Jobs, Work, and Taking Control of Possessions (an updated ramble)

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Comfort in the parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.

Comfort in the Parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.

Possessions don’t make us happy!  Situations do.

Possessions, desire, covetousness, craving, yearning, lust; these forces drive humanity. Somehow each generation of moral thinkers know these things are ultimately wrong and look for something deeper.  With virtually every major religion and most schools of moral philosophy reiterating this through the millennia it’s surprising any of us even pretend to a higher conscience in the age where consumption is a human’s primary role.

taoist-monk

A Taoist monk wearing a coat made from cast-off scraps of cloth as a sign of his un-attachment.

And yet, each generation produces it’s share of radicals who cling to the hope that we can get more from life by having less. 

At some point, some of us have an epiphany about what is truly important in life.  It’s not the pursuit of money.  Life is short, so if you don’t enjoy what you do from day-to-day, them something needs to change.  Look around.  How many ways are people and companies trying to sell you something you didn’t even know you wanted?  Is it worth selling your soul, one hour at a time?  Not to me.  Not any more.  Like so many people before me, I wasted much of my youth.  Not all of it, but large swaths of time were sold away to an employer for mere money.  Not that giving time to a cause is an evil in itself.  Helping a friend, working with kids, or teaching a skill; all are noble pursuits and are, in a sense, work.  These things just don’t fall into that class of mindless drudgery that makes up most day jobs.

Filling a McMansion with junk is not a road to happiness. It's the road to enslavement.

Filling a McMansion with things you don’t need while struggling to pay the mortgage is not a road to happiness. It’s the road to enslavement.

Even in our hobbies, generally they are just fillers.  Something to be done in our leisure time, and somehow not part of “real life.”  Isn’t this backwards?  Shouldn’t we fill our days with things we love; music, family, reading, writing, wandering, or just plain idling?  We are taught to criticize the idle and there is possibly some logic to it.

At a family or village level, its easy to see how we might resent someone who doesn’t pull their weight; and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean we need to forget to live a satisfying life along the way.

I am often amazed how angry even the most privileged people become when they think someone is getting a handout for free.  Taking this to an extreme, people relish in the schadenfreude*.

I think many of us are that person at some point in our lives, but with  spiritual growth, this petty thinking will be only a phase.

vino_monaco

Finding your  joy.  In this case, a little wine, song, and presumably, camaraderie.

We have, as a society, confused real and honest work, with mindlessly stumbling to a job.  Even with a so-called “good job” most of us have no stake in our employer, other than making sure the check comes regularly.  Choosing to not punch the clock does not make one a slacker.  My friends and acquaintances who choose to live outside this system are the hardest working people I know.

They just don’t sell their lives cheaply for others’ gain.

kitchengarden

Maintaining a garden is work, but providing for yourself and family directly eliminates the constant need for the middle-men.

Taking control of your needs, even a little, alleviates some of the more abstract time demands paid out to someone else by serving yourself directly.  The most negative comment I have heard about doing these things for oneself is “I don’t have enough time!”  Yes, doing things like gardening or making clothes or furniture or tools takes time but at some point it becomes a trade-off.  Is it a bigger waste of time to commute and hour to work each way or spend two hours with the kids in the garden?

For me, there’s no question; and I’m certainly not the first person to reach this conclusion.

Indischer_Maler_um_1650_(II)_001

Finding your inner peace.  Dervish, with leopard and a lion, ca 1650.

I think this need for, or as a result of, spiritual awakening is the driving force behind many religious and philosophical movements over many thousands of years.  And, of course, they are all the one true path, religion, paradigm, whatever-you-call-it (leading to division, persecution, strife, and war; some irony, eh?).  Once the epiphany hits, there is realization that the system is not really necessary.  To make it through life, few possessions are truly essential.

Join me on a journey to a better life…

gandhi

A well-known photo of the personal effects of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Chase your passion, not your pension.”
— Denis Waitley

*Schadenfreude– the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune; an all-too common evil in humanity.

Present Mood, Introspective

I have always liked this image.  It speaks to me…

Arab Mendicant in Meditation Painter, Charles Camino, French b.1824 – d.1888, watercolor over traces of graphite on cream, slightly textured wove paper .

