Principles Don’t Die

I recently read an about how minimalism is dead or the minimalist movement or whatever. I thought this was interesting because I learned a bit about minimalism from the author in his earlier writings. But what I never saw coming was his rejection of it. While pondering this I had an “Ah ha!” moment and realized that minimalism is something that can never die because (for some like me) it is a principle. Now don’t get me wrong. If people view minimalism as a trend, then certainly it can die. But principles don’t die. You won’t find people saying that honesty is dead, or integrity, or loyalty. Well, you might find people saying these things if they’ve been lied to, cheated on, or whatever. But for those who believe in the spirit of principles (like minimalism), principles will never die.

This is an interesting point because I used to be very involved in Asian Indian spirituality and after many years of practice, study, and teaching it, I found that most people involved in it had this mentality about it being a trend. Somehow they got on board in the mentality of joining a football team or a sorority. Thus they were (and so was I initially) hasty to don the dress and learn the lingo, basically adopting the externals without the internal infrastructure in place. I feel fortunate to have had a strong pull to the tradition and took up studying the path very intently. Thus while I had the externals, I was also cultivating the knowledge to support my practices. In the end however I found that 95% or more of this group had externals only. Or perhaps some of them did do the work of learning the tradition, but even so seemed to have some kind of malfunction in their development. What I found was that most people had an ‘outside-in’ orientation. They based their lives upon the input, approval, and trends of others. Even the leaders were essentially blind followers. For those (of the ‘outside-in’ orientation) who learned the books well, they searched the books to find the quotations that supported their particular pieces of beliefs while ignoring other passages or texts that contradicted their tunnel vision.

What I’m trying to say here is that there is a difference between being oriented towards the essence versus the periphery or the clothes versus the person inside the clothes. We’re taught and programmed to be oriented towards the shell and not what’s inside, like I wrote about in the prior post (Got Freedom?). So if we don’t shed this wool from our eyes then we’re predisposed to be people of trends and not of principle. ‘Sheeple’ if you will.

What are your principles? Think about it. What are the rock solid core beliefs that you live by? What principles do you want to develop? Write this all down. Take steps to achieve them. Or you may find yourself swaying endlessly according to the weather of the media and your social life. And ultimately how can you ever be content if what you’re basing your life on is constantly changing and contradicting itself?

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Got Freedom?

In days of yore there was a theory that you could be free, even if in chains. This concept implied that if you were imprisoned due to persecution you could still be devoted to your beliefs, possessing an inner freedom so to speak.

In modern times this concept is still alive, but inverted. These days we think we’re free to believe and practice what we like (in most places, for the most part) but factually most of us are still chained up. How so? Because we’re chained up on the inside. We’re chained by the ideas that the media plants in us, which grow into our own thoughts and desires. These ideas chain us more effectively than any literal chains could because outer chains we’re aware of, while inner chains remain elusive. Erich Fromm writes brilliantly about this in his book, The Art of Being.

It’s difficult to accept that we’re chained up when we’ve been thinking that we’re free. So how can we know that we’re chained up on the inside? We can know that we are chained by looking at what we desire and why. Do we desire a nice car, an expensive house, a romantic partner who’s as gorgeous as the people we see in the movies and magazines? Do we find that satisfaction in life always seems out of reach, like the carrot in front of the donkey? These are symptoms of inner chains.

Ever since we started breathing air we’ve been subjected to the conditioning of society and the media to want and consume various products (and even people) and we’re taught that this will make us happy. Although we may go out and buy the latest iPod, within time there will be a new one out and we’re made to believe and think that the newest model is the better one to have. So although you’ve achieved something you want, you’re always left wanting something more. And even if your wealth allows you to consume to your heart’s content, these external gadgets aren’t what really makes us happy in life. We’re not rid of the chains so to speak.

How to rid ourselves of these inner chains? The main thing that is involved in being free is to see the media for what it is and to not be deceived by all the advertising that is shot at us constantly. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to buy the latest MacBook Air, but I am saying that you should think about why you want it and whether or not you really need it. Same goes with anything you desire, including situations, or people you want to be around. Is it possible to be happy with what you already have? Could you better direct your desires and efforts towards a goal that comes from yourself rather than from outside of yourself?

