Coming Full Circle: Creating a Rich Life

Last spring I made the decision to move back to my hometown. I bought a share in a co-housing community located in the heart of my city. I said “goodbye” to rent, a mortgage, a car, all forms of debt and all the demands of my academic career. I said “hello” to daily meditation or yoga, daily reading and writing (including letters to friends!), bicycling advocacy and intellectual pursuits that satisfy my true interests and values.

Co-Housing & The Elderly 

Nearly every day I talk to my neighbors, most of whom are seniors. Retirees have time to talk to their neighbors. They have time to reflect on life. And they are, for the most part, finished with the business of acquiring money, status, looks and people to feed their egos. So, I am quite content living with people much older than I, though my choice is not a conventional one. I have always enjoyed the company of aged people, and I find it odd how society separates us from them.

Advocacy & Service

In the time I have been away my hometown has grown, distinguishing itself as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the nation. The same bike paths I used to ride on as a kid have expanded and now encircle the entire city. It is as though my own passion for cycling has grown up alongside my hometown. It is so strange, in a wonderful way. But perhaps it is not so strange. After all, this city formed me. It was here than I worked at my first bike shop and bought my first commuter bicycle.

This week I entered two elections: one for my city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, another for our Cooperative Housing Board. I volunteer for several wonderful organizations. On the weekends I work as an academic tutor for underprivileged 3rd graders. Sometimes I work as a mobile bicycle mechanic, fixing bikes in low-income neighborhoods. And lately I have been spending my afternoons painting my father’s house. In the Spring I will work as a Professor, teaching two small introductory philosophy classes at the community college. Half a lifetime ago I took my first philosophy class there!

Intellectual Needs

Though my academic career is not the center of my life, I am an intellectual, and so I fill my deep curiosity by going to talks at the university, engaging in discussion with my former students and colleagues or reading material from the university library. I also tune out a lot of the mass media in order to make room in my mind for more important ideas and concepts. Not having a Smart Phone or TV has helped me limit my participation in spectacle or rage, so that I can focus on more meaningful endeavors. (No, I do not know Donald Trump’s latest theatrics. What is more, I do not care!)

Happiness

It is no wonder I have a growing sense of having come ‘full circle’. I am twice as old as I was when I left, but I am different and happier. Even though I do not work for pay full-time, I still experience stress and anxiety, especially social anxiety. I am an Introvert who happens to love people; so, I am sometimes tired. Sometimes I am too busy, reverting to my old tendency to schedule every minute. But at least now I am able to slow down, savor the moment and appreciate everywhere I have been and where I am now.

Gracias world!

Sarah

 

 

 

How to be a (Real) Citizen

Riding “The Loop Trail”, a bicycle path encircling my city

Lest my title mislead you, this is not a “how-to” post; rather, this is a blog entry about my own fumblings toward authentic citizenship. Now that I am semi-retired (or rather, I “work for pay” only part-time), I have more time. I have more time to explore ideas and landscapes. I have more time for friends and family. And I have more time for crafting words (like these ones!). I also have more time for a citizenship that demands more of me than simply casting a vote or reading a news story.

I use the term “citizen” broadly, to encompass political participation, community involvement and environmental stewardship. Also, I do not mean to imply that citizenship has clear geographical boundaries. ‘Global citizenship’ is important, too (perhaps the most important, in our increasingly global world). For the time being, I practice global citizenship through “conscientious consumption” – e.g., challenging unthinking consumerism by using renewable energy, recycling and reusing, eating a plant-based diet, buying used, bicycle commuting, researching the environmental and social impacts of particular products, and purchasing goods that perform multiple functions. (For example, I make my personal care products and cleaning agents with five simple ingredients: fair trade coconut oil, baking soda, vinegar, zinc oxide and castile soap!)

Of course, conscientious consumption is only the start; for failing to have a negative impact on the global environment is not the same as having a positive impact on the global environment. Nevertheless, conscientious consumption has helped me strengthen my values and sharpen my awareness, even if I am not (yet) sure what robust global citizenship looks like for me.

In any case, I believe citizenship starts with inhabiting the place (or places) I live, with getting to know what, and who, lives in my town. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially in modern times. Being present in the place I live requires resisting the technologies, or even the career, that, over and over again, transport me away from home. It also requires a willingness to enter spaces in which my particular identities or beliefs are not represented, reflected or even respected. I believe this is where true citizenship starts, at home, respecting the place and the people you live with, whether or not they respect you back.

My own sputterings toward citizenship:

Earlier in the summer I took a bicycle maintenance course through my city’s local bicycle cooperative. Recently I was asked to volunteer my time and (clunky) skill. I spent an afternoon fixing kids’ bicycles and teaching them how to fix their own bicycles. And they taught me a thing or two!

