Creating this blog has truly been an interesting experience for me. The subtitle "moving towards a simple, beautiful life," has forced me to think often about what a simple life really is, at least to me and my family. And the strange thing is, that the more I ponder this question, the more I feel rather confused. Today I am going to try pinning down what a simple life means to me.
In this April post I discussed Henry David Thoreau's passage from Walden, where he writes that he wanted "to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms," and that he "did not want to live what was not life." When I read these words, I think of embracing a basic, fundamental form of living--shrugging off all the excess complications of modern society, and instead living in harmony with the land and the seasons, rising with the sun, growing one's own food, enjoying the company of family and friends, staying close to home. This type of life that I picture seems to me to be the way people have lived for hundreds, even thousands of years, before modern technology changed our basic patterns of life.
Further on in the same passage from Walden Thoreau writes:
Our lives are frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.
In other words, we need to eliminate those frivolous details that can easily take over our lives today, simplify our daily lives, and focus only on the things that really matter.
Of course, I am not saying here that I think we should eliminate all modern technology from our lives. Some of it is quite nice--the Internet, for example, which allows me to befriend interesting people from all over the globe. But I feel that there is too much of everything today, too many things, too many voices, and too many activities available to us, and I think we need to be selective about what we allow into our lives. We need to eliminate those things that are not truly beneficial to us. I believe we would be better off if we did not accept all aspects of modern life with open arms--especially the consumerist idea that says possessions bring happiness--but instead made decisions about what we need and want mindfully and deliberately.
People speak of the times 100 or 150 years ago as "a simpler time." Life was more basic back then. Life was harder in many ways, and so people had to know how to take care of themselves, and each other. Families stuck together, and communities were stronger. People did not depend on corporations far away for their food and belongings, but instead knew how to grow their own food, sew their own clothes, make their own soap. And if they didn't know how to do something, someone down the street did. This is the type of life I want for myself and my family. A quiet, honest, genuine existence, that may sometimes be difficult, and on the surface may not always be "simple" at all, but it always a satisfying life. A good life.
So to sum up, to me the simple life means shrugging off the elements of modern society that are not truly necessary or beneficial--paring out the excess activities, entertainments, and possessions we don't truly need--and instead focusing more on the ways of the past, which means living a more traditional, meaningful life in harmony with the nature, doing more things for ourselves, and nurturing family and community relationships.
To close, I would like to quote the 19th century American naturalist John Burroughs:
To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter... to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring - these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
How true. What does "the simple life" mean to you? Please, leave a comment and share your thoughts. :)