Here are some steps you can take towards ridding yourself of inner chains:

1) Be aware of the media and don’t subject yourself to it unnecessarily.

2) Practice questioning yourself when it comes to buying things. Do you really need to buy x, y, or z? Why?

3) What are the things you believe will make you happy? If you possess or obtain these things will you really be happy?

If you are able to apply this awareness and ask yourself these questions (and answer them honestly), you will find that not only will you see the inner chains, but you’ll be able to break them, and achieve greater freedom, happiness, and effectiveness in life.

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The Detached Minimalist

As I read the blogs of fellow minimalists, I mentally drool at their abilities to reduce their possessions to a minimal number of things. But reflecting on Having & Being it occurred to me that there is something else at the core of minimalism that I’ve not seen discussed very often and it is…

detachment

In other words, how much of a minimalist is one if one is super attached to the few things one possesses? If a person flips out, has anxiety attacks, becomes irritable, depressed, angry, and loses sleep because one lost one’s cell phone, then is that really minimalism?

A few hundred years ago there were two monks walking along and they came to a river they had to wade across. On the bank was a woman who also needed to cross the river. So one of the monks picked up the woman and carried her on his shoulders across the river, put her down, and the monks continued walking. A considerable time went by and one monk says to the other, “I can’t believe you carried that woman on your shoulders!” And the reply was, “I only carried her on my shoulders a short distance, but you’ve carried her all this time in your mind.”

In other words, our minds can hold onto things that don’t have a material existence (what to speak of the material things we do have). We can mentally possess much, but I propose that mental possessiveness is not in line with minimalist goals. So I would like to reiterate the concept of minimalist mind. Minimalist mind means being detached from the few material things we do utilize in our day to day functioning. Some steps you can take to gauge your detachment are as follows:

1) Consider your possessions. What is most valuable to you and why?
2) What would happen if these items went missing? How would you react?
3) Based on your reaction you can gauge how attached you are to the possessions and can proceed from there. You may want to ponder how could you anticipate/prevent the loss of such items? Would it be a benefit to have some type of insurance to cover the few things you own? What would give you detachment from the item?

I am not advocating for irresponsibility. There are many things that assist us in enjoying life and we should certainly take care of them. But they shouldn’t own us. We should be able to walk away if we truly possess the minimalist spirit.

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” Tyler Durden (Fight Club)

Whether we have many possessions or less than 50 things, I believe the mood in which we utilize them speaks more about our minimalism than the quantity of things does. It’s about the quality of minimalism, right?

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Don’t Use the Shotgun

Do you ever wonder where the time went? I know I do sometimes and to me this means I’ve been living on autopilot. While to some this may not be a problem, to me it is.
We’ve all heard countless stories by people later in life, wishing that they did something different in the past or that they would’ve tried something when they were younger, etc. 20-20 hindsight gets sharper as we get older and I believe that there are a lot of us out there who don’t intend to get caught up in living, yet we do. What I mean by ‘caught up’ is that life takes over. You have to work, eat, sleep, pay the bills, fix the car, take the kids to school, etc. and these activities fill our schedules without giving us any say in the matter like a spider getting caught it its own web. We may even argue, “What can I do? I have to do these things.” And I agree. We do have a lot of responsibilities in life. However, I argue that you can be responsible AND have time for yourself to pursue that which really matters so that life doesn’t pass your dreams by on the highway. In other words, it’s true that you can fill a jar with sand (life’s responsibilities). However, once the jar is full, you can’t put anything else in, like the big rocks (important things in life – goals, dreams, etc.). The key is to put the big rocks in first, (which means planning), then you’ll see that you will still be able to get quite a bit of sand in there.

I am a firm believer that the more we plan our existence, the more we can make time for ourselves. The saying comes to mind that ‘we make plans and God laughs’. While there’s some truth to this in that life is always changing, that is no reason to give our lives free reign without direction. Anything worth achieving is worth the effort to attain it.

As we age, time appears to move more quickly. A week can go by in the snap of your fingers, and a year can seem to blur as if you’re racing the Indy 500. I don’t think anyone wants to find themselves 83 years old, thinking back on life with the question, “What just happened?” That’s called ending without a beginning.

