February 29, 2012

Keeping It Light

"No suffering befalls the man who calls nothing his own."
- Dhammapada
Not everyone aspires to be a wandering monk, claiming ownership to nothing but a piece of cloth to wrap one's self in, and a bowl for food. That would be considered extreme for the average participant in Western 'civilization' where we have become weighed down by our possessions.
Deep inside, however, we know the sages are on to something. We can relate to them because we harbour a yearning for a slower, simpler life, free from a growing mental and physical clutter.

Most people consider some of their best days to be when possessions were few, and responsibilities minimal. Think about it for your own life, or ask others when they felt the most free, the most alive.

Often people will answer that some of their happiest days were their student days. They remember wandering down the road to knowledge with nothing more than a suitcase and a sense of adventure. People recall macaroni and cheese, tiny dorm rooms, and limited budgets not as examples of extreme hardship, but as the joys of a simpler life.

Some of my best days on this earth have been while living out of a back pack. Wilderness trips of up to two weeks, supported by whatever I could carry on my back, taught me the joys of keeping it light. It was just me, my boots, my back pack, and the grizzly bears. It was liberating and exhilarating, and a wake up call to the lies of economic 'authorities' that promote purchasing our way to happiness and prosperity.

While laying in my sleeping bag on the ground under a dome of stars, I would ponder the Big Question. "If I have everything I need to sustain myself in my back pack, what is all that stuff back at home for? Why am I working so hard to acquire a bunch of things that I don't really want or need?"

This line of questioning eventually caused me to quit my job to experience the freedom of traveling lightly for an extended period of time. I bought a round the world ticket and lived out of a back pack for an entire, glorious year.

While traveling I joyfully washed my six item wardrobe in a sink or bucket, and hung it to dry. I walked everywhere, shunning buses, taxis, and trains unless traveling long distances. I carried a small bundle of art supplies, and even a tiny library that shrunk or grew according to book swaps with other travelers. I had lots of time to use both.

Living with things pared down to the essentials appealed to me, and I have not looked back since. Today my possessions are sparse, and I am constantly acting to streamline them more. I am not down to a piece of cloth and a bowl yet, but I have recovered from the damaging effects of conforming to the regular life script of work - spend - sleep - repeat.

We are repeatedly told that the stuff we own is important for the enjoyment of life, but in the majority of cases this is so wrong. Wandering monks, and even our own experience, teach us that there is no freedom in the accumulation of stuff. Real freedom comes when you get rid of stuff, and stop lusting for more.

The less extraneous stuff we have, the less suffering befalls us.

Keep it light. Be free. Enjoy your life.


  1. Anonymous2/29/2012

    good post dude. keep them coming.

    pura vida amigo,

  2. Anonymous2/29/2012

    I'm ready for the monk's life! Can't wander, but am living in isolation that leaves me freedom "To Be" I find that when I'm frustrated by life, I start to want more stuff. Really working on letting it all go.

    1. "I find that when I'm frustrated by life, I start to want more stuff."

      This must be true for most of us. There is temporary relief in the process of buying things. Very temporary.

  3. Great post! Makes me want to go backpacking right now!

    1. Spring is around the corner. Nature calls!

  4. Moving out of my parents' house two years ago I left some stuff behind there. When my mom was cleaning out my old bedroom she requested that I go through the boxes and take them to my place. It was like looking into the past and seeing how much I'd changed since. However, I didn't have the desire to keep every single object like I had a few years ago. I gave away over 3/4. I felt content. It was a great experience.

    1. "I gave away over 3/4. I felt content. It was a great experience."

      We did the same thing almost 10 years ago with the same results.

      Congratulations on letting it go.


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