Rethinking the wisdom of simplicity
Countryside Magazine Article ~
Perhaps it is a bit unpopular to suggest that the secret to being really healthy and happy requires just two simple things, wanting less and reducing expenditures, but it is true. It is so true that deep down inside we all really know that it is true. Our grandparents knew it too and so did their parents. In fact it has been known for a long time that the only real way to satisfaction and success in life comes by not being beholden to anybody, avoiding owing money, being independent, healthy and strong and reducing unnecessary, frivolous desires.
The unpopularity of this idea is something that is very prevalent in contemporary society, mostly because all one has to do is look at modern advertisements and see that the promotion of bigger and better, louder and faster has become the avant-garde. We are actually encouraged to want more stuff. And furthermore, we are encouraged to buy now and pay later, all the while, chanting the new-world economic mantra, “Borrow and Charge it!” All that seems to matter anymore is that we want stuff and we must be willing to get into debt to have it. The program has been functioning this way for quite some time.
But this whole system is unstable. It is starting to crumble and sooner or later the United States may face one of the worst inevitable financial meltdowns in the world’s history. That’s not just my opinion, many people feel that way. The signs are all around us, from the high rate of unreported unemployment, factory closures, to rising fuel and utility prices. It is obvious in the high cost of medical treatment, prescription drugs, food, as well as the fact that there are millions of uninsured people. Inflation increases annually at an alarming rate while the Federal Reserve keeps pumping out freshly printed money, on loan from foreign multinational lenders. And even worse, the average savings rate for most Americans has reached an all time low. It is now a whopping 0% along with a massive level of personal debt. The whole structure is quite shaky and yet the message is still the same, “keep it together folks, want more, buy more, and dream big!”
There is a beautiful statement from Epicuros: “We shall seek temperance and a simple life, real wealth and freedom consists in a minimum of needs.”
Epicuros suggests that… “We
shall avoid pain always, and seek for pleasure. But of pleasures there are
two kinds: For the first, and false pleasures, we must pay too high a
price: The sacrifice of our physical health and peace of mind. And without
our health and peace of mind we are unable to enjoy any pleasures. The
second kind of pleasures is our eternal companions, the right kind of
pleasures. These noble pleasures are the enjoyments of all beautiful
things in nature: The mountains, the forests, the oceans, the colors of
the sunrise and sunset…All that is beautiful in man’s creation: great
books, great music, great works of art, friendship and love… The wise
man shall have as his program of living, the gradual replacement of the
false pleasures with our eternal companions, the noble pleasures of
Perhaps it really isn’t all that hard to regain what our ancestors knew; to live a basic existence requires simply that we value the things of nature first. We must replace the things that enslave us with the things that liberate us. All that has happened in modern society is that there has been a fundamental shift away from the things that give us real satisfaction. As a modern post-industrial society, we have given up more of the things that natural life offers and replaced them with inferior, synthetic substitutes.
And that includes almost everything that is commonplace in our lives, such as choosing margarine over real butter, microwave cooking instead of using a conventional stove or plastic-frozen food over fresh ingredients. Many people habitually choose to watch some boring DVD movie or cable television program instead of reading a book, writing a letter, or sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Furthermore, we are told to believe that having a brand new computerized $35,000 car is somehow better than a fuel-efficient motorbike or our old reliable pick-up truck that only costs $6000.
What we need to realize is that the things that have gone wrong are fixable. All we need to do is make wise, practical decisions that will cultivate true pleasures over those that are false. For instance, instead of having to run out and buy the latest technological, time saving gadget, we should enjoy the process of doing things with our own hands just for the sake of doing them. For it is in doing things that we gain the greatest satisfaction.
I know for myself that I can feel the mysterious life-force strongly in my body whenever I am working outside. And I value that feeling. Take splitting firewood, for instance. It is hard work, yet there is no denying that when I’ve finished piling a stack for winter and my muscles are sore and tired, there is a genuine feeling of satisfaction and pleasure that wells inside my body. It feels good to know that I can do this for myself, that I didn’t have to pay someone to do it for me. The same is true about building my own hut in the woods, catching rainwater, picking figs and apples, trading bread for fresh milk and cream, baking cornbread, or growing a patch of potatoes or squash. There is nothing that can compare with the joy that is cultivated in my heart when I am doing things for myself, pulling my own weight; in short, working for myself and wanting only the basics of life.
For the future survival of this country there has to be an eventual exodus away from large cities, back to rural areas. The majority of young people will have to learn to grow their own food and live in ways that are cooperative with the environment. Cities are simply not sustainable. They cause irrevocable consequences to the natural systems which support life on this planet. It is inevitable that such a migration of people will happen in the years ahead. (See “Hope for the Future: What Lies Ahead,” Chapter 10 of our free on-line book entitled, The Subtle Way & It’s Power).
The trend during the past hundred years has been quite the opposite. People have left the small family farms and sought out jobs in cities. And now we’ve lost the old ways of doing things and have begun relying on corporate agri-business to supply our food. This is contributing to the rise of severe consequences in the quality of people’s health because commercial foods are of poor quality and our sedentary lifestyles are causing us to become complacent and dependent on jobs, banks, supermarkets, gasoline, etc.
As fuel, utilities and food costs continue to rise, there will be a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Therefore, the only realistic solution is that we begin to raise our children to appreciate the true pleasures of life. We should move them away from the mind-numbing effects of government regulated education, mercury-laden poisonous vaccinations, prescription drugs, plastic toys, violent video games, sugar laced soft drinks, white bread and denatured food, to a life of wholesome, biogenic nutrition, contact with nature, classic literature and teaching them how to do practical things. We must inevitably help them develop real life skills such as organic gardening, animal husbandry, conservation, alternative power, humanure composting and all the things that contribute to self-reliant, natural living. These things will prepare the next generation to develop self-reliance and independent thinking. But we cannot do that for them until we first do it for ourselves.
