“The Joy of Less”
It’s a coincidence that this article finds me today, the day after I returned from a month-long journey to South America. I planned my trip to gather my wayward thoughts, to feed the hunger of the wanderlust that I can never seem to satisfy, and to find a compass that could provide me with my life direction. The first two came easily. I kept a journal, I blogged, I ‘burned burned burned like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders’. But the last, I struggled with throughout my adventure.
How could I take my current bearing and determine the route of arriving at the bearing I want to be at in the future? How can I go from my current position: living alone in Houston, working everyday, saving money, attempting to achieve success, to the location I want to be at in the future: always searching for more adventure, always climbing the next highest mountain, leaving a legacy of helping others, and dedicating my life to a cause greater than myself?
In my mind, the two couldn’t connect. There was no intersection where these lines would meet because there were too many obstructions along the way. What will my father think if I don’t become successful and save money? How will my mother react if I can’t visit her often? Should I be married with a family by now? Does society think that I’m too old to try to save the world? For one month, I considered the possibility of these two roads ever meeting, and when my plane went wheels up in Lima for my return flight, I still had no hope. I still hadn’t determined my life direction.
When I arrived at my apartment yesterday morning, I put down my backpack, turned on the air conditioning, and I started to cry. How sad it is, I thought, that what I’m excited about is having my computer to use and my cellphone to hold. I realized that the same things that I loved not having while I was away were what I looked forward to having when I returned. How sad it is that again, immediately, I’m a slave to things that I know I’m happier without. No longer will I spend time talking to the Andean children, dirt covering the skin on their faces, but not masking the amazing beauty of their smiles. Rather, I’ll spend time reading Us Weekly about how much weight Kelly Clarkson has or hasn’t gained and what her boyfriend thinks about it.
I received a jolt to my system when I walked into my apartment and realized that after a month of feeling like my life was on course, in the time it took to turn on the air conditioning, my ship had taken a 180 degree turn and began floating in the mire of materialism, competitiveness, and a future involving the same carbon-copied suburban jungle of wastefulness that exists in Everytown, U.S.A.
On the third week of my trip, I visited Rio Verde, Ecuador, a small village nestled in the mountains, in the jungle, surrounded by waterfalls. I met a man there named Arturo who is a fisherman, and he told me about his life. When I asked him if he would live in Rio Verde forever, he said he would because he’s completely free. He explained to me that when he wakes up in the morning, if he wants to fish, he will go fish; if he wants to swim, he will go swim; if he wants to visit friends, he will visit friends. He has little need for money because all he has is all he needs. And having so little is what gives him freedom.
The next day, I took a bus from Banos, the larger town outside of Rio Verde, to Quito. On the bus window at my seat, a sticker was placed, which read, “Libre como el viento,” “Free like the wind”. I couldn’t help but consider that my day in Rio Verde, a village with no internet and little power, had been the day in my life that I felt the most plugged-in. When I walked into my apartment, turned on the air conditioning, plugged in my laptop, and powered up my phone, I felt completely in the dark.
Over the course of one month, several thousand miles, and some money from savings, I made no discovery of a proper compass to guide my life because I already had one; I already knew the route to take; I already knew how to proceed along the path. What I needed was a perspective, which yesterday hit me in the face with a blast of cold air.
All along, my search was actually for something different. It was a search for commitment to the needle of the compass, it was a search for finding the trust that the compass will bring me to my destination, and it was a search for the courage to not fear losing all of these things that I don’t need.