When people talk about simple living, they often focus on things. An image comes to mind of an austere Amish room with a wooden floor and only the most spartan of possessions. While I am making great strides in my efforts to de-clutter, (car load number three goes out today) nobody could possibly call me a minimalist while keeping a straight face.
However, I still consider myself to be living simply, because for me, simple living isn't primarily about things, it's about time.
I often feel like I'm living in a bit of a temporal bubble... you know, some sort of freaky Star Trek anomaly where the clock moves at a different pace inside of my warped little sphere. Actually, that's putting it backwards. I feel like things in my life are normal, it's when I look at how the people around me live that I start to get dizzy.
Scheduling a get together with a friend who lives in the "real world" is like trying to cram the 99th person into the proverbial phone booth. And when we do finally get to sit down together, our time is wedged tightly between business meetings, and hauling of children, and any of a zillion other mind numbing things that "must get done". They carry around their Blackberries, or smart phones or whatever those little blinking devices are, which they constantly need to check just in case they're "missing something". Frankly, it all just makes me exhausted.
The thing is, I used to be like that. In my youth I was the consummate over-achiever. Busy with a multitude of vital tasks and social commitments. I was so proud of all of my "accomplishments" and of how important I was. But underneath it all, I was desperately unhappy. I felt totally overwhelmed every single second of every day. Nothing I did was ever enough, and I felt a constant nagging dread of being inadequate.
Recently, I've been reading some posts on procrastination over at Raptitude. The author is consumed with plotting how he's going to overcome his procrastination beast, and finally be able to conquer his daily "to do" list. Sigh. On some level, reading those posts just makes me sad.
It reminds me of a time when I still thought that I could outsmart this stuff. I remember thinking back then that I just wasn't organized enough, I wasn't managing my time properly. So one day I sat down and made a list of all of the things that I needed to get done every day, and how long each task would reasonably take. I figured that I just needed to work the puzzle better and stick to my schedule and then I wouldn't feel overwhelmed anymore. So I added up all of the time allotments for my daily chores, and to my absolute shock and horror, it totaled 36 hours! Holy Moly! And that didn't even take into account anything unplanned that might come up. No wonder I was exhausted!
So here's the fundamental question: Why do we live this way? We generally act like our daunting schedules are imposed upon us and we have no choice in the matter, but anyone who is being honest with themselves knows that this is a cop out.
I remember one time back in college, the campus pastor was speaking at a dinner gathering for a group of us hyper achievers who had succeeded well beyond our peers in scheduling ourselves into oblivion. He remarked how we all liked to complain about how harried and overwrought we were, but that on some level we all thrived on it. At the time his comments thoroughly pissed me off. I didn't like this lifestyle! I was overworked and burnt out, and frazzled to the core, but I didn't have a choice in the matter, goddammit! Or did I?
Over the years I have come to see the veracity of the pastor's statement. Nobody held a gun to my head and made me take on an unreasonable work load. I did it willingly, and almost with a sense of glee. "Busier than thou" was my mantra, and I wore it like a badge of honor. On some level I was deeply proud of how frenzied my life was, fluttering hither and yon. But the question remains, why?
A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, I was spending a few hours with my elderly grandmother. She asked how I was, and I proceeded to regale her with a litany of how hectic the furious pace of my life was. She gently patted me on the back of the hand and said quietly, "That's nice dear, that way you don't have any time to feel bad." Wow. Leave it to Grandma to cut to the chase.
And after many years of working on this stuff, I believe that this really is what's at the heart of the issue. We live in a frantic state of over committed hell, because we're trying to avoid emotions that we don't want to feel. I mean let's face it, it's pretty hard to feel much of anything but oppressed when you spend all day every day in a tizzy, rushing wildly around like a rabid animal.
So there it is. The only way out of the jungle is to do less and feel more. I realize this is easier said than done. Generally the feelings we're trying to avoid are pretty big and powerful, and we'll do just about anything to get away from them. Plus, there are logistical realities in extracting yourself from the world of "too much" once you're firmly entrenched there.
Getting to the point I'm at has meant facing some pretty big personal demons. It's also meant that I've had to be willing to let go of a whole host of things, like money, and keeping up appearances, and meaningless social interactions, and being "in the loop," and "accomplishments," and feeling important. But I've also been able to shed a pile of other things, like "to do" lists, and uncomfortable clothing, and a generally crazed lifestyle.
It hasn't always been easy, but the rewards are so, so, so worth it. I get to live in a world where I go to bed and wake up whenever I want. Most days I don't have anything that I really have to do except feed the cats and feed myself. I work when I feel like it, and when I don't feel like it, I don't work. I take long leisurely walks, I fiddle around in my garden, I cook, I drink wine, I enjoy sitting in sunbeams with my cats and just pretty much doing whatever I want when I want.
I'll write more on the practical realities of extracting my self from the world of too many commitments if anybody is interested, but for the moment, I'll just leave you with something that one of my yoga teachers once said: We're called human beings, not human doings, and what we're really trying to do here is to simply be.