I have always aspired to living simply, and for the most part, I feel I have succeeded. Although I have never earned much more than $20,000 a year, I manage to live simply with a focus on enjoying the moment. I feel that a high standard of living means doing work that has meaning, having time to dream, work on personal artistic projects, to walk, to be outdoors, to spend quality time with friends, family, or pets, to enjoy creating and consuming delectable meals, as well as sharing quality conversations. A high standard of living necessitates living frugally in some ways in order to place priority on meaning and enjoyment. Since the essence of each being is life itself, and the energy of life is love, then, in my opinion, life should lived as a reflection of love. Love and quality relationships take time, devotion, and attention.
Too often, negativity gets into the way of love, complicating our lives needlessly. Challenges and complexity may be inherent to living life as a human being, but I feel there are choices that we can make to render our lives more enjoyable and real. Childbirth, illness, even death can be lived with dignity and simplicity so that we feel the full extent of the meaning and emotion of inhabiting a physical body as a human being. Today’s culture in the western world has drained meaning from life, all while trying to extend the span of years that a human being can remain physically alive. Stress caused by working long hours with inflexible schedules at jobs that alienate us from ourselves and from the natural world is pervasive. For those of us who want a more vibrant, relaxed, and creative life, what are our choices?
I feel that a useful compromise may be to work part-time at a job that is useful and pleasurable while using the remainder of working hours pursuing activities that our hearts call us to follow. For those of us living in the United States who incarnate a more reflective and introverted tendancy, North American culture being predominantly focused on action and accumulation rather than contemplation and understanding may feel alienated. I know that I frequently feel frustrated and misunderstood by the culture of the country in which I was raised. Artists and creative pursuits are under-appreciated – considered luxuries rather than necessities, and a more reflective, passive way of life in which one slows down to truly live in the moment are not part of the mainstream.
Living artfully outside of the mainstream also signifies lower income, which excludes a person from gaining access to many of life’s pleasures: travel, movies, a beautiful home, good food…or does it? Living in France taught me how to live well with little. Poverty often incites creativity; ie necessity being the mother of invention. It was easier to accomplish this in France, given rent subsidies, government funded education system, universal health care, and a generalized lower cost of living (surprising but true!) However, since I am no longer living there, at least for the time being, I consider myself devoted to finding ways of living well for less in the U.S. I take this challenge seriously. I am lucky not to have any student loans, given my low cost college education in France, and my only debt is my home mortgage, which, including insurance, runs around $350 per month. One must be willing to give up certain status-related benefits. For example, I live in a low income neighborhood, but this allows me to have a nicer home with a large yard, which I would be unable to afford in a more expensive area. I have no cable tv, and I can’t afford to go out to eat or pay for any “traditional entertainment” or travel…so I have to be creative. I work in a public library, so I have constant access to books and audiovisual materials, for free. I shop at my local farmer’s market, seeking out quality food that I can cook at home. Eating out is only for special occasions. The true challenge that remains for me in the U.S. is creating meaningful work and sufficient time to pursue my true interests.
The relationship between time and money or some combination thereof creates freedom. It requires quite a bit of energy to try to live well with little money, but if we are to flourish as do “the lilies of the field”, I suppose we should be satisfied with sunshine, water, and beneficial minerals from the earth – meaning we can be happy with surprisingly little material goods. This is contrary to the American way of life. It does upset me to have to spend most of my waking hours at a job which, while being fairly pleasant, is not where I really want to be spending that much time. As an aspiring lily, I seek freedom in simplicity. This means I must find a way to work no more than 20 hours per week at a paying job. I would like to continue to receive health insurance benefits – though I have forgone health insurance for over five years in the U.S., whereas in France I was always covered while never working more than twenty hours each week. I do wish that conventional medical coverage would include alternative medicine, chiropractic, massage, and various natural therapies. This is severely lacking, I find. In France, holistic doctors and homeopathic treatments are included in mainstream medicine and are available through many general practitioners and pharmacies. Also, I would like to continue to develop meaningful relationships with other people. This is a great challenge in the cultural climate in which I live as well. Social media seems to detract from quality interactions, replacing true conversations with emotional depth by a constant superficial chatter.
In the United States, it is fairly easy to start one’s own business, but the tax base is high. While in France, it is harder to start a business, it is easier to claim deductions on losses or expenses, especially in artistic ventures. In the U.S., one is expected to make a profit; in France, profits are not necessary to continue one’s business as an artist and to declare it to the equivalent of the internal revenue service. Personal freedom and creating the means to earn a living on one’s own terms are intimately connected. If it is not possible to earn sufficient income in the U.S. through part-time external employment, then creating my own business may well be the only means for me to find meaningful work and enough free time to devote to my interests. This is the next phase of my personal development: creating a business that respects my own personality and need for time alone to dream and to breathe and relax.
Readers, if you could share with me some of your experiences about finding ways to live simply and maximize enjoyment of life, I would love to hear from you!
Parable of Jesus, Scripture: Matthew 6:24-34 (Luke 12:24-27)
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.