Today’s post is from Samuel Tranter, who shares some reflections on living simply, lego, and baking for royalty. Intrigued? Read on…
How simply can you live for one week? Asked the Tesseract guys, & last week a whole bunch of different people tried to work that very question out in their lives, raising a whole pile of pennies for Anusaran in the process.
Getting stuck in with ‘simple week’ prompted me to wonder what it might look like if I tried the whole simple-living-to-help-others-thing full time: If I extended it beyond a designated week.
Many times during the week, I was reminded of my childhood…
This one time when I was quite small my dad wrote me a riddle. I found it – neatly & carefully handwritten – next to my pillow when I woke up. It was my eighth birthday, and he’d hidden my present somewhere downstairs; I just had to follow the clues & find it. Eventually I did, and it was this miniature-scale castle, an intricately crafted and painted fort made out of balsa wood. As you might guess, I was absolutely thrilled. It was just perfect.
To be honest, as I’ve grown up, my parents haven’t really had too much money. That’s because they’ve been trying to live simply, to help poor people. I suppose we didn’t really get expensive presents or have the newest stuff.
Is that what made the wooden castle so precious? Might it be that frugality, when done compassionately in order to participate in helping the downtrodden, can give birth to all kinds of adventures that unthinking materialism just doesn’t offer? It may look like just that – being released to take the time to make something really beautiful, rather than buying something over-produced, over-packaged, over-priced. Sometimes for us it looked like making-up all kinds of recipes to fit bananas into every single meal, because they were all ripe on one day & we had little else. Sometimes it was more like lots of second-hand lego and many lengths of string, making suspension bridges between tables, to teach my brother some physics. Always: it was creative.
Not just that, but in a world where many face starvation and oppression because of our unthinking adherence to a philosophy of ‘want’, it may be part of the answer. Might it be that there is little room for improvisation, for those acts of spontaneous kindness, when you’re caught up in the myth of modern consumerism? Of course, it won’t be easier to live otherwise, & at first it might not be at all more attractive or ‘cooler’, but be reassured, even Leonardo da Vinci identified that ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.
Moreover, perhaps the ‘step back’ we take in attempting to live a simpler lifestyle helps us view our world with more discerning eyes. The contemplation involved in choosing what to ‘give up’ gains us insight into what binds our culture, giving us awareness of what unnecessary material baggage we carry, & allowing us to begin to see what bad habits we’ve sleepwalked into picking up. Isn’t it so hard to have an astute cultural self-awareness when we’re buying into the humdrum, the built-in obsolescence, the fads & trends & gadget updates &… so blindly as we do?
If we could do away with the dislocation and alienation that exists from those who ‘have not’ – we’re blatantly the ‘haves’, however much we point to somebody ‘better off’ – we could stand in solidarity with the poor & oppressed & the discriminated against. Maybe it’s logical that now we find it hard to empathise with those who earn less in one week than we spend on a take-out snack. What if we find threads of common humanity when we get back to basics? By extension, what if genuinely good society is weaved when we take a step back and intentionally withdraw from our addictions? Perhaps the absurdity of our addiction, when distilled, can be simply put like this: buying things we don’t need to impress people we barely even like. We call hoarding ‘prudence’, and greed ‘industry’, and our favourite stories are escapist ones of poor-people got rich. Could it be that something’s deeply wrong?
Furthermore, perhaps simplicity is the key to community, where sharing leads to deeper friendship & we discover the new-found joy of interdependence. Maybe the blaring bullhorn of modernity telling us to be ‘in control’ of your whole life leads us to miss out; what if relying on others, and them in turn on us, actually makes us more alive. While having less might seem to preclude hospitality, in fact frugality allows us to be genuinely generous with real meaning: feasting with guests, with friends, maybe even with people who can’t invite us back!
As I finish scrawling this up, another childhood anecdote springs to mind, perhaps the quaintest of them all: one time, deep into the foothills of the Himalayas, a king and his four queens came to visit us. Making awnings out of bedsheets and regal seating out of old patched up chairs, we prepared for the royal arrival. My mum, trying to make something a little special to eat, got hold of some cocoa in the monthly delivery from India, and with some dodgy flour managed to fashion a fairly basic sort of chocolate cake, & laid it out in the pretty underwhelming spread. Anyway, it turned out the queens rather liked it, & at the end of the afternoon one of them picked up the leftover slices & took it home to the royal palace for supper.
Preaching isn’t too much fun, & specifics will be different for different folks, but, as we reflect at the end of this week, I want to invite you into of a life of simplicity, something really attractive: creativity-nurturing, community-building, awareness-giving. My hope is that you let simple week begin that adventure.