“…the Buddha advised us to first understand how to live as lightly as possible, without harming beings. Only then can the mind be settled.”
Ani Tenzin Palmo, Reflections on a Mountain Lake
You can’t get a lot more minimalist than living from a small backpack
As I’ve written about recently, I’m getting on a train next week for an extended trip around a good part of the country. I’ll be by myself and whatever I bring has to be something I can carry on foot for a mile or two. It’s a forced exercise in minimalism.
I lead a relatively minimalist lifestyle, though there are too many physical books around, and I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets, though very limited, once again, by my tiny galley kitchen. Nothing gets purchased without my knowing where I’m going to put it. With the train trip I’m limited to a travel backpack and a small second day bag. Not a lot of space to work with and weight is a consideration. I’ll be working, so my laptop (the smallest available MacBook) is going and my phone, plus the chargers and earbuds. No other electronics.
Minimalism is a very trendy thing these days that dovetails well with my Buddhism and its antipathy to stuff. Minimalism started in the arts and as an architecture style, which focused on minute details and stripping away superfluous decorative elements. Somewhat ironically, this did not mean these interiors and buildings were cheaper or easier to design and build. When you remove distracting elements, what’s left must be perfect or it won’t look like anything but unfinished.
I think this says a lot about minimalism as a fetish vs. a simple paring down of things. If I get rid of furniture, for example, to create that spare white room look, each piece left takes on a prominence it wouldn’t have in a crowded environment.
In packing, this becomes a puzzle of its own. What if I want to eat out at a posh restaurant? Do I need dressy shoes and a jacket? The answer is going to be no. If a place is that fussy, it’s off the list. Do I take my electric razor or grow out a beard which I know will simply make me look scruffy, which is not acceptable. The razor stays with me. And on and on.
This trip is entirely a part of a concentrated effort to do some rewiring of my life, to unravel old circuits and let a new network form in my brain, or wherever such things truly exist. In Buddhism, those who become monks are known as ‘homeleavers’ and with their vows they cut many ties with their previous lives. This distinction can be terrifying to Westerners who are so defined by their things, their success, their mental and physical health and comfort. It’s one of the reasons Western Buddhism has not formed large monasteries or communities of renunciants. And I’m not ready to give up my comfortable apartment and things which have meaning beyond their original function. My Sabatier French carbon chef’s knife is a wonderful and fairly rare tool, but what imbues it with meaning is that it was a gift from my late father for my eighteenth birthday. I can assign these meanings to many of my things. Those that I cannot are getting sold or given away.
But this trip gives me a glimpse into the renunciant life, making do with less. Less comfort, less choice, less predictability. But it offers so much more that is new. New places, new conversations, new challenges, etc. These are things that stimulate new neural pathways, rather than being reminders of a life lived.