On Low Living

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.

green color background image of the abstract lonely tree

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.

27 thoughts on “On Low Living

  1. Ah, man, how I am (and surely many others are) such a fateful victim of that last paragraph of yours. I’ve always been this bundle of sensorial information; in fact, one may gather that from reading any line from any of my poems. I’m not the cerebral kind.
    I can recall points of my youth in which I spent hours infatuated with the viscous sap of wild pines of that hardened aureous shell it would make once it became rigid. I’m reminded of my first time touching the bristles of a boar my uncle had hunted, and I can reconstruct my nervous with punctilious precision.
    But, then, there’s so much of the cognitive domains that I want to understand and spend endless amounts of time in. I want that profundity of being that bevels life, deepens experience, radiates into an augmented form of being, one that isn’t perhaps content or comfortable or superior, but just more expansive. That, in a sense, is the need for growth, but growth is not unidirectional, unfortunately.

    I’m sorry for the biblical maundering. Reading you just puts me into a pensive state.

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    1. There is so much I could say in response to your thoughtful critique, and I’m not certain where to start. First, you have given me an idea for a future blog post–an inner experience I’ve thought about and no doubt mentioned in passing, but not thought to discuss on its own. And it’s important: the experience creative people often have of not being intelligent enough or of thinking the “wrong” way, which often means residing in–and basing one’s thinking on–the material, or the sensual. I remember sitting in graduate school classrooms thinking all the other students might very well be smarter than me. They lived in the world of abstraction–of logic and complex terminology and niche specialities–and I felt sideways compared to them. And yet, in the end, I didn’t regard them highly for it. Because I knew things, too. But my knowledge was of a different kind. It was gained differently, I imagine, and was of an entirely different character. It most often results in poetry or in the physical/sensual rituals I perform in everyday life: cooking, gardening, swimming, hiking (feeling the earth beneath my feet). So, I’m not certain that those of us creatives who think differently would really be improving our skills by thinking like dutiful scholars. I think you are right, we gan only expand what talents we have and grow in those directions. That is where we flourish, even if it is somewhat “sideways.” Thank you for leaving such thoughtful feedback. And I hope you don’t mind the long-winded response. You’ve got my mind thinking in fruitful directions.

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      1. Oh, I do believe that intelligence is multifaceted and pluridimensional, and I’d never compare mine with, say, that of a carpenter, because I’m sure a carpenter has vast amounts of knowledge that I do not have, which is why I value openness and attention as much as I do.
        But I do think what truly tugs my spirit is the division between the sensorial life and the cogitative life, of feeling and digesting, and perhaps there is some epicurean culmination of both, a profound peace central to both the senses and the thoughts, but I find them hard to coalesce, personally.
        And I’m very glad that I’m getting your gears going, since I appreciate your gears so much, and I’m hopeful that I can enrich your blogging experience more so that you feel less pressured. As long as you’re around, we’ll be happy.

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      2. You are very kind. Thank you. I, too, agree that there seem to be unnecessary divisions and disparities in the ways we think about intelligence, creativity, the cognitive and sensual aspects of our existence. All flip-sides of the same proverbial coin. Have a wonderful day!

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  2. I have a struggle leaving off from my laptop. Playing games. And my phone. However I am making conscious decisions to put the devices aside and read. I love reading. And I find my own creative juices flow easier or I see more ideas when I am not always in front of a screen. (Well small lie lol I have Kndle) Hmmmmm as always you make me think and as I write this realizing several things. Thank you for this post…..it is nudging me where I need to go. (Sometimes slow but eventually I get there.) 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Jay-lyn! I, too, find I am more creative when I read more. And I certainly have a quieter, more focused mind when I spend less time on my devices. It’s good to know others have a similar experience with this kind of thing, too. I also went through a lengthy period sort of quietly knowing I was doing the wrong thing for myself by being tethered to technology. The break has been such a breath of fresh air. Best of luck! 🙂

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  3. I love this post, as I must pull myself away from the glow of desperate frustration, and return to the nature of the Garden. My artsy itch is a ship’s smoke on the horizon, and I must remind myself that seasons of the future will arrive in due time. Live right now. Time to figure out what a boom-vang is for. Thanks for the reminders! Ciao!

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    1. Haha right on. I’m happy you enjoyed this post. I’m starting to think that way more and more–about the seasons of life arriving (and passing) in due time. And there’s no need to hurry them along. Ahoy! Best of luck with the boom-bang! 🙂

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  4. Reading Alan Watts does this to people. 🙂
    I have been stocktaking too, deleted a blog, started a new one, even changed my name (formerly Bryntin, you may remember me). There are elements to the personality which are constant though, and that getting back in touch with those elemental realities is a touchstone which some of modern life obscures horribly, particulalry ones which the money men can’t play on to make even more money. Do recommend Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet as good reading on this too.

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    1. Yes, Alan Watts does have quite an effect. Also has me wanting to start dressing in robes and smoking a pipe. 🙂 But, you are right. On all counts. Modern life has stolen us away from the touchstones of our nature. Well said…and welcome back! Of course I remember you. I look forward to the new blog. And to your impeccable sense of humor. 🙂

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      1. Well, impeccable is one word for it I suppose–really not sure it’s the right one, maybe it’s one of those metaphorical things you like to use. 😉

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