My personal philosophy is best summed up by this phrase:
Simplify. Simplify. Our life is flitted away by detail.
Is your life too full? Are you distracted by secondary commitments, complications, entanglements? Are you running, faster and faster, in circles?
Richard Gregg, a student of Ghandi, wrote in 1936 on voluntary simplicity. He sought a way of life that was outwardly simple, but inwardly rich.
Don’t add more hollow deeds to an already scattered life.
Cut back to a few important things you can do with some style.
After many happy months living out of a backpack, I am intrigued with the concept of elemental living; how few things can you possess and still be content? What are the minimum essentials of life?
In the desert I had found a freedom unattainable in civilization; a life unhampered by possessions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance. I had found, too, a comradeship inherent in the circumstances hardship and the pleasure which springs from abstinence.
– Wilfred Thesiger
I read Thesiger with fascination. Here was an intelligent, articulate Brit who sought out the least developed parts of the world; 8 years in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and then 11 years with the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq. These are locations where only the hardiest and best can possibly survive. By examining the lives of people in the minimalist cultures (Bedouin, monks, Arctic peoples, etc.) we can determine the essential.
Do more with less.
– Bucky Fuller
What does this mean to you? Should you live more lightly?
I am reminded that my friend, media junkie Brian Mason once undertook a voluntary news black-out; avoiding TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio. Good idea. Sensory overload is a danger. We are increasingly entertainment rich, knowledge poor.
Perhaps it’s time we all embraced a radical simplicity, letting go of wasteful speech, costume, display. Be more sufficient unto ourselves.
For example, is high fashion tasteless ostentation? Do you really need a gas guzzling Mercedes? Isn’t it better to spend less, than earn more?
My standard of living went down as my income increased …. I lived a lot better when I had no money. I was living in a beautiful big house on a Greek Island. I was swimming every day; writing, working, meeting people from over the whole world and moving around with tremendous mobility.
– Leonard Cohen
Research shows that, beyond a minimum standard, rich people are not significantly happier than the rest. They don’t find happiness in worldly things.
Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.
– John Ruskin
So is it time for you to cash out of the rat race? What’s the alternative? How do you live with greater purpose?
After a lifetime study of comparative religion, Joseph Campbell concluded that the best course was to Follow your Bliss. Make a list of those things in your life that you most enjoy; those things that enervate you, compel you; interest you in a sustained way. Do them!
Make a second list of those things that vex your existence. How can you avoid or minimize those?
Most people find purpose, fulfilment, in people; especially in family and friends. Children are often the greatest joy, and greatest concern. Are you spending enough time with your people?
It’s a great challenge, too, to find work to be passionate about. I greatly admire those few who achieve it. I aspire only to do work which I would gladly do for free; work which interests and improves me.
Putting all of yourself into a task makes you real. Whole.
Unfortunately, I’ve been far too rarely rapt while working.
The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
Look within, thou are the Buddha.
– Gautama Buddha
Atman (the essence of the individual) and Brahman (the ultimate reality) are one.
– words from the Hindu tradition
He who knows himself knows his Lord
How is your inner life?
Many gain greatly from spiritual quests, though most are no longer centred in the Church. To seek God you must look within. We can find fulfillment alone; reading, studying, learning, gardening,
Meditation, not prayer, is the most frequently reported method of calming the spirit across world cultures.
What’s the epiphany? Sex?
Sportsmen talk of the peak performance state. Joseph Campbell came closest to the great life energy while long distance running. He had races where he experienced:
a loss of all fear
no need to think
full attention / total immersion
perfect, effortless, Godlike control
a sense of awe and wonder
This is a true state of meditation.
Think globally. Act locally.
Perhaps no crusade is needed. Economic and environmental trends may necessitate voluntary simplification over the next few decades. Arnold Toynbee described the Law of Progressive Simplification; he feels that an advanced society will naturally transfer energy and attention from the material side of life to the non-material. It is an inevitable stage of growth.
Almost everyone in the world has access to Western entertainment. It is unrealistic to believe that a billion people or more will continue to accept grinding poverty when they know that millions live in conspicuous excess. We face chronic conflict over dwindling resources.
Shop with a conscience.
Our consumer culture is immoral and obscene and unsustainable. We need to change our patterns of consumption in favour of products that are functional, durable, energy efficient, non-polluting, easily repairable, healthy, and produced by ethical, (hopefully local), firms.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse.
My mentor Keith Russell loves old objects; he’s attached to things blessed by what Narayan calls the sanctity of usage. Keith calls too for a rebirth in personal competence and craftsmanship.
So, you? Do you want to embrace Simplicity?
He who knows he has enough is rich.