Something more radical than recycling is required in order to be genuinely proactive about seeking a healthier way of being in the world. Once we realize that everything is connected, we can begin to devise a healthier plan of action, as our individuality becomes interdependently driven.
As John Muir surmised, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” We begin to see how being immoderate is unhealthy, how living gluttonous lives leads to obesity and morbidity, and how existing in a greedy way leads to corruption.
To put it into Chaos Theory terms: the innocent butterfly flapping its wings (the ignorant human polluting his environment) causes a thunderstorm (causes ecocide) on the other side of the planet (on the entire planet). Don’t be the ignorant human. Live simply, and smartly, instead. Here are six ways to get started.
1) Downsize your lifestyle
“Be as simple as you can be; you will be astonished to see how uncomplicated and happy your life can become.” ~ Paramahansa Yogananda
Toss every material thing that’s holding you back out the window. Let defenestration become you. Get rid of all those too-heavy domestic things things things weighing you down, keeping you stagnate and inert. Toss out the TV-set with its IV-drip. Toss out the microwave with its angry telemetry.
Leave it all behind: The polished prison of linoleum, the plates like dirty moons in the sink, the too-clean carpets, and the pigeonhole of cupboards and drawers. Seek adventure instead. Break free of the complexity, the hyperreal, the domestic extremism. There are journeys to be had, comfort zones to be stretched, and new experiences to be relished.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit too much for you. You don’t have to get rid of everything. Just anything that’s holding you back and keeping you vegetative or stale. Think: less stuff and more experiences. Moderate things. Simplify things. Let your soul breathe. The less stuff you have, the less clutter you have to worry about. Minimalize your space. Lighten your load. Whatever that means for you. Just don’t allow your domestic situation to be such a burden that you miss out on life, adventure, and freedom.
2) Shrink your carbon footprint
“The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it.” ~ Bill McKibben
This is a tough one. We live in a society that believes it has throw-away resources, throw-away biospheres and throw-away people. The same mindset that says I can ball-up this can and throw it “away” without any repercussions, is the same mindset that says I can ball-up this forest and turn it into paper and throw it “away” without any repercussions.
But there are repercussions, and it’s high time we owned up to that fact. What we need is a mindset reset, a brainwash unwashed, a worldview cleansing that gets us back in touch with being an intelligent animal in touch with its environment. As Derrick Jensen puts it, “We must learn how to think like the planet.”
One way to go about thinking more like the planet is to become more aware of how you use its precious resources. Whether it’s paper, gasoline, or oil, being more conscious of how much of it you use, while also being creative about alternative resources, should help considerably shrink your carbon footprint. You just have to be willing to get a little uncomfortable at first. Use your imagination. You don’t need to use too much gasoline. You’re conditioned to use too much gasoline. Simplify your footprint. There are more ways than one to be a progressive human on this planet.
3) Live a bill-less lifestyle
“The man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
One powerful way to live more simply in this world, is to get to the point to where you have zero bills. I know what you’re probably thinking: impossible. Right? But it is possible. I’ve done it. In fact, I’m still doing it. Even my cellphone is pay-as-you-go. Let’s break it down:
Imagine your typical Joe Schmo’s list of bills: rent, electricity, car payment, car insurance, cellphone, cable, and internet. Easy fix. Get rid of the apartment and get rid of the car. All Joe’s left with is the last three bills on his list. His cellphone he can switch to pay-as-you-go. He doesn’t need cable without a residence, and internet is everywhere. All he needs is a laptop and a Barnes & Noble. He’s connected and liberated and everything he owns fits in two bags. Easy. And by “easy” I mean “easier said than done.”
Okay, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Where would I live?! There’s not a chance in hell I’m going to be homeless.” Fair enough. Maybe you don’t have to go as “extreme” as I did. Or is it extreme? One might argue that my lifestyle is the less extreme lifestyle, especially when considered in context with this article. Shrug. Either way, I’m not homeless, I’m homefull. And my life has never been more rewarding. Look at it this way: all the money you use to pay bills, I’m using to travel, eat healthier, have more amazing experiences, and do more of what I love.
