It occurred to me about two or three weeks ago that I was, perhaps, in need of a change in habits. Spurred by feelings of stress, overstimulation, and an overwhelming desire to tune out— to reclaim a firmer sense of autonomy and personal well-being during such chaotic times, a yearning for a simpler, quieter, lower kind of living—I deleted my active social media accounts and began drastically reducing the amount of time I was spending online, especially on my phone. I started spending more of my days outdoors, nurturing my small garden, picking and drying herbs for teas and tisanes, listening to music, lying in a hammock and staring up at the trees, cooking, reading, reveling in the sensations of the warm sun on my skin, and long, cool swims first thing in the morning. And you know what? That was the best thing I could have done.
Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely. – Chang Ch’ao
Indeed, I don’t think I realized until now how radically different my perspective is when I am focused solely on living in the present and engaging with the natural environment. I am myself again. How deceptively simple. Why this is important: because I’ve written about these things before. About the importance of living sensually. Of the spiritual and creative value of learning how to work with one’s hands, even of gaining more primitive, fundamental skills, like learning how to take care of plants, how to build a fire, or how to butcher a chicken. But it never occurred to me that I was, perhaps, getting in my own way as I searched for the point of it all—for a central kernel of meaning or some kind of personal awakening. That, as I was preaching these things, I was not doing enough of them myself. That I was gradually getting sucked into the idea that I had to have a social media presence for The Used Life, that I had to gain followers, to publish at least twice a week, sell more books, connect with more people, get greater exposure for my work, put myself out there-that is, play the game. What lofty goals, indeed. I daresay I started taking myself and my beloved project too seriously.
Until I reached a point at which I considered quitting it all. Delete the blog! Go somewhere remote and quit society for awhile. To hell with them all! Because this is an impossible game with an impossible ending. But a critical moment at which I learned a simple, yet critical, lesson: I don’t have to do these things. If I think too much time spent on the internet is eroding my perspective on life and keeping me stuck (and I believe it was)—then I can choose not to be there. Or to be there less. And if my focus on current events is making me feel anxious and despondent, then I should direct my attention elsewhere. I don’t have to watch. (Decisions we each must make for ourselves.) I can choose instead to spend hours looking at trees. With nothing else on my mind but looking. And how glorious that is! To have such a quiet mind. Or to swim. Undeniably my favorite sport. Some days, I really workout, swim a mile or more. Other days, I splash around, feel myself move through the water and know how blissful it feels. Alan Watts was right about this: to at once be content and to know that we are content is an altogether tremendous reward.
Indeed, I suddenly have ideas for blog posts on topics ranging from gardening to walking to swimming and, yet again, cooking. Why? Because these are the things I’m doing now, the physical and sensual ceremonies on which I am focused and in whose inherent magic I am fully able to participate.
A related thought: it is one thing to know something. To master an idea or a concept intellectually. And it is quite another to experience the sensation of it. To know it by feel. By intuition. A more holistic—more humanistic—way of knowing.
All of our senses are one sense.
One vivd and wild intelligence. Thinking with the whole mind. A kind of self-surrender. And one that my experience tells me too much technology and lofty living can steal me away from if I am not mindful of my habits. Because the truth is I am most myself when I live simply. With few, if any, frills. None of us needs accoutrements to be more fully ourselves.
Very much contented am I to lie low, to cling to the soil, to be of kin to the sod. My soul squirms comfortably in the soil and sand and is happy. Sometimes when one is drunk with this earth, one’s spirit seems so light that he thinks he is in heaven. But actually he seldom rises six feet above the ground. – Lin Yutang
Nor do I need to spend too much time in the world of the intellect, caught up in logical and ideological dilemmas, the unearthing of esoteric concepts, or fiercely contemplating the meaning of life. Though I’ve tried that. Noble though such pursuits may be, I’ve realized I am not cut out for them. I’d rather live from a place of sense. Knowing what I know from my own two hands, from my eyes and ears, from the way I experience myself: my own inclinations, desires, anxieties, triumphs. From spending hours staring at the trees and touching my own little piece of heaven. All the while contemplating nothing.