These are the same true values I had to teach myself. I was raised in the city. And like many others, I grew up not knowing how to do much of anything. I had to teach myself how to chop wood, build a house, install electrical wiring and plumbing, shingle a roof, build a clay oven, grow and thresh wheat, bake bread, heal with herbs, change tires and spark plugs. To make it in the modern world, both Donna and I had to learn how to work hard and want less. And this has been good for us because it gave us the confidence we needed to feel secure. But more than anything else, it opened us to the sensitivity of feeling the life-force energy of nature and valuing the true pleasures of life.
Sadly, I believe that a big part of the insecurity that many young people are suffering comes from not having enough money, which induces a sense of hopelessness. They feel that the system is not working for them. For example, a young woman I know expressed to me that she felt really angry that her life wasn’t working like she thought it should. She felt like the system had let her down. She said it had worked for my generation, but left nothing for her generation. And though she eventually graduated college, she has had a difficult time securing the kind of job and pay necessary to get out of debt and make it on her own. And it isn’t anything she has done wrong. It is the model she’s grown up with. She has been taught to believe the lie that a good life is one where you simply work at a career and earn enough money to buy whatever you want whenever you want it.
The wage-slave marketplace is overtly perpetuating this deception. And it is a model of false values, openly promoting dependency, of going after an easy life, where it is believed that finding happiness is gained in wanting more than we really need. The unfortunate thing is that each year a lot of people get left behind. That’s the tragedy.
What will the younger generation do? It is true, the past two or three generations were able to work the system, have careers, earn a lot of money, buy land and build suitable places to live, but many of today’s young people will probably never achieve that. The present system is no longer working for them and they feel hopeless. In fact, one twenty-seven year old guy told us recently he and his friends are simply hoping and waiting for the whole economic system to crash so they can just take over a piece of land without having to pay for it. (That’s pretty hopeless, if you ask me!)
“Well,” I told him, “if
that is how you feel then at least get prepared now. Learn how to do
things, develop an appreciation for the simple things of life such as
good, wholesome food, clean water and sunshine. Exercise, clean up your
body from toxic chemicals and drugs, develop some practical skills, avoid
biocidic foods and learn how to work for yourself and want little. Because
that is what it is going to take for you to survive when and if it all
It all comes down to the plain fact that “lack of money” is the biggest stumbling block for most people. Where does all the money go? How can we get enough? How can we achieve financial freedom? That’s the thing we hear most frequently from people all over the country who write to us. But I honestly believe that the real problem is not lack of money. Most people still have the ability to earn money in some way. The real problem we face in this country is the temptation to pursue all the expensive “false values.” And this is very hard to recognize because the only model being promoted is the one that says, “I need more money, so I can get more stuff, so I can be happy.” From this narrow point of view, the fundamental problem is seen as a lack of money, when in truth, the problem is a lack of true values.
I am my own best guinea pig. Whenever I get an idea to prove something, I simply experiment on myself. So a few years ago, after reading Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, I decided to figure out where all my money was going. I started carrying around a little notebook in order to write down every penny that came in and out of my life. It was a grueling spiritual practice, but certainly one of the most empowering practical skills I ever developed. I recorded every penny I either earned or spent and after the first week I was flabbergasted to discover how much money was actually flowing through my hands on worthless junk. I quickly realized that most of my spending habits came out of a learned emotional reaction to feeling stressed; such as $2 for a cup of tea, $5.00 for a movie, $7.55 for lunch, on and on it went.
At the end of every month, I transferred all these little entries onto another sheet of paper listing various categories such as “outside food”, “health food”, “wine & beer”, “junk food”, “utilities”, “gasoline”, “entertainment”, “movies”, “clothes”, “household supplies”, “doctor visits”, “income”, etc. I felt it was important to be very specific. I didn’t allow a category called “miscellaneous”. Then after totaling each column, I stared in horrific disbelief at how much it was costing me to live! And that made me realize how insanely inefficient my full time job was. Working 40 or more hours a week left me little time to do things for myself. I found myself spending additional money, paying to have things done. I simply did not have enough time or energy left over to take care of my health, my home and most importantly, my relationships.
As the months went by, I gradually evaluated every category until I reduced each one to a level that made me feel good. I decided that I only wanted to spend money on things that were truly fulfilling and supportive to my health and peace. This practice forced me to evaluate the cost of everything and then decide whether or not it was worth it. It also made me change my eating habits, friends and lifestyle. It led to a complete overhaul of my whole life. And by proceeding in this way over the next few years, a practical, realistic model of debt-free, gentle living naturally emerged. Donna and I have been able to live this way ever since. Today, I still continue to monitor and track our spending. We find that whenever we get lazy about tracking money in this way, we immediately lose our mindfulness and start spending more than we can really afford. It takes commitment.
Presently, we only need to work about 22 hours a week in order to maintain our lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. And as time goes on, as our skills increase, we will continue to adapt and become even more efficient. Furthermore, as inflation increases, so too will our personal creativity, because there is simply no end to one’s ability to improvise and adapt. Consciousness expands faster than inflation!
Each one of us must eventually get a handle on where our money goes, because it is, in truth, nothing less than our own precious life-energy. When we learn to associate every dollar spent as the same as our life-force energy (time), then we’ll start to recognize how important money is. With it we can either become entangled or set free. The choice is up to us.
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