From the description of the Walters Art Museum:

“In this work, the artist depicts the figure in such a way that most of his face is obscured, creating a sense of mystery. Everything we know about the character of this man is expressed though his posture, clothes, and objects, like his bowl containing a few coins. Very little is known about Camino’s training; he visited Algeria in the early 1850s, which inspired the art he made in the decades that followed.”

The past couple years have been a time of transition.  Those can be tough on a soul.

Thoughts About Minimalism and Survival

Learning a thing or two from the past…Part 1, 21st century Westerners are not the first to minimalize.

kylixdonkey

How much stuff do we really need to lug through life?

There’s a lot of recent talk about Minimalism as a social movement and this fits well with my personal philosophy and my interests in preindustrial technology and survival.  Not long ago, minimalism was mostly associated with artists, aesthetes, wanderers, mystics, and philosophers.  That is to say, the fringe element, outsiders, and weirdos.  These things come in cycles and I think, as a backlash against generations of sell-out philosophy and the creation of a professional consumer class, many people are reaching for something new.

We come to learn that everything old is new again.

I’ve been pondering history and prehistory on a full-time professional basis for several decades now.  As hard to believe as it may be, I even get paid a salary to do it.  One of my professional interests involves the tools, tool-kits, and strategies for surviving that various people have come up with for dealing with the world.  As a sometimes primitive skills-survival instructor and full-time frugalist I think it important to not reinvent a lifeway when we have millennia of ancestors who dealt with most of the same issues we do today.

San

A San bushman demonstrating fire-making.  Ostrich egg canteen in the foreground. These people probably resemble our ancestral way of life and have very few possessions, even in their harsh environment.

For most humans, for most of our history, owning too much stuff has never really been an issue.  We had what we needed and either made what we needed or did without the things we didn’t have.  It brings a smile to my face to know that more than 2,500 years ago, various thinkers people in China, India, Greece, and the Middle East were contemplating the nature and evils of acquiring stuff; some were even writing about it.  That’s not to say that I have immediate plans to become a wandering mendicant like a medieval friar (as appealing as that might sound to some) but I do have an interest in lightening my material load and some very specific goals for the coming year.

mendicant

Medieval European mendicants represented by a pilgrim and a friar.

My foundation as a minimalist (and I may not be very good at it)-

I have been thinking about what stuff a person needs to survive since I was a teenager who enjoyed backpacking and travel.  Like virtually every young boy, I had grand ideas of escaping the family and traveling unhindered across the world.  My family weren’t exactly readers but I devoured Jack London and Mark Twain stories as a kid.  I loved the extensive and well-thought out gear lists provided in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Explorer’s Handbook, and the Philmont Guides.  I read Larry Dean Olsen’s great book of Outdoor Survival Skills and Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker again and again.  I read about the mountain men of the fur trade, and always, took note of what they carried or didn’t seem to need.  I would copy lists into a notebook and revise them while sitting in some boring high school class, making my own lists of what I have, what I need, and what I want.  This thinking encouraged me to work and save money to buy a better knife, backpack, or camping stove.  I was probably the only kid I knew who wanted, and got, a file and whetstone for Christmas one year (my grandpa was good that way).  My friends and I spent our teens and early twenties hiking and camping year round, mostly in the woods of the Ozarks in southern Missouri testing our mettle at that time in life time when all teenagers know they are invincible.  Some of us even made it to Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.

Books

A few of the many books I ended up possessing on a quest toward fewer possessions.

In a modern sense of survivalist, many people look to the military or the loonies of the social media.  Often, military service is the time when young men and women are introduced to such things for the first and only time in their lives.  Realistically however, the military itself acknowledges it’s shortcomings on a personal basis as (with the exception of a few special operations units) its entire system is dependent on lengthy and complex supply lines, support chains, and de-emphasis of the individual and personal decision making.  Military survival is generally approached as a means of keeping alive until help arrives.  Great for fighting a war, but not always so good when you are turned loose into the world.  This sort of survival strays from our point here anyway.

Just remember –

The things you own end up owning you.

~Chuck Palahniuk

 

More (and less) to come soon.


* here are a few links to modern Minimalists of various ilks and philosophical merit.  A journey through these links will hint at the breadth and depth of people on different paths but moving in the same direction.

Read, research, think, and enjoy!

Ultra Minimalists, Part 3

For the Ultra Minimalists, Part 1, click here.

