A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Simple Life

All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players. / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts. SHAKESPEARE As You Like It

Like lots of us I've had many jobs, played many roles and experienced many moods in my life. Jobs have included potato picker, hod carrier on a building site, mill-hand, farm labourer, postman, cleaner in a surgical instruments factory, computer programmer, mobile librarian, taxi driver, foreign language teaching assistant, encyclopedia salesman (I lasted one day at this) and publishing sales executive - which was my main, breadwinning career. Publishing sales meant travelling 40,000 miles a year round England's motorway network and attending innumerable sales conferences (95 per cent of which were a total waste of time). Roles have included helpless child, awkward adolescent, perpetual student, reluctant careerist, dutiful son, imperfect husband and, probably, undistinguished father. Moods have swung vertiginously from hopelessness and black depression to brimming joy and ecstatic happiness.

During my life I've often felt like a chameleon, ever changing my colour and mood, adapting to whatever scene I was acting in at the time. Or a river, constantly meandering, never in the same place twice.

In my time I've had years when I've earned heaps of money and years when I've earned very little at all. I've bought houses and furniture, cars and kitchens, clothes and musical instruments. I've bought music centres, mobile phones, cassette decks, DVD players, iPods. I've had expensive holidays and I've had holidays on a  shoestring. Sometimes I've dined in fancy restaurants and at other times I've not been able to afford to eat in even the humblest café.

I've never been hugely ambitious for money or material success. I was lucky enough to realise at an early age that money and material success do not bring lasting happiness. I'm so glad I had this insight when I was young. I've probably saved myself years of pointless struggle, anxiety and neurosis. Yet, of course, life's far from easy for anyone, whatever life-changing revelations one may have. I've had problems like the rest of us, and at times I've felt my feet hitting rock bottom.

What have I learnt after more than 50 years of negotiating the perilous, flint-strewn corniche that is our predestined human track? Well, a few things I hope - though there's still so much more I need to learn, I fear I've only just arrived at the outermost gateway of knowledge and wisdom. However, I do know this. The simple life is the good life, is the best life. Joy, happiness and fulfillment come from the innocent, simple, often freely bestowed pleasures of existence: a bracing cliff top walk on a blustery autumn day; the sound of bagpipes in a remote Scottish glen; crossing the Spanish meseta under a hot sun, then spending the night in a cheap albergue with other pilgrims; growing, preparing and cooking one's own food; the scent of fir tree sap; the cold grittiness of rock beneath the fingers; the tang of citrus; the cry of owls; the running of deer; eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, sleeping when tired; lovemaking.

Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days' worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.



Raph G. Neckmann said...

Oh yes: simplicity, a sense of wonder as Grizz often talks about, and humour also.

I think that's why I love Wind in the Willows so much, it's got it all in there!

Tramp said...

So important to remind ourselves of where to truly find "joy, happiness and fulfillment" at this time of the year when it can seems the world goes mad in overindulgence in search of these.

Ruth said...

If you take pleasure in the simplest things, then you will always have pleasure, I say.

I couldn't agree more about conferences.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels I've just started figuring all this out, on the high side of 50.

I really enjoyed this litany, Robert. It's great to know you, an honor.

George said...

If ever I had a brother in spirit, it is you, Robert. Just days before publishing my own piece titled, "Give Me The Simple LIfe," which is now in draft, I turn on the computer to discover your wonderful posting on the subject. It's odd, but many of us seem to have parallel concerns in the same time periods. Maybe this yearning for the simple life is a natural reaction for some of us the commercial exploitation of Christmas. In any event, I agree with everything you say about simple things and simple living being the keys to a happy and contented life. May yours continue to be that way.

Friko said...

I wish the simple life were easier to achieve.

To live simply you need independence, no responsibilities for others who may not want to share your simple life. Or any other commitments.

The 'simple life' is a fallacy, I believe, but living simply, enjoying those things you mention, that is possible for all of us, at least some of the time.

The Solitary Walker said...

Raph: yes!

