that a major motivation for downshifters was to regain a sense of community with their family, friends and neighbours, and the broader community.
Other motivators included the need to overcome illness or depression, a desire for greater life balance, and, for a minority, the desire to live ethically by rejecting consumerism and adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle. For a tiny minority, downshifting involves a more radical change than simply reducing working hours, choosing more fulfilling work, and making the necessary income determined consumption sacrifices. These radicals do things like sell possessions, move into alternative communities, or find creative ways to sustain and support themselves outside of the conventional workforce.
People choosing to downshift in this way are sometimes referred to as “post materialists”- those who go beyond materialism, explicitly, as a matter of principle. They may be involved in what is known as the voluntary simplicity movement.
Samuel Alexander, a part-time lecturer and doctoral student at the University of Melbourne Law School, is the founder of the Life Poet’s Simplicity Collective. It is a grassroots network founded upon the idea that a simpler life of reduced consumption is a viable and desirable alternative to consumer culture – one that is good for our lives, the lives of others, and the planet. Samuel defines here voluntary simplicity as a way of life that “rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’
There are three main reasons for choosing voluntary simplicity: 1) a desire not to add to environmental degradation caused by Western-style consumption; 2) the unethical nature of high consumption lifestyles in a world of great human need; and 3) the meaninglessness of extravagance and acquisitiveness – “the meaning of life does not and cannot consist in the consumption or accumulation of material things” he writes.
Samuel articulates the lifestyle, the philosophy, and addresses the misconceptions (prejudice, really) about Voluntary Simplicity beautifully on the Simplicity Collective website here. You will find many other thought provoking posts. I recommend reading all the pages. So happy to have stumbled upon the Collective’s website – the Introduction he wrote to the anthology, Voluntary Simplicity, is titled “Voluntary Simplicity: The ‘Middle Way’ to Sustainability” (read the Philosophy page of this blog and you will understand why that’s a cause for excitement). I’ve got some more reading to do!
Many in the mainstream regard those engaging in ‘Voluntary simplicity’, those moving to alternative communities or “going bush”, as just plain weird. The more radical choices some people are making in order to live according to their consciences do not resonate with me. All the activities I want to continue doing are fairly urban oriented: writing and sharing ideas, blogging, film storytelling, supporting Pacific and community Arts, basketball, and community activism. But, in our own way, my small household and I are endeavouring to simplify and bring balance to our living – for the perceived financial savings and, more importantly, life. Simplifying is also a constructive response to the consumption-related degradation of the environment. You don’t need to erect a hut from found objects to downshift. There are things you can do to make your city life – and city mind – simpler, cleaner.
DOWNSHIFTING IN THE SUBURBS.
I grew up in a tiny rental home, and never felt lacking in anything. Similarly, today, I have few possessions, as does the household. I mostly take public transportation, which in my city is relatively clean, affordable, and mostly wheelchair accessible. I take local taxis when I need one – being in a wheelchair, this is sometimes essential. My household is moving from sourcing our groceries from big supermarkets to locally grown produce, and we also have a small, no frills, evolving food garden, that has produced some great bounties over the last few years (including the sweetest cantelope I have ever tasted, a surprise picking we did not plant deliberately). Like many households that took advantage of the former Rudd Government’s solar power rebate program, we have solar panels, and are trying to be more economical with water usage. Keeping things simple, unostentatious and green, paradoxically, makes us feel richer. I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
PHILOSOPHY OF SIMPLICITY.
As Samuel discusses on the Simplicity Collective’s website, simple living is not just about a lifestyle. I think it resonates with a deeper need that some are recognising within themselves, to buck the values and underlying assumptions of the dominant economic culture, cut out all the extraneous noise in their lived experience, and focus mind, body, and (what some would call) “spirit”, on what is nourishing to all of those three. Nourishing, too, to human community, and non-destructive to the natural systems and processes that allow us homo sapiens to, you know, exist. But meeting this need, I think, would require a radical re-thinking about the way one constructs a sense of self.
I’ll try to explain this with my own example.