More Historic Minimalists – religious wanderers from the East

Japanese_pilgrimWandering Monks part 1 – The Buddhist monks that travel much of the year throughout Asia are about as minimalist as one can reasonably get.  Early Buddhist monks were instructed to own, as based on the Pali Canon, a very simple set of eight items.  Things have, of course, changed over time and religious wanderers have changed with it.

  • outer robe
  • inner robe
  • thick double robe for winter
  • alms bowl for gathering food and eating
  • razor for shaving
  • needle and thread for repairs
  • belt
  • water strainer for removing impurities from drinking water

Everything thing else was communal or gifted to them, including food.

ThaiMonkWandering Buddhist Monks part 2 – Things have changes in the past 2,500 years and the natural hardships of a traveler’s life warranted a few additions to an allowable kit of possessions.  A revised and more modernized version adds a few more necessities (not everyone is up to the task of living in real poverty or misery; also, the communities of non-mendicants have some expectations about cleanliness, etc.).  So in addition to the above eight possessions, the monks carry:

  • Bowl
  • Three robes, inner, outer, and warm
  • Bathing cloth
  • Umbrella, some sects mention a small tent as well
  • Mosquito net
  • Kettle for water
  • Water filter
  • Razor
  • Sandals
  • Small candles
  • Candle lantern

It should be remembered, these monks were part of a Sangha (intentional community of Buddhists) so there were communal objects for the rainy season when they weren’t traveling and there is a long tradition of charity towards holy men that we no longer practice in the West (other than tax exemption for churches and the National Football League).

PilgrimslargeWandering Buddhist Monks part 3 – Of course, the world changes and the esoteric lifestyle adapts with it.  Modern Buddhist mendicant monks might carry a few extra things in order to live reasonably within the modern world.  This becomes a very realistic list for the modern traveler.  Over many centuries, it became apparent that being acceptable and able to fit into society in general was an important thing.  Good appearance, cleanliness, and preparedness helps one not be a burden on the community.  I understand the need to fit-in and remain incognito when appropriate.  After all, isn’t that what our daily costumes achieve?

Later realists again modified the kit of the wandering Buddhist mendicants in eight types of personal utensils or belongings (adapted, in part from RAHU website, Singapore).  There are a total of 8 necessary requisites of the Buddhist monk garments and utensils. I big part of the teachings of the Buddha are concerned with an intentional, non-harmful, and simple life.

  • Mantle Robe – Traditionally made by the acolyte himself, but may also be a gift.
  • Sarong (Sabong) – This is a simple, unadorned under garment and is worn 24 hours a day.
  • Cotton Belt or Girdle
  • Shoulder Scarf – It is a long thick brownish-yellow scarf and regarded as a monk’s multipurpose cloth and is generally large enough to use as a blanket in winter. During a long trip or visit, this thick Sangkati can be folded and used as a cushion.
  • Black Alms Bowl with Lid
  • Razor
  • Needle and Thread
  • Water-strainer

In addition the initial eight things, some items have been added, not just for survival, but for the comfort and convenience as monks might find themselves as guests in a temple, in major cities, suburban settings, or the wilderness.

  • Three amenities are added for convenience: undershirt,  a small bathing loincloth for modesty, and a bath towel.  One cannot be filthy in a tight, modern setting.
  • Bedding – Still considered luxury items for the monk: grass mat, pillow, blanket, mosquito net, and a cushion for sitting.
  • Necessities for the traveler: hand bag (for carrying all this stuff), handkerchief, knitted hat, palm leaf fan, umbrella (for sun as much as rain), and sandals.
  • Eating utensils: Dish, Bowl, Spoon & Fork, Hand Towel, A set of Food Trays containing plates and bowls, Tiffin Carrier.
  • Hygiene and cooking – Drinking water must be cleansed of dirt and germs.  This is critical for good health.  Water is the only thing a monk can freely ask for or take as needed.  In that vein, several other tools are allowed and encouraged: stove, pot for boiling water, mug for hot water/tea, water glass, water jug/bottle, tea kettle, Thermos bottle for ice or hot water as needed.
  • Toiletries – Buddhist monks should be clean and have pleasant personalities. They need some necessary objects, the same as other people water container, soap, soap container, tooth brush, tooth paste, body towel, tissues, spittoon, medicinals.
  • Domestic Objects: These items should be available to help monks in case of emergency. lantern or electric lamp, flash light, alarm clock or watch.

