I have to give credit where credit is due; a book is a big part of what helped me distill my values into just “simplicity.” I’ve been reading Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. It was recommended on one of my favorite blogs, The Simple Dollar. The basic premise of the book is that materialism is not only destroying the planet, but it is actually eroding the quality of our lives in numerous ways, from the personal level right on up to the experience of human beings on a global level. His point is that, while we’ve been trained to believe that having stuff makes us happy, taking the focus away from stuff actually leads to a much better life. However, the path towards simplicity has to be conscious one. Forced simplicity, due to poverty or just forcing yourself based on your perceived opinions of others, feels like a punishment – it is something that feels inflicted, and therefore no grace or happiness comes with it.
This is a straw I’ve been grasping at for some time. I’ve been wildly struggling with myself to “be good;” but as I wrote the other day, many of the things that I’ve been trying to do have been things that didn’t really feel voluntary. I was choosing to cut things out of my life based on what I perceived as the probability of judgment by others. Therefore my choices felt like punishment, and made me feel unhappy. This is why I’ve decided that, despite the fact that they add complexity, I’m not giving up cigarettes right now. I’m not ready. The same thing is true about personal appearance. I was having all of these crazy struggles with food and eating (which has always been a problem for me), and clothing, because I felt like people judged me for being overweight and poorly dressed. Or for eating the wrong things on a social level – meat, dairy, or even just eating really simple food.
The fact of the matter is that some people probably do judge me for my behaviors. But the ones who do aren’t the ones who really care about me; the people that care about me know where I’m coming from. If they don’t really care about me, why should their opinions matter? It seems like my mom told me something like that when I was in kindergarten. As someone who considers herself to be reasonably intelligent, I continue to be amazed by my own density sometimes.
The first step on the path to simplicity is self-acceptance. I am who I am. It’s not that I don’t believe that people grow and change and evolve. I feel like I have been doing those things, and I hope I never stop. I feel that my consciousness of the world around me has expanded by leaps and bounds. But there are certain things about me that are never going away. I will always feel an affinity with joyful rogues (like my heroes; Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg, to name a few!). I will always be oversensitive and overemotional. I will always be inpatient, and a tad impulsive as a result. I will always carry the experiences I’ve had; good and bad. I will never be perfect by anyone’s standards. But considering what the standards are, why should I worry about it? The only standard that is really true is that we are all here to live. I don’t necessarily want to change me. I want to change the way that I live so that I can experience myself and my time here more fully.
A lot of people start their path towards simplicity by beginning consciousness expanding exercises, often via a spiritual practice. My spirituality is always in motion, just like the rest of me. In terms of “making room” in my consciousness, I am never going to be a “Buddha on the mountain top” type. That is not the path to my bliss. I’m just more tactile than that. My thoughts do not “float gently,” ever. They are more like rapid-fire paintballs. When there are a lot of things that I’m worrying about, having that kind of brain can lead to a lot of anxiety, and or compulsive problems (traditionally, overeating or starving). When I’m not worried about anything, having that kind of brain is a blessing for my creative pursuits. In the past, I’ve been going about things backwards (for me) by trying to start with clearing my head while at the same time adding more tasks to be worried about. Now the obvious answer is just remove the things that I worry about, which is all kind of related to judgment and materialism. It’s still not an easy thing to do. You still have to begin with recognizing what worries you, and then removing complexity from it.
I guess that this is all just riffing on what I wrote about on Tuesday. Next week I’m planning on exploring more of what this simplifying business looks like in reality.