After sustaining the injury that bound me to my wheelchair (the culmination of multiple personal crises) I detached from any desire to participate in “the rat race”. I stopped judging myself against cultural norms of fashion/beauty. I stopped caring about academic award or superiority, and stress-inducing considerations linked to prestige, “productivity”, competition, superficial attractiveness, and “value” in a worldly sense. I know this is atypical. It is normal to derive a sense of self, in part, from others – a sense of self that is dependent on who we are in relation to others, relationships, or recognition. Many derive their sense of self entirely from external conditions, recognition, achievement and “stuff” – consumer culture would not exist without this ego. For me though, life experiences have forced the very opposite to occur. External circumstances have repeatedly provoked a natural tendency to go deep within for answers, healing, and, crucially, for a sense of self and self value that isn’t dependent on anything or anyone external to me.
I think this is more common amongst people who’ve experienced severe loss, or who must live out their lives on the ‘outside’, in some way. It is a curious example of how something seemingly bad can be enriching on a deeper level, if you figure out how to transmute it. More than once, I have found myself with absolutely nothing, bereft and alone. And more than once, I have found myself physically grounded, unable to move. Under those conditions, I could do nothing more than search for a place within to retreat to. After my injury, I found this place. I feel a sense of timelessness and blissful peace here. And when I live from here, my mind is balanced – I feel centred. The simplest of daily chores becomes a meditation, and nothing is mundane. Rather than being isolating, being with people is even more awesome – one is able to be present and give unconditionally with ease.
Staying here, however, whilst still interacting with a mass culture that isn’t, is a challenge. Simple living as a philosophy, to me, thus involves practicing a degree of detachment from the externals in the midst of them; without that, one is vulnerable to being knocked off-centre, by mistaking the externals (people, objects, external judgments) for everything that is simple, pure, and true. Not surprisingly, the manic depressive episodes of the last two years coincided with such a corruptive disturbance to my psyche. Thankfully, I truly am getting my bearings again. Adopting a simpler lifestyle and philosophy requires an outlook that values inner needs more than outer judgements, eg. the need for family and community overrides ego-sating in the form of high priced goods, and admiration they attract. Ones centre inevitable shifts from outside to inside.
THE GOAL IS A STATE OF BEING.
Many people, upon realising they want to live simply, find themselves having to drop or change their goals and dreams in order to fulfil their new dream and vision. I have not given up on my goals, on activities related to them. However, the hunger to attain any of them is dissolving as I go deeper into the simple philosophy. With this dissolution, a sense of peace is slowly being restored – a peace I have known at other times when I’ve had to completely let go of attachment to an outcome. I’m no longer attached to them, to some future mythic place where I’ll finally be happy, or successful, or less lonely. My attention is turning to the present, to within, once again. My swings of mood are becoming less severe. The static noise in my head is quieting. I’m shedding the baggage, the perceived judgements of others and of myself. The externals.
Having said that, I realised not long ago that all my life goals/dreams are actually aligned with simple living – perhaps a wise thing for people to do, although this was not a conscious decision on my part. I formulated my goals & dreams after a few weeks of self-imposed depressed isolation, recovery. Once again, outside events provoked me to go within. I found myself meditating one day. Nothing fancy, just breathe awareness until my mind went from batshit incessant chatter to stillness. After this, I wrote down, without any hesitation, a list of things I felt. The list came through so pristinely. Number one had nothing to do with anything material, or external – not a relationship, nor a thing, nothing to own or have. What I really wanted, more than anything, was a state of being. I wrote down I wanted “Peace in my mind & body. Enlightenment.” Essentially, the state of being free.
And this is what simple living, I think, boils down to: a state of being, of awareness. Cutting out the B.S. Not filling ones life with material goods or ones head with destructive thoughts, destructive attachment. Not crowding ones mind with utterly useless information, but focusing ones awareness now, and using ones intellect and wit as tools on what is really, truly, important. That is, not just what is going to bring financial reward, or win admiration, but that has real potential to improve the quality and richness of life, raise people’s consciousness, encourage civility, and preserve nature (for our own sake). Such awareness – I have experienced at a previous time – is also a great condition for creativity. And it is the foundation that allows for unconditional love.
It’s worth returning here to another line borrowed from Simplicity Collective: