Today I did something that 6 years ago would have seemed impossible. I removed something from my life, as a test, that recently has not been bringing any benefit into my life.
In today’s world I did what might be considered unthinkable – I deactivated my Twitter account so that in 30 days it would be deleted. My social media presence has shrunk.
According to the official Twitter records I had created the account back in 2011 shortly before we moved to South Carolina. I did so in order to follow some of the local sports teams, stay up to date on things of a theological nature, and to connect with people. As a tool I found it very useful especially in regards to breaking news. If something important happens you can bet the story will break and trend on Twitter at lightning speed.
That was the thing that grabbed my attention today especially as related to the inauguration. Tweet after tweet, story after story came scrolling across my timeline from what appeared to be 100 different angles. While I do not consider myself a political savant, I do have interest in things that can and do affect my everyday life. This means that a tool like Twitter allows me to see trends. The trend that continues to rear its ugly head during events like today is the desire for soundbites rather than critical thinking skills.
Each tweet seemed to be screaming “Look at me!!!” by listing out some rather ridiculous statement that apparently I should take at face value. I’m pretty sure my wife was wondering why I had a look on my face that made me appear as if I was having digestive issues. It felt like I was being bombarded by a constant barrage of data without anything of substance to assist the reader in knowing how to use information. As I always say when teaching a class “Knowledge is just information, wisdom is knowing how to use it”. Knowledge without wisdom can be a destructive force that assails reason and logic.
Discernment is something we should all strive to possess, and I’ve learned over the years that my first reaction to something is typically correct. I may not always know at that exact moment why something appears right or wrong, but it is rare when my internal red flag system (think of the challenge flag in football) is incorrect. When one of those flags is thrown I know I have to take a step back and assess. Today a flag was thrown that opened my eyes to the fact that Twitter no longer offered me anything of substance. It is not ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ and I would never suggest everyone stop using Twitter immediately upon reading this statement. To be honest I feel the exact same way about Facebook but due to certain responsibilities I can’t quite delete my account (yet).
Sometimes to simplify our lives we have to do the unthinkable, even if the changes we’re making are not revolutionary in a large scale sense. Though if it makes a change in just one life maybe it is more extraordinary than we think.
Early on in life I read a book by Miyamoto Musashi called The Book of the Five Rings. It was a guidebook to living a life as a samurai and dedicating yourself to this philosophy. It gained some popularity in the public in the same way that The Art of War found a niche in the business world. At the time I was a practicing Buddhist and I found the book to be very intriguing but there was one phrase that stood out from everything else:
From one thing, know ten thousand things.
I must have re-read this simple sentence a dozen of times as it mimics what Jesus says in the Bible that we should ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33). When we focus on what is most important to us the entire world opens. Miyamoto goes on to explain the power behind this thought. As a samurai he knew that his success was not predicated on only studying the craft of the samurai (swordplay, war strategy, tactics, etc.). In reality his success in being a samurai would come down to his understanding of a variety of different disciplines such as economics, politics, history, philosophy, biology, and so on. As he mastered each of these areas he found himself becoming better at his primary craft. His studies did not take away from being a samurai but added to it unmeasurable value.
I’ve found that my pursuit of simplicity has gone through a similar experience. While initially I just wanted to get rid of some material items to make it easier to move, yet this idea of ‘less’ became quite pervasive. How could I use this desire in other areas of life? Today I eat differently because I have taken a closer look at the food I consume – and I eat more slowly. I sleep differently because of wanting to make my schedule easier to maintain. Even the way I exercise has been altered so that I focus on what is important to me rather than what is important to Instagram stars and Snapchat phenoms.
Too often we can find ourselves spreading ourselves thin in a variety of endeavors instead of just focusing on one thing. Usually we do this because we fear of missing out. Even when we find that one thing we are completely passionate about we hold back because we don’t quite want to put all of our eggs in one basket. However, what I have seen in my own life, is that people with this mindset never make that first step. They are constantly weighing their options instead of moving forward and attempting to obtain even a small victory (eating better, taking a walk, reading a good book…). They lament the fact that they are just fluttering in the breeze and not making any headway. We’ve all heard the old phrase “can’t see the forest because of the trees” but for many people it is the exact opposite – all they can see is the forest and they are unable to focus on one tree. Perhaps that is why we admire individuals such as doctors, musicians, even athletes because they have put all of their time, energy, and passion into a single pursuit. Yet this one thing has opened up more doors to them than if they had attempted to go after everything that came into their field of vision.