Instead, take inventory of your dreams and make it a point to achieve them. Yes, it’s easy for me to say this and may not be so easy to do. Often a dream, even a simple one, may be overwhelming. Let’s say your wish is to start a café. Obviously you can’t go from zero to café in 37.5 seconds. And sitting down to think of how to start your amazing eatery can be an overload, but it takes planning. There are many details and tasks, but you’ll find that if you can sit down, brainstorm, and plan out your goal, you can then break it into projects, and the projects can be broken down into tasks. Once you have it broken down into manageable pieces, then you can begin. Leo Babauta describes this process in his book ‘The Power of Less’ in a very easy to digest fashion.

My point here is not necessarily for you to pursue your dream career, although you may find that to be a goal on the forefront. What I’m suggesting is that you get into the driver’s seat of your life, determine what it is you want and where you want to go. Once you do this, you can then begin to plan your trip.

It is the difference between using a shotgun or a rifle to hit a long range target. If you let life get the best of you, you’re shooting a shotgun at your goals. This means that your effort comes out splintered into tiny little pellets that are great for getting something done in the short range. However, if you decide to focus your efforts, then you’ll find that you’re shooting the rifle and then not only can you see your goals in life (through the scope), but you are also using a tool that will hit the target.

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Having versus Being

When we think about our orientation towards life it can be boiled down to two modes: Having or Being. I believe there can also be an area in between although the goal is towards being rather than having.

‘Having’ is an orientation wherein we base our value, satisfaction, and success on things we (believe) we possess or have. The mentality of keeping up with the Jones’s is an excellent example of this. We look at someone else, take note of what they have, and then look at our life to see what we need in order to keep up or surpass them. They in turn reciprocate by doing the same, and on the downward cycle goes. Let’s look at an example…
Fred walks out to pick up the morning paper and sees that his neighbor Dan has a brand new BMW sitting in the driveway. Fred gets upset that Dan now appears wealthier because he bought a new beamer and so now Fred contemplates what he needs to do to get back on an equal footing with Dan. This may in fact really bother Fred so much that he is angry and irritable until he is able to rise to the bar that Dan has set.
This is a very generic example of what the having mode entails, but it seeps into our lives in many obvious and hidden ways via societal conditioning and especially from advertising via the media. Ideas are planted into our heads at every turn as to what we should be feeling that we need and want in order to fit in.

‘Being’ on the other hand is the focus on what we are and what we want to be that is very separate from what we have. Some have written about this as being an ‘inside out’ mentality rather than an ‘outside in’ mentality.
Once we take on the challenge towards being we begin to see two things. The first is that society is very oriented towards having and also towards pushing us to live in a having mode. The second is that once we begin orienting ourselves towards being, we find that our lives become much more simple and peaceful.

How much better would Frank be if he didn’t care about Dan’s new BMW? What if we didn’t feel the pressure to buy things to make ourselves feel better? I continually hear how people feel they need to go shopping in order to feel better if they’re frustrated about life. How does consumerism make us feel better? If we look at this logically we find that it is a never ending cycle. We continue to buy new things, which then become obsolete. We then need new things to replace the obsolete so that we can keep up with the latest trends. I don’t know about you, but I think my finances would need some serious life support measures were I to dive into this having cycle.

So, the next time you feel the urge to value your life based upon something outside of yourself, thing again. I’m sure you can find satisfaction in life’s simple pleasures, like taking some time to go for a walk on a nice day, spending more time with your family or friends, and/or doing something invigorating like taking up jogging or yoga. This is what LivingContent is all about.

Here are steps you can take to begin or improve your pursuit towards of a life of being:

1) Take inventory of the things in life you enjoy and what makes you happy.
2) Categorize this list into two columns: Having and Being.
3) Strive to develop the things in the Being category, while minimizing the Having items.
4) Set a specific time frame (an hour, a day, or a week) to observe the push for you to be in the Having mode. And mentally follow it through to see what your life would be like if you were to possess all that you’re pushed to possess.

And last but not least…

5) Stay tuned because there will be more posts on Having versus Being!

Note: This post is based on the writings and work of Erich Fromm. For more information, please check out his book To Have or to Be?.

Posted in Life Principles