by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
A good deal of my life has been devoted to getting up in the world. Now I find I am equally diligent about going down in the world. This turn of objective – as categorical and reversionary as it might appear – entails nothing more creative than disposition rather than acquisition. And while the occupation smacks of mere materialism I can assure you that its repercussions are exponentially spiritual. For every article of capital abandoned there is a three-fold return of equanimity.
If we were so easily convinced of the propriety of our actions there would be little debate about how to proceed. The thing that muddles the procedure, however, is that our sensibilities change with time. What once suited us may no longer do so. With the effluxion of time and the consummation of our many desires both visceral and cerebral there is at last the prospect of unencumbered tranquility, the simple life.
It requires little enterprise to imagine the simple life. The redundancies and extravagances of modern living make it almost a pleasure to forgo them. I hate to say it but much of the attraction of the simple life is the lack of responsibility. Of course I do not mean personal responsibility, rather responsibility for things that in the end really don’t matter. Indeed it is very possible that we’ve successfully managed to confuse vassalage to our things for dependability. The privileges which were once reckoned in exchange for our fidelity eventually cease to amuse, rather like outgrowing a toy.
Be warned however that staying the course in this novel direction is no mean task. Especially if one is accomplished in achieving preliminary goals there is a fortiori continued temptation to gratify that performance with further constraint. We are after all bondsmen to our appetites and it should not surprise us to find ourselves succumbing to the old ways of reward and indulgence. Yet as we bump along upon this road of innovation we realize (sometimes with no small regret) that “stuff” just doesn’t make it anymore. We are at last coldly confronted with the hard fact that there is nothing to camouflage, coat, deter or defer the naked truths of life. This admission need not be a capitulation. It can on the other hand empower us to awaken delight in our unadulterated being, the simple things in life. How often for example I have noticed with strained curiosity a person’s marked absorption with an otherwise unexceptional family heirloom. Even the most inconsequential object can manifest a texture and depth which transcends the thing itself and illuminates the sometimes neglected corners of our soul, the portions of it that respond to delicacy and intimacy, not mere weight and ostentation.
The so-called collateral damage to, or fallout from, downsizing is minimization of every particle of our psyche. Our intangible self is relieved of its long-established burdens and like an underwater bubble plies its way to the Heavens. The sudden difference in pressure accelerates us upwards providing a new-found buoyancy. As one would expect in any derogation from the past the territory can be unfamiliar yet oddly intoxicating. Sustaining the model will require both conviction and reason (no more of that blind greed). It is an act of decontamination. Such liberated behaviour adds further dimension, bringing with it what might amount to the undiscerning eye as an element of complacency, a smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself. This mustn’t however be confused with the satisfaction of reaching capacity. Fulfillment, like the appeasement of any appetite, is not about gloating or triumph but rather contentment.
It is no accident that there is something monastic about the simple life. In its strictest terms monasticism is about renouncing worldly pursuits to devote one’s self fully to spiritual work. Most of the disciplinary rules followed by monastics prescribe in great detail proper methods of living. Yet even the disciplinary regulations for Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis are intended to create a life that is simple and focused rather than one of deprivation and severe asceticism. Overlooking if we may for a moment the goal of eternal life, I believe there is room in everyone’s life for a degree of detachment from worldly pursuits. What I like about this undertaking is that its release from imprisonment is axiomatic. Remember though that the renunciation of worldliness is the inspiration for the eschewal of selfishness. Granted it is unlikely that most of us will choose to disavow personal property except for a bowl and a cup. Nor is it probable that we shall alienate ourselves from personal relationships to ensure happiness and to keep chaotic influences at bay. What is more conceivable is that we will seek to sanctify the physical world by degrees. After all the prescription is to keep it simple, not desolate. This still allows plenty of opportunity to exercise restraint and modesty. I challenge anyone to prove that such deflation will be withering. If anything the process will make living more manageable and less imperative.
Whatever may be said about downsizing the inescapable observation is that there is less about which to be concerned. That alone is pacifying. As with anything else refinement is feasible though I am more persuaded by continued downsizing than any modification of the ropes of the ladder upon descent. For my own part I have arbitrarily chosen a cut-off point beyond which I intend not to trespass whether for good or bad. I am not convinced that unabridged evaporation is the answer so in the meantime I propose to preserve some of what I have but learn to relish it more completely (or at least more philosophically). It may be as simple as removing the competition from life, rather like receiving only one gift for Christmas.