CNN and Money magazine say the US has been in a recession since Dec. 2007. Three years and we're still holding our collective breath wondering when it's going to end so we can get back to normal. Will we be able to get back to normal? Or, as many are beginning to suspect, is this our new normal?.
Economists define recession as a general and prolonged slow down in economic activity. But, when did we get to be so narrowly defined as human beings as by our economic state? We're more than our bank balances, for God's sake! It seems that when the economy slows we stop living altogether.
Perhaps we're not in a recession as much as we're in a retreat - the act of withdrawing from something hazardous, alarming, or unpleasant in order to determine a better path.
It's my opinion (is it yours?) that the lifestyle we've collectively bought is a dead-end - even within our own lifetime, let alone future generations. Here in the US, and many other parts of our interdependent planet, we've become users and consumers. Living as if our resources will last forever. Oblivious to the wake of waste we've spawned. We've grown so accustomed to having every fleeting whim satisfied that we've become truly numb to the sacredness of life and our individual responsibility to humanity's well-being.
We have so much, yet feel so empty. Can it be that this recession is a permanent correction, not a temporary nuisance? Are we being asked to wake up and re-vision the way we live? This isn't a time to duck beneath the covers and wait it out. This is a time to take accountability seriously and make conscious decisions about how to live a more meaningful, sustainable life.
Yes, it's going to hurt some - in the beginning. Our egos are going to feel deprived. Walking in our sleep is no longer going to be dreamy. We're finally being asked to grow up and own the fact that we aren't, and never have been, independent of others or our environment. The air I pollute with my cigarettes, seeps into your lungs too. Rusty broken down cars littering my front yard, devalue your view and property. Water bottles I consume by the hundreds pile up in our landfills like translucent mountains of thoughtlessness.
We are eternally connected, you and I. There is nothing I can do in my life that doesn't, in some way, affect you too. Religion has taught this for eons and quantum science is confirming the physically inseparable oneness of humanity. My unconsciousness hurts others. End of story.
So, what can we do NOW to not only stop this dead-end existence and experience more meaning and real fulfillment each day? There are hundreds of websites enumerating countless ways to simplify, reduce, reuse, and recycle. But, unless we want our efforts to pass as swiftly as a New Year's Eve resolution, we must do one thing first - shift how we think about who we are, what's truly meaningful to us, and how to be part of the bigger picture and not just a mass of egotistical desires for more and more. Haven't we learned that we can never have enough of that which never satisfies?.
For now (without considering accountability to anyone else), are you truly happy with the way you're living your life? I'm not just talking about being in your dream job or relationship. I'm talking about how you walk on this earth. Do you experience beauty in the way a flower sways in the breeze? Does the rain falling on your roof lull you into bliss? Can you smell the change of seasons coming? Can you hear your heart beat and feel the coolness of incoming air swelling your lungs? Are you awake?.
When you eat, do you truly savor each delectable morsel? Or, are you shoveling another bite in even before you've swallowed the last? When you meet someone new do you really look at them and honestly hear them? Or are you so wrapped up in your own thoughts that you don't even remember their name? Are you awake?.
Before we can find joy in this new way of life, we must first find a new way of thinking. A way that embodies a bigger landscape than our internal mental insistences. We must begin to own our place in humanity. Take responsibility for the air we breathe and the space we inhabit. We must stop being individually-minded consumers and begin to be mutually-minded contributors. To think beyond win-at-all-costs and instead think win-win.
The Great Law of the Iroquois http://www.indigenouspeople.net/iroqcon.htm required significant decisions to benefit seven generations (a couple hundred years) into the future. The good of the people today must also be good for the people of tomorrow. Do I live like that? Do I think only of my own self-interested needs or do I consider the impact my choices are having for humanity's days to come? And more importantly, does thinking of others when making choices feel like a personal sacrifice?.
I've learned that real life is quite simple. I know today's reality feels anything but simple, but that's because we've believed that complexity meant progress - sophistication - intelligence. It doesn't. It just means complex. Love is simple. Truth is simple. Responsibility is simple. Simple is enduring and unchanging. It's what we can count on, no matter what particular complexity is distorting the truth.
This lifestyle retreat is an opportunity to become simple again. That doesn't mean giving up what brings us real joy. But, it does mean leaving behind all the empty promise that more equals better. More is just more. And if a little can't satisfy; more can't either.
From 1995 to 2000 I lived aboard a sailboat. Talk about simplicity! My accumulated life was pared down to a fraction of what I'd grown accustomed to (except for shoes, of course!). At the time, it was challenging to give up things I'd owned. To see friends take home my history of treasures and trinkets. I must admit that part of me felt less than as my 'net worth' was reduced to a few necessities. But, something of a miracle happened quite quickly. I didn't miss a thing. No sense of regret or sacrifice. Just a clean breathable simplicity.
Although no longer on the boat, and with a bit more baggage than then, I still find simple joy in paying attention to how, and how much, I use stuff. There's even a childlike bit of accomplishment in squeezing the last tiny little tad from the toothpaste tube and cutting open my moisturizer bottle to find another 3 weeks of product still left, after no more would pump out. I not only feel I've gotten my true money's worth, I feel like I've cheated consumerism's hypnotic spell - buy more....buy more.
This simplicity thing has really gotten to me and I look upon the quality of my relationships with the same desire to keep things simple. Tell the truth. Ask the question that will clarify the confusion. Don't pretend to be what you're not. Feel what you feel - without excuse. Seek connection, not control. Breathe. Live.
Karen Wright is author of The Sequoia Seed: Remembering the Truth of Who You Are, a great read for anyone who is seeking understanding or guidance, inspiration or clarity in his or her life..