I am writing this article on July 4th, the day America chooses to remember, or should I say celebrate freedom and independence from British rule. The question I ask myself is, what does this mean to us today? Is it just a day to remember a power struggle of times gone by? Or can days such as Independence Day actually help us achieve another type of freedom, a freedom from the physical and emotional baggage that no longer serves us. One of the most powerful processes I went through, in fact we as a family went through, was when we learned that we would need to leave the US and San Diego, our home for over 10 years. In many ways, the universe conspired against us, nudged us to consider living the minimalistic lifestyle, as it teased us in allowing us to better understand attachment and non-attachment.
What is the Minimalistic Lifestyle about? Well I googled it today, and came across a blog by Leo Babuta, author of 'The Simple Guide to Minimalist Life'. What he said was 'It's basically an extension of simplicity - not only do you take things from complex to simple, but you try to get rid of anything that's unnecessary. All but the essential. Minimalism says that what's unnecessary is a luxury, and a waste. Why be wasteful when the unnecessary isn't needed for happiness? When it just gets in the way of happiness, of peace? By eliminating the unnecessary, we make room for the essential, and give ourselves more breathing space.' There is tons of information about the movement, which we related to our deeper connection with mother earth, respect for her resources and embracing of ancient spiritual wisdom.
All of which is good in theory! Therefore, let me share more about our 'letting go' experience and our preparation to test out this concept of living a minimalistic lifestyle (which isn't all about letting go of physical stuff alone!)
We, my wife and I, had lived in the USA since 1997. We have two American born daughters aged 5 and 10. Over the years we had collected a lot of stuff; good stuff, cool stuff, essential stuff, kid stuff, stuff that are so valuable that we stored them off in card board boxes, placing them in our cupboards for that day when we really miss and need them. (Given that we figure out which box we put them in!)
We have often talked about letting go of our stuff (even before this opportunity), as we have often talked about traveling, living overseas, experiencing different cultures and showing the kids other parts of the world. Yet it is often easier to just talk about things than to actually follow through. We can always find reasons not to actually do what we talk about. For us the reasons came by thinking about the kid's education, then the whole job thing, our friends, San Diego weather, etc. Today I have a virtual job. All I need is my laptop and I can work from anywhere in the world, as long as I have internet connection. Even schooling is changing. Are schools in the west really addressing the needs of today's children? Sure they will learn how to pass grades, but will they learn about life? In the US, increasing number of parents are choosing to home school their kids or look for alternative schools. There are some amazing home school programs, global education programs, and also, let's not forget the fact that kids in schools in India and Asia are outperforming many western schools.
With those limitations having been addressed, we are back to attachment to stuff. Attachment here is attachment to 'things', 'feelings', 'memories', 'people', 'friendships' and yet what we all really want is 'happiness & joy'. How can one 'be' happy, if happiness is attached to 'stuff'?
Are we 'not' capable of being happy without stuff, physical or perceptual?
As fate would have it, we are getting 'guidance' and a 'nudge' from 'the powers to be' to do more than just talk about these concepts. We have been given a unique opportunity to experience this process. Does life really work like that? Does life actually provide the life lessons and experiences you need to grow, even though it may not feel like it at the time? The spiritualist would agree and everyone else would just say 'stuff' happens and you deal with it. Maybe it's bad luck, maybe its Karma, maybe its Dharma, maybe its life teaching us valuable lessons. Who really knows? Ultimately it is what you believe, for that is the only thing that really matters. It's how 'one' perceives these experiences.
Step one in this journey was to sell all our stuff. While this was challenging at first, the more we let go off, the easier the experience became. The steps that followed included selling our cars, leaving our home and saying good bye to our friends. We did not decide to leave; we were not returning back from where we once came, we were leaving behind everything we felt defined our lives.
However, as we moved through this process and as we embraced letting go, we started to enjoy the minimalistic lifestyle. This was not just a material purging. We used this opportunity to let go of a lot of emotional baggage, cut ties with people who no longer served our higher needs. In time we have come to wonder if this concept of minimalistic lifestyle can be the answer to many of the world's challenges. Should 'minimalistic lifestyles' be taught in schools? Or does it conflict with capitalism, and the human appetite for consumption and destruction?
How is it that kids in 3rd world countries, who have a fraction of what kids in the west have, tend to be happier and more content? Maybe there is something to this whole minimalistic thing after all!
In conclusion, we live in a society that judges us for the material possessions we have, more is better, maybe we need to rethink this concept and realize that less is actually better, the less we are attached to, the happier we can be.