It had been only February, the year before last, when I had looked out at the stars from my balcony one evening and cried into the wee hours of the morning. My job had become increasingly monotonous, unfulfilling, and stressful, to say the least. It was, to speak true, little more than a pay check I desperately chased from one month to the next. Life had become, as I saw it, unliveable.
Later that same morning, I marched off to the principal’s office, and handed in my resignation. I would write from now on, I had decided. But this would mean, of course, a severe depletion of available funds until I could get my feet off the ground. My quitting had been unplanned and as such, I had little in the way of savings. So I sat down, and whittled away at the numbers until I’d cut my budget in half.
Over time, I became ever more inspired by friends who had chosen to live ‘off the grid’ as it were. A more sustainable approach to living was perhaps the solution I had been looking for all these years… Two years prior, I had been hospitalised for a mental breakdown, and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I could no longer afford to put a price tag on my happiness and peace of mind. And it always seemed to come back to money.
Today, step by step, I am reclaiming my life. One of the first women born of the West to become a Tibetan nun, these words of Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo have emerged as words to live by, in this personal pursuit for a sustainable and stress-free life:
We have to cultivate contentment with what we have. We really don’t need much. When you know this, the mind settles down.
Sure, I may not have a piece of land, like my pioneering friends, but I can begin in my apartment, and in my daily habits, taking the lessons of others to heart in ways that are manageable, and more importantly, sustainable for the individual. So each day now, I begin with greed.
Author and speaker, Charles Eisentein, considers the nature of current economic systems and greed in his essay, “What are we greedy for?” Plainly put, he explains, “When we are cut off from the fulfilment of our basic needs, we seek out substitutes to temporarily ease the longing.” Without a meaningful connection to the important (but often forgotten) things in life, without a connection to others, to a spiritual life, to nature, we often turn to a culture of consumption. But in reality, it is a band-aid on a festering wound, locking us in a vicious cycle, to work more, to earn more, to live less.
So I precycle before I turn to the three famous R’s (Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose). I only spend when I need to… And when I do, I consider the pitfalls for the consumer in planned obsolescence, setting us up in the long-term to spend more, to waste more. I buy quality food because I value my body. I buy quality clothing, sometimes new but often from thrift stores, because they will wear longer. And most of the time, I avoid the shops and stay clear of their shiny displays.
There is comfort instead in a day at the library… Or a morning spent nurturing the plants I have collected over the years… An afternoon at the park, in the sunshine, eating a cheese sandwich and watching children at play… Even in a moment with my cat on my lap. All these things cost me nothing but time, and my time is no longer money.
Illustration by Nancy Ekholm Burkert for Roald Dahl’s James the Giant Peach