4) Live off the land
“People living closer to a survival level may experience more discomfort, but they also know the greater pleasure of fulfillment when their basic needs are met.” ~ Alexander Lowen
This is not as difficult as you might imagine. It’s challenging, and it’s uncomfortable at times, but that’s all trumped by how vastly rewarding it is. Plus, it takes care of 1, 2, 3, & 7 on this list.
From foraging, to hunting. From regular gardening, to guerrilla gardening. From living on a beach in a tent (my favorite), to living a nomadic Into the Wild lifestyle (second favorite). Living off the land will set your adventure-level to maximum overdrive while also simplifying your life to its most basic needs: air, water, food, shelter, and human companionship. Everything else is gravy, and all the more appreciated when you have it.
Here’s the thing, we need bigger minds with simpler urges. You don’t need to go as extreme (or should I say unextreme?) as I have. Maybe directly living off the land won’t work for you. Maybe there’s a middle ground. Well, there is!
And I’ve lived that as well. I call it the Peripheral Lifestyle. Living on the periphery is living between worlds: the extreme world of domesticated city life, and the simpler world of non-domesticated natural living. I walk the line. Sometimes I dip into domesticity and sometimes I dip out. Sometimes I’m doing the societal song and dance, and sometimes I’m dancing around a fire away from the things of man. But always, I stick to the path of living as simply as I can.
5) Allow the heart to be greater than money
“Wealth is the slave of the wise man and the master of the fool.” ~ Seneca
Stiff-arm consumerism. Sidestep propaganda. Transcend status anxiety. Break the spell that commercials have over your impressionable psyche. Don’t give into the materialist hype with its peer-pressure superficiality and hyperreal veils. Your seeming need for so many things-things-things is from social conditioning and fear of not fitting it. Pull out the Matrix plugs. Turn the tables on fear. Pull back the curtain and reveal the trickery of the corrupt wizard. The heart becomes greater than money when inner truth overcomes outer deception.
This doesn’t mean not using money. Not at all. It means using money with heartfelt purpose. It means using money as a tool for soul-work, as opposed to allowing money to make a tool out of your ego. Spend more money on meaningful experiences, and less on materialistic things. Money should be spent on doing the things we love, and less on trying to force people to love us under inauthentic pretense. Rise above it. Ascend your soul with a full heart. Money comes and money goes. Burn it if need be. Better to spend all your money on a single enlightened adventure than to spend a lifetime as a slave to it.
6) Live in the moment
“It is very simple to be happy, but it is very difficult to be simple.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
As you can see, living simply is not so simple. It takes courage, discipline, a good sense of humor, and the ability to adapt and overcome. But most of all, it takes being able to live in the moment; to not allow the depression of the past or the anxiety of the future to ruin the precious experience of right now.
So don’t be so hard on yourself. But don’t be too soft either. Be kind to yourself. Be real with yourself. Be genuine. Most of all, be sincere and try not to take yourself, or even living simply, too seriously. Too much seriousness leads to extremism. Moderation is key, even with living simply.
In the end, living in the moment, like living simply, is getting out of your own way. It’s realizing that the only reason you were ever compelled to live an unhealthy, overbearing, overreaching, overindulgent, neurotic lifestyle in the first place, was because that’s what you were born into. That’s the culture you grew up in. That’s the culture most of us grew up in. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. Paraphrasing Eliezer Yudkowsky, “we are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society we grew up in.”
Indeed. The status quo will always attempt to maintain its status, even at the expense of healthy progress. Even at the expense of a healthier planet. All it requires is otherwise good people with heroic potential to become complacent, ignorant, apathetic victims instead. Don’t allow your potential heroism to drown in status quo victimization. Recondition your preconditioning instead. The first step is living simply. It’s your responsibility. Like Tom Robbins said, “We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”