So what is your ‘one thing’ that will help you to know ten thousand other things? Go after it, pursue it, and keep it simple. One simple thing is usually enough.
Standing in the middle of our living room that warm August day over 5 years ago I should have been filled with excitement. A new job, a move to a completely different state, and an opportunity to truly forge our own path was on the horizon. But as I stared at all of the boxes and piles of stuff accumulated from the previous 7 years all I could do was…well what could I do? For one of the first times I can remember I felt overwhelmed.
How could we possibly get rid of enough stuff in order to move from a house to an apartment and not have to saddle up money for a storage unit? Everything that I looked at seemed to be linked to a memory. The tent and backpack that allowed me to hike thru the Porcupine Mountains in the upper peninsula of Michigan, the baseball glove I had used all thru high school, even the trumpet I had used while performing in a bowl game for marching band. True, I hadn’t used any of these items in years but they still reminded me of some great experiences. While I had always done well in decluttering I had never engaged in such a massive undertaking. I’m honest enough to admit that it hurt – it felt as if I sold or gave away these items I was giving away a part of my life. This was the kind of hurt you feel in your bones – it was that big. Who was I without these things that had in some way expressed to others what kind of person I aimed to be? Books, movies, clothes and various other collections each hinted at certain aspects of my personality. How would people know that I loved baseball without all of my baseball hats???
There was no reprieve, however, as we could not take everything with us. So I played a few notes on my trumpet, caught a few balls with my baseball glove, and even put on the backpack one more time. With each item that I was able to let go of I slowly began to experience a new feeling: relief. I no longer had to find a place to store this stuff, I no longer had to maintain/clean them, and I certainly didn’t have to pack them up and move them across six states. It then dawned on me that each of these items served their original purpose brilliantly but I no longer needed them. They were just things and the memories they produced would stay with me irregardless of it I kept them or not. Slowly, and with some trepidation, I began to peel away certain items and either sold them or gave them away to Goodwill and friends. After engaging in this routine for roughly a month we found ourselves left with all of the things we really needed to have and nothing that we didn’t.
Once we had finally packed up the moving truck with the remaining items I knew that I did not want to go back to a life that was filled with stuff that was only going to take up my time, energy, and resources. Life should be filled with experiences and not just things and I was determined to at least respect this idea in the way we lived. Little did I know then that removing these things would allow me to pursue some passions that had not yet fully developed.
I’d like to say it was smooth sailing once we arrived in South Carolina – but all good stories need to have a little drama. 🙂
In 2011 my wife and I made the long trek from Indiana to South Carolina – and neither of us really wanted to go through the move.
South Carolina had never been on the radar and we knew very little of the state, the people, the history, etc. Sweet tea, y’all, and Clemson vs. South Carolina were unfamiliar to us. All we that we knew is that we were being uprooted from everything that was comfortable and being forced into a position that was unwanted. Sure, we said all the right things, spent countless hours discussing all of the new possibilities, and looked forward to meeting new people. Yet this change was a disaster as far as we were concerned.
In the end we came down here kicking and screaming.
This really is where my pursuit of simplicity, or minimalism if you prefer, truly began. While I always had tendencies that made me able to purge material items without mercy it was the move from a house to an apartment that forced me to make some hard choices about what I was allowing into our lives. Despite some difficult choices , the shedding off of all of the extra ‘stuff’ was easier than expected, and certainly created a feeling that a burden was being lifted. Less stuff = less stress.Yet something more was taking place that at the time I could not have explained.
We never expected to fall in love with South Carolina. I never expected that a desire for simplicity would trickle down into other aspects of life. But as I look back at 2016 and compare how we live our life now as to 5 years ago I am astounded at the changes. Many aspects were small, incremental changes and others were much larger which will come to fruition in 2017. Yet with each change my thirst for simplicity, slowness, and quality over quantity has increased. As I continue to age gracefully (or at least I hope I am) I’d like to think I have a voice to speak to how to live differently in a culture that values speed, productivity , and consumerism and treats them as the pinnacles of virtue.
For the next few weeks I hope to be able to write about some of the things that we discovered in 2016 that are affecting our point of view in 2017. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.