Tramp: the world's already mad. Goes madder?

Ruth: thanks. Knowing you is the real honour! At one time I was spending the equivalent of a month a year at sales conferences.

George: hey, brother! Looking forward to your post.

Friko: I think you can live simply and still, at the same time, connect with the rest of the world and bear responsibilities for others. The one does not necessarily preclude the other. I don't think I meant 'simple' in the isolated, self-sufficiency sense - more a simplicity of thought, pleasure and action, but integrated in the real, complicated world which, sure, we can't (and perhaps wouldn't want to) escape.

Loren said...

The "peak experiences" in my life have, more often than not, involved very literal peaks, if not mountains.

Anonymous said...

Thanks For this - and for the comments. This is sparking off for me some reflections and thoughts on living simply in a world which becomes ever more complex.


The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I know what you mean, Loren. Loved your recent postings about the primal importance of art and beauty, btw.

Andy, that's one of the great things about blogs, isn't it - how they can sometimes really stimulate and inspire one to further thought and reflection.

ksam said...

Interesting post...and interesting reactions too! I guess we're all somewhere on the higher side of 50! And as much as some seem to cry over it....I'm loving it. I think now is when you really learn to winnow out the really important things.

Lately, trying to simplify, I've taken to small changes. Little things, such as, when I'm home alone, don't turn on anything...no tv, no radio, no ipod etc. It's amazingly lovely just being alone in the quiet of one's own home. I live on a busy street so it's not like I'm living is some rural paradise, yet just enjoying the view from my windows and the sound of the birds and the wind...it's terrific. Of course someone somewhere will probably put it on a CD and market it as a new relaxation technique!! (And Friko, this is only in the morning before I haul myself off to my job in a retail establishment for 4 hours on a hard sales floor!!)

The "simple" life is there...we just have to remember to turn to it rather than turn it on!


Raph G. Neckmann said...

Interesting coming back and reading the comments - Friko's in particular. I have found that trying to lead a simple life by literally simplifying it seems to make it more complicated, and then I start to resent things. It's more, for me, about maintaining that simple child-like joy and wonder over the things that deep-down matter, in the midst of all the complicated often worth-while responsibilities of life.

Bonnie said...

Beautiful and inspiring Robert. Somehow I missed it when you posted and George's post alerted me to get over here and see what I had missed!

It is about a world view, an approach to life, an attitude - and there is so much freedom and so many rewards in adopting it. Thank you for reminding us to let simplicity trump all the pressure to accumulate and consume in this Christmas season.

Your last paragraph resonates so deeply with me. Loving what is.

The Solitary Walker said...

What a wonderful comment, Karin! Thanks so much for it. (And of course walking the Camino is the ultimate decluttering, pure, simple, clearly focused pursuit, as we both know.)

Yes, Raph, I think it's all a matter of retaining, if we can, a pure focus of clarity and simplicity within the framework of a messy and complicated world - not outside of it, as we all are part of society, unless we deliberately choose a hermit's life (not that I'm necessarily denigrating that at all).

'Loving what is.' Yes! Thanks, Bonnie, for your comment. You words are always so much appreciated.

Rachel Fox said...

I can't help wondering why you call yourself "probably, undistinguished father". It's none of my business of course but regular blogger friends are still friends and if we were sat in a pub or a cafe or out wandering down a path I'd want to know why you feel like this and what you plan to do to make yourself feel better on this count (even if it's just be kinder to yourself...).

The Solitary Walker said...

I have a tendency to beat myself up over things, and it's more natural for me to say 'I was a bit of a failure at such and such' rather than 'Wasn't I brilliant at this or that'. I think it's a knee-jerk defensive stance, and not to be applauded, and probably comes from my upbringing. The subject's a bit of a minefield, and far too complicated to go into here, but, suffice to say, we all have shortcomings as parents, and I suppose I tend sometimes to dwell on the shortcomings rather than any strengths and successes. (I meant probably undistinguished, of course, not probably a father - as father I indisputably am.)