I've mentioned what an epiphany this book was to me at such a difficult time in my life. My hectic work life was not leaving time for a real life. I was overinvested, perhaps not in material objects, but in things of relatively passing importance like the outcome of a single election. I was on a treadmill without a chance to breath, reflect or think about the big picture for more than a couple moments. This amazing book helped me to take a step back and look at my lifestyle from a different perspective. Here are a couple of the thoughts I had reading the collected essays and book excerpts in Simpler Living, Compassionate Life.
First, I was living a particular lifestyle. Though in my myopic existence, it had begun to seem so, not everyone was working insane hours to climb the corporate ladder and have a nice home in a golf course community. I began to think more about my brothers and sisters around the world, around my country, and even around my own region, who did not begin to have the kind of access to material goods and pleasures that I did. That reality check was helpful to see the humanity in those other people. But also to recognize that I was not obliged to stay on this seemingly endless and ultimately pointless treadmill. If others lived a different way, so could I.
Second, my choices matter. This book opened my eyes about how our Western consumer lifestyles were using disproportionate amounts of the Earth's resources and there were not enough resources for everyone to live this same lifestyle. Not everyone on the planet can drive gas guzzling cars and eat meat every day. No matter how much economic development we achieve in the world, there is just not enough petroleum or arable land for such things to happen. I haven't gone on to live a totally Spartan life. I'm not wearing camel hair robes and feeding off locusts or wild honey. But I have tried to drive more efficient cars and to drive less. I've also tried to have our family eat less meat. That is not going to be a panacea to all the world's problems. But that is ok. I want to at least be less of the problem. I want to live in a way that is not as removed from the lifestyles others are living.
Third, gratitude is important. I'm now more aware of my own privilege in getting the option of living a luxurious first world lifestyle or having the ability to cut back on my own consumption. Wow! How fortunate am I. Most people around me don't even realize how different our lifestyle is from most on this planet. And many people don't have the luxury of opting to cut back, deprivation is thrust upon them.
Four, time is what is most important. Like anyone, I don't want to be homeless, starving or naked. But beyond the necessities, unless you are independently wealthy, the more stuff we have, the less time we have. Now I realize how important time is. That is what is most valuable and we cannot make more of it. It is definitely a finite resource. Maximizing the amount of available time to enjoy the gift that is our lives and to get the most out of it by being present and grateful--that is what needs to be my focus. Not worrying about things that in the end don't matter.
Finally, I also was comforted by the writers in this book that assured us that we don't need to leave our urban or suburban lives to live off the land. That may sound romantic, but in the glaring light of reality that would never work for me. I admit I'm a total wimp who wouldn't be able to cope without electricity and easy access to a grocery store. But these authors are fortunately correct. We don't need to grow all our own food and live in a hut in the middle of no where. We can grow where we're planted--literally and figuratively. Simplicity is about decluttering in both tangible and intangible ways. It is a process, an ideal to work towards. There are shades and degrees, it is not all or nothing. It is not some dogmatic fad where you don't belong if you cannot jump in 100%. You can begin today. And I encourage you to do that if you haven't already!