As the years in the monastery passed, Thomas Merton began to see that the highest spiritual development was to be “ordinary,” “to become fully a man, in the way few human beings succeed in becoming so simply and naturally themselves…the measures of what others might be if society did not distort them with greed or ambition or lust or desperate want. Abba‘s Child, by Brennan Manning.

On another of Paul’s and my walks, we talked about an imaginary line within us that causes us to do things. For example, increasing the safety of our cars does not decrease accidents. Perhaps there is some innate amount of risk we must engage. The safer our cars, the riskier our driving becomes. We become more and more distracted because we sense the safety around us.

Creating time-saving devices such as washing machines and dryers doesn’t really save us time. Instead, we increase the amount of clothes we wear. Women used to wash once a week and get in shape doing it. Today, we wash everyday and drive 20 minutes to the gym to work out for an hour.

Our houses get bigger. We spend less and less time in them and more and more time maintaining them. We install solar lights and rearrange the furniture, but rarely invite anyone over to enjoy our work. They might mess it up. We work longer hours to hire the cleaning lady to clean and the lawn maintenance crew to mow our lawns and spread bark in between the decorative bushes we drove 20 miles to pick out. We refurbish furniture and obsess over what color, what to hang, a little to the left, no, no, it’s not going to work, put it against the wall until I figure out what to do. Then we spend an hour on Pinterest sharing our ideas about what we did. My grandmother, who raised 10 kids and is about to turn 100 this summer, would snort at such foolishness. She’d say “Put the couch where it fits. Hang whatever picture you have in the middle and quit messing with it!” We invent a need to fuss over things.

And cars and planes and trains. Before the infernal smoking beast of a car burst upon our ways of life, we Americans hitched up the horses when it was necessary to drive the 5 to 10 miles to the store for provisions. Now, we spend our lives alone, in the car, driving 35 miles from our country home (where we rarely enjoy the country) to our city job or, as in my case, running our children to their activities so they’ll be “well-rounded”.

Food once was a simple affair to fuel the work needed. We now have far more time on our hands to obsess about it. We have the luxury to linger long over diet books or to take extra care in preparing gourmet meals or to work longer to afford the special diets we’ve chosen to adopt. Before, we focused on getting food. The same energy is now applied to getting the “right” foods and figuring out which foods are best. Table conversation was, “Will it rain tonight before I get the crops in?” Now it is, “Are these tomatoes genetically modified?” Check out this must-see episode of Portlandia: Is It Local? Remember, we laugh at things because of their truth.

To summarize, our ingenious and devious brains foil every invention to save time or better our lives. We simply outsmart the inventions and invent more work.

All of these examples are where I see myself failing to take true advantage of the inventions of humanity. If our expectations rise to swallow the time saved, we’ve gained nothing.

Thoreau says in Walden, which Paul underlined in blue ink:

There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

To solve some of the problems of our modern life would be to analyze and correct it. Are we any happier? Are we healthier? Has all our “progress” only made us susceptible to different diseases? Have we exchanged one demon for another? Have we grasped for heaven and created another hell? Perhaps so.

The traffic. The pointless job. The cubicle. The pedantic reports. The mundane memos which was filtered out simply because it took too long to get a message to me or was too much work to pick up the phone are now effortlessly filling up my (and everybody’s) inbox with a push of the button.

I hope Paul and I can make a stand against it. Rather than be professors of philosophy, I hope we become philosophers. I hope we solve some of the problems of life, not just theoretically, but practically.

So, here goes. Right now, we live in a lovely country home 15 miles from two towns and 30 miles from another town. Paul works 30 miles away. Elsa and Greta go to school in one town 15 miles away and play sports in another town 15 miles away. The lovely country house we live in is not used for gardening or animals.

Paul and I must fix this. We either must a) live the country life, gardening, raising chickens and cows, and riding horses, or b) pick a town and move to it and limit our activities to that town. The difficulty is we are not united. The older two are well-established in their activities. They’d choose “b” in the town they grew up in and love. Paul and I would choose “b” in the town Paul works in. The little girls would choose “a” because the country life is the heavenly life for a child.

I could analyze all the other aspects of simple living but this post is already too long. Stay tuned. If I get Paul on board, things should get interesting. Our future might hold a yurt.

 

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