I looked up and checked the TomTom briefly. I had been waiting patiently at that famous and difficult, local roundabout. It was the usual early morning automobile mayhem. And what struck me immediately was that the route ahead was the only road that wasn’t jammed that morning. And I didn’t really feel lucky. It mostly triggered the thought that maybe life had surreptitiously turned out a little bit like this open route ahead of me; and remained so, provided I honoured my desire for a simpler life, that I stuck to simple choices, to the simple route.
One of the Quaker values is “simplicity”. And a few years ago, I decided to live and embody it. If you know me well, then you will know how complex a decision that was. And I believe I got there. Yeah, ok, I am still getting there: it’s like everything else, once you have set the intention for change and you are sticking