The latter list is a very complete list of real essentials.  Having a codified list to pack from can be comforting, just like the lists the Boy Scouts still make for High Adventure programs.  Looking at a little knowledge gained by our predecessors goes a long way.

russkie-palomniki

Pilgrims on Pilgrimage – Vasily Perov (1834-1882)

Why  did I choose the Buddhists specifically for this example? Europeans have our own traditions, just without as much documentation.  We’re a free-form lot.  These folks certainly can sleep rough as need arose on a holy pilgrimage and don’t appear to be overburdened with stuff.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report that Jesus taught his disciples; “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”.

Coming next – Ultra Minimalists, Part 4 – Modern Minimalisma re-blog from Joshua Fields Millburn.

Ultra Minimalists, Part 1

Learning a thing or two from the past…Part 1, 21st century americans are not the first to minimalize.

kylixdonkey

How much stuff do we really need to lug through life?

This is a lengthy ramble.  So long in fact, that I have broken it into several posts to be trickled out over the coming days, weeks, or months.  Skip on to the fun stuff if you aren’t interested in Minimalist* philosophy.  There’s a lot of recent talk about Minimalism as a social movement.  Not long ago, it was associated with artists and aesthetes, wanderers, mystics, and philosophers.  That is to say, the fringe element, outsiders, and weirdos.  These things come in cycles and I think, as a backlash against generations of sell-out philosophy and the creation of a professional consumer class, many people are reaching for something new.

We come to learn that everything old is new again.

I’ve been looking into history and prehistory on a full-time basis for many decades now.  As hard to believe as it may be, I even get paid a salary to do it.  One of my professional interests involves tools, tool-kits, and strategies for surviving that various people have come up with for dealing with the world.  As a primitive skills-survival instructor and full-time frugalist I think it important to not reinvent a lifeway when we have millennia of ancestors who dealt with most of the same issues we do today.

San

A San bushman demonstrating fire-making.  Ostrich egg canteen in the foreground.

For most humans, for most of our history, owning too much stuff has never really been an issue.  We had what we needed and either made what we needed or did without the things we didn’t have.  It brings a smile to my face to know that more than 2,400 years ago, well-to-do people in China, India, and the Middle East were contemplating the nature and evils of acquiring Stuff; even writing about it.  That’s not to say that I have immediate plans to become a wandering mendicant like a medieval friar (as appealing as that might sound to some) but I do have an interest in lightening my material load and some very specific goals for the coming year.

mendicant

My foundation as a minimalist – I have been thinking about what stuff a person needs to survive since I was a teenager.  Like virtually every young boy, I had grand ideas of escaping the family and traveling unhindered across the world.  I devoured Jack London and Mark Twain stories as a kid.  I loved the extensive and well-thought out gear lists provided in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Explorer’s Handbook, and the Philmont Guides.  I read Larry Dean Olsen’s great book of Outdoor Survival Skills and Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker.  I read about the mountain men of the fur trade, and always, took note of what they carried or didn’t seem to need.  I would copy lists into a notebook and ponder them while sitting in some boring high school class, making my own lists of what I have, what I need, and what I want.  This thinking encouraged me to work and save money to buy a better knife, backpack, or stove.  I was probably the only kid I knew who wanted, and got, a file and whetstone for Christmas one year (my grandpa was good that way).  My friends and I spent our teens and early twenties hiking and camping year round, mostly in the woods of the Ozarks in southern Missouri testing our mettle at that time in life time when all teenagers know they are invincible.  Some of us even made it to Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.

BooksIn a modern sense of survivalist, many people look to the military or the loonies of teh mainstream media.  Often, military service is the time when young men and women are introduced to such things for the first and only time.  Realistically however, the military itself acknowledges it’s shortcomings on a personal basis as (with the exception of a few special operations units) its entire system is dependent on lengthy and complex supply lines, support chains, and de-emphasis of the individual and personal decision making.  Military survival is therefore, approached as a means of keeping alive until help arrives.  Great for fighting a war, but not always so good when you are turned loose into the world.

Coming up next…Ultra Minimalists Part2.   Let’s look at a military example anyway: Romans.

legionary

* here are a few links to modern Minimalists of various ilks and philosophical merit.  A journey through these links will hint at the breadth and depth of people on different paths but moving in the same direction.

Read, research, think, and enjoy!

Go to Part 2