 

 

I was asked if I wanted to join the writing group at my local independent bookstore — a beautiful shop that is solar powered and employee owned. I joined. Complete strangers shared deeply personal poetry and essays, reading their work out loud. Even though it terrified me, I read my work out loud.

I was asked to teach a class on nature writing to retirees. I agreed. In December I will spend a day at a retirement community, with people who have much more life experience than I.

I participate in free community yoga in our local parks and businesses. It is open to everyone.

I hike or bike in the desert, acquainting myself with the native plants and animals, getting to know and respect species that were hitherto unknown to me.

Starting next month I will attend all city council meetings. In the course of a year of attending these meetings, I hope to come to a more nuanced and complex understanding of the issues my city faces. And at that point I may raise my own voice.

Real citizenship is a lot more demanding — and a lot more special — than simply casting a vote or consuming mass media. It is a lifelong practice requiring lifelong commitment. But I think that if I am open to real citizenship, it will come to me. Most of the time just being here (and being present) is enough. I am asked to help. I am asked to participate. And all I have to do is say “yes”. And then show up. 🙂

Sarah

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Anonymous

 

Minimalism and The Good Life: How and Why I Keep it Simple

Diogenes Sitting in his Tub by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860); Image Source

In recent years “minimalism” has been on the rise, especially among millennials. The philosophy is not a new one. For example, influenced by Socrates, the ancient Greek Cynics practiced extreme minimalism, rejecting private property, money, status, power and the myriad social conventions predicated on these. Like modern minimalists, Cynics lived in regular society, in full public view. Like their forefather Socrates, they went without many possessions, but not without people. Despite its name, “cynicism” was a friendly and social philosophy. The word “cynic” actually derives from the Greek word for “dog-like” (κυνικός), which highlights the cynics’ dog-like way of life.

From the very beginning of civilization people have been challenging the very values upon which civilization as we know it was built.

MINIMALISM AND MORALITY [It Takes Two to Create Inequality!]

Unfortunately, minimalism has come under fire for being a “privilege”; only the well-off have the “privilege” of choosing simplicity and simple living. To some extent, this is true. However, social and environmental justice are not achievable unless those with the means to live lavishly voluntarily choose to live modestly and simply instead — until this becomes a cultural value and a societal norm.

The fact remains that we live in a country that constitutes less than 5 percent of earth’s human population and yet consumes 1/4-1/3 of earth’s resources. It is foolish to assume we will ever achieve equality within our country without addressing our prominent role in global inequality.

But I did not intend to write a post about all the compelling moral reasons for practicing minimalism. I actually want to write about the wonderful practical reasons for practicing minimalism.

WHAT IS MINIMALISM? THE BASICS. [Less is More]

Minimalism is a lot of things. In general it requires “decluttering” your life in a multitude of ways. So, for example, minimalist bloggers write about letting go of inauthentic or exhausting friendships, in addition to excess material possessions and big houses. They also strategize ways to remove “mental clutter” — by, for example, imbibing less media, meditating and leaving their crazy careers (or else negotiating more reasonable conditions and hours). Minimalists reduce demands on their time, cultivating the ability to not overcommit themselves. They are under-scheduled, not over-scheduled. They avoid the ‘busy trap’. They also tend to eschew debt in all its forms, since debt causes people to take on more than they need and to commit to more than they want.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS OF MINIMALISM? [Being Present for One’s Life]

Basically, minimalists want to be present for their own lives. They tend to value reflection, creativity and meaningful connections and projects above all else — all of which require free time, rather than conventional status and stuff. Anything that does not directly contribute to these ends gets “minimized”, sometimes ruthlessly. (For example, many minimalists do without a vehicle, more than a few outfits, a smart phone or even Internet at home.) However, the payoff is huge. The payoff is inner peacefulness, joy, real (rather than “fake”) friends and “true freedom” — i.e., the freedom to spend one’s time actively pursuing one’s own agenda, rather than passively playing one’s part in the American nightmare.

HOW I PRACTICE MINIMALISM

  • All of my worldly belongings fit in a 650-square foot condo.
  • I do not own a smart phone, a TV or car. I walk or bicycle everywhere.
  • I check out books from the library. I imbibe long-form journalism, not soundbites.
  • I buy (mostly used) products that can be made to serve multiple functions.
  • I minimize drama and poor friendships; I have time/energy for good relationships.
  • I use no credit cards, and I possess no debt. (Or rather, no debt possesses me!)

How do you practice minimalism? How might you incorporate minimalism into your life?