I’m even reposting this recycled essay…
Discarded but Not Forgotten
Essay on Volunteer Simplicity
When I was still firmly ensconced in my middle-class formative years, I thought I would grow up, find a good job and purchase the North American dream. I started off in the right direction by attending and graduating from a university, then after I moved to the big city and decided to pursue a career in music, “reality” hit home. I found work to support my musical endeavors, but my paychecks could not afford the price of new furniture, let alone, the purchase of a home.
Throughout my twenties, I thought that toiling at my music would land me a recording contract, the musical equivalent of winning the lottery, but Lady Luck was not looking my way. By the time I reached my thirties, tired of various occupations and watching my dreams fade to black, I learned an important lesson about downsizing.
Some people volunteer to downsize their lives. They give up lucrative careers and become stay-at-home parents or they seek out the true meaning of existence. Best-selling authors wrote books about this painless process, Volunteer Simplicity (Duane Elgin) and Your Money or Your Life (Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin). The difference between the volunteer simplicity crowd and me was that I never chose to downsize and by the time I read those authors’ books, I had already reached ground zero.
I never owned a home, real furniture or any possessions besides musical instruments, equipment, several futons, books and compact discs. I was already living the “simple life” other envied and I learned that with a little trust intact, the Universe does provide.
I watched Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972, Italian), that chronicled the early adulthood of Saint Francis of Assisi, better known as “the first societal dropout”. In the film, based on true events, the son of an upper-class cloth merchant, Francesco (his Italian name), stripped himself bare and in his vulnerable state he walked naked into the unknown. Francesco trusted that God would provide for him like he provided for all of nature and he also believed that we could not worship the Divine and materialism at the same time.
Add to that the ecological impact all our stuff has on the earth and downsizing along with recycling our possessions sounds like reasonable plans. Incidentally, Saint Francis of Assisi is known today as the Patron Saint of Ecology.
Another film, a documentary by the French filmmaker Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I, focused on the people of France that live off of discarded goods. Agnès chronicled the rural people who glean (collect) tons of vegetables, fruit, and grains that was abandoned after harvest. She also aimed her camera eye at urban dwellers that salvaged discarded furniture left on the sidewalks of Paris.
I have also found abandoned furniture left on sidewalks in good condition, clothing, and books in free boxes as well as, learning how to barter and trade my talents. Somehow I survived a richer person who found wealth in the simple pleasures of life, listening to free concerts, watching free movies, spending time with friends or strolling through nature.
While acquiring money has its benefits, most people put a lot of time and effort to build their palaces and then more effort to fill their palaces with stuff they can no longer appreciate. I have observed various people with big homes, vacation cottages, luxury cars and the works, but they are too busy to enjoy what they possess. Some of them neglect their children, their spouses, and friends, in favor of building another wing onto their palace.
They simply do not see all of the unused rooms in their houses, the dust gathering on their belongings or time racing past them as they rush out into the world to earn more money so they can buy more things. It is unfortunate that these are the people society envies.
Mansions, luxury cars, and designer brands play a greater importance than majestic mountains, vast oceans, and wild animals. They take on a greater importance that the joy of companionship, listening to music for the sake of music without boasting expertise or getting in touch with nature without cell phones and other electronic devices to distract them.
People such as myself who choose not to live the “high life” fade into the background, yet many of us (and I am not talking economic poverty), have found spiritual and other sustenance in knowing that the Universe provides for us. Of course, we still need to make the effort and practicing trust is more challenging than people think. Now, that more people find themselves abandoned by a gasping economy, they seek out a new meaning for their lives.
I know of at least one dot.com downsize victim (this essay was written in 2003), that turned her life around by pursuing a vocation as a Reiki practitioner and I have known others who found a spiritual practice after losing lucrative careers.
I lost many jobs in my life and I lost my music career after suffering from a long-term illness. I did not think I would survive and yet the natural world beckoned to me, giving me hope. Similar to Francesco of Assisi, I relied on God to provide for me and I gained a talent for resourcefulness.
We all have many talents that other people need in this New Era and it is time to return to the concept of barter and trade. Perhaps then we develop a new confidence in ourselves and we will find security in our connection to the spiritual realm as opposed to the material one.
When people discard belongings, they are in fact, giving those possessions new life. When we outgrow something we can pass it on to the next person. And in the end, those things once deemed important in our lives are discarded but not forgotten. Since I believe that living beings are more important than things, by sharing what we do have with others, we acknowledge the bond that connects us. The most important lesson I learned in this life thus far has not been how to earn lots of money, but how to contribute my talents to the world without living the North American dream. And besides, I don’t really care for white picket fences.
Originally written the summer of 2003, copyrights Patricia Herlevi
This is the only authorized version of this essay.