I believe that the complexity created by modern life robs our days of meaning. I believe that we drift towards alienation and despair unless we make a determined effort to find purpose and meaning in life.
Viktor Frankel, writing in the mid-twentieth century, believed, “even in the most absurd, painful, and dehumanizing situation, life can be given a meaning and so too can suffering help him discover meaning for his life.
Frankel believed that the following activities guide us towards meaning: acts of creativity or giving something to the world through self- expression; experiencing the world by interacting authentically with our environment and with others, and changing our attitude when we are faced with a situation or circumstance that we cannot change.
Henry David Thoreau, writing in the mid-nineteenth century, also observed that people live lives of “quiet desperation,” and for him, living a self-sufficient lifestyle in the woods restored meaning to one’s life.
Frankel and Thoreau were two of the writers who influenced some of my generation. Many others guided us to reconsider the values and destructive tendency in mid-century America (bibliography forthcoming). We were a new generation of seekers coming of age and looking for more meaning in life.
Fifty years later, we have another movement of seekers. This group crosses socioeconomic, political and other boundaries. It includes a new generation of seekers, some still-idealistic baby boomers, our kids, and even some of our parents who are still living. A few academic movements are taking up the issue of simple living (e.g. Simplicity Institute).
The two seeker movements that I highlighted here (mid-century and current) share a concern for the environment, our economy, unhealthy lifestyles, and excessive materialism. The one difference that sets some apart is a belief that in the pursuit of a simpler life, there is no need to consider a greater purpose it life: no directing principles, guiding ethics or goals. There is no intentional grounding in anything other than the desire to “live life to the fullest”.
Simplicity seekers without a greater purpose (that I can see) include the clever and handsome duo who blog and publish in print about Minimalism (theminimalists.com). They seem to embody the belief that your only obligation in life is to be true to yourself. They are on a bold, intentional journey and if their seeker journey is anything like mine, they will someday decide that life does have a greater purpose and guiding principles. Right now their thinking is black and white (dare I say minimalist thinking). I do admit that perhaps my disconnect is due to a generational gap, so I tune in now and then to their blog, mostly for practical tips.
In contrast, I am a simplicity seeker (albeit a deeply flawed and imperfect one) guided by principles, higher purposes, and God. I have and continue to study much of the great wisdom literature. I respect most traditions (currently I am reading Black Elk Speaks).
Daily, however, I do my best to follow Jesus’ teachings. The following bullet points list his mission. It is important to interpret these words metaphorically and literally.
Jesus’s Five Point Plan for His Life:
- Proclaiming good news to the poor
- Providing freedom for prisoners
- Recovering of sight for the blind
- Setting oppressed free
- Proclaiming the year of Lord’s favor
From this, I shaped my journey to simplicity:
- Curbing excessive materialism
- Living in a more “sustainable” way
- Seeking a form of “authenticity”
- Serving others
- Finding community with other people and harmony with nature
Defining My Terms
Materialism – Acquiring more and more and more is an issue far greater than having too much stuff. There are spiritual, ethical, environmental, economic, and political issues as well. In my opinion, a life based on acquiring robs the soul of compassion. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.
Sustainable Living- For me, this means reducing my carbon footprint while simultaneous limiting consumption ALL resources. I achieve this by Reusing, recycling, growing my food, buying second-hand, bike riding, eating healthy, etc.
Authenticity – Authenticity is the ideal of becoming principled human being. Consider these words, “Thought, word and deed must come together in what you do. These are actually the holy trinity within the human being: thought, word and deed. When thought, word and deed are in alignment at a very high level, then you are living an authentic life (Swami Sai Premananda).”
Serving Others- My form of simple living includes a large dose of serving others. This is rooted in the mission of Jesus as mentioned above.
- However, please don’t confuse serving others with one-time acts of kindness, like serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter. The type of serving I speak of comprises a good deal of your awareness and time.And, don’t think serving is manifested only in volunteer work. You may find many ways to serve friends, family and co-workers.
Finally, don’t confuse serving others with just giving money. Although I believe everyone should give to causes and a faith community, serving is more than giving money.
Harmony – Wars, violence and environmental chaos result from humans living out of harmony with each other and the environment. All people are God’s people and should be treated with compassion and respect. As for the environment, the findings of science trump any pseudo-science contained in the Scripture, which is mostly metaphors and parables, anyway.
Now let me say that these are the goals in my life. I have a ways to go, like everyone else. Janes Journals is where I share my journey of curbing excessive materialism, living in a more sustainable way, seeking authenticity, serving others, finding community with other people and harmony with nature. I hope you will read along!
Please leave comments with feedback, ideas, and/or your general thoughts! Thanks, Jane