Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Epiphany in Progress (Could be pretty boring!)

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about how I should live (the rest of) my life. Obviously, this is something I should have been giving thought to long before now. Better late than never, though, right? At the moment, all I've got are some rather half-baked ideas about what is and isn’t important to me. It awaits further refinement, but at the risk of boring the living daylights out of you here they are:

Not Important
  • Accumulating wealth and possessions
  • Status
  • Working like a maniac
  • Time
  • Moderation and frugality
  • Quality friends
  • Downtime
  • Eating fresh, locally grown high-quality food
  • Reducing my ecological footprint
  • Volunteering for worthwhile causes
  • Compassion for others
  • Communing with nature (don’t mock!)
This is not to say that I am some sort of pillar of perfection—I’m very far from it. I’m doing pretty well with rejecting the stuff that isn’t important, but continual, conscious effort needs to be devoted to achieving and/or maintaining the important stuff. For example, I do have a circle of quality friends that I care very much about, but the activity on the volunteering-for-worthwhile-causes front is practically nil, which is shameful.

Lately, I’ve been reading Henry David Thoreau--one of my mom’s heros. I well remember as a high school student scoffing and rolling my eyes whenever his name passed her lips or she quoted one of his aphorisms, such as “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” which was frequently trotted out whenever my mom bought a blouse, hat, or underwear (!) at a garage sale. I was appalled.* At that time in my life, I could often be found skulking around the local mall, dropping most of my paycheck from my job at the movie theatre on new (but poor-quality) clothes at Lerner’s of New York. My mom never tired of pointing out that her garage-sale finds were always from upscale department stores. She was a bit of a snob about that.

Now, of course, I like nothing better than getting clothes for free. I believe I hear Thoreau applauding from the grave. Reading Walden, I find myself in full agreement with just about every sentence he wrote:

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making Earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.

Our life is frittered away by detail.

It is rather surprising how very much like my mom I am becoming. My inner 16-year-old is no doubt throwing a temper tantrum my older and wiser self can no longer hear. I’m now quite convinced that material possessions don’t bring lasting happiness and, in fact, only complicate life. Not that I’m ready to sell the house, don a loincloth, and go live in a yurt on the beach.

Needless to say, I’m not very good at articulating what my “personal philosophy” is and it may well seem like (or, in fact, be) an insane, naive muddle, but is there such a thing as an ascetic hedonist? Or perhaps a frugal hedonist? Can I pursue the things that make me happy without spending a lot of money or wrecking the planet?

*I think I will always be appalled by the notion of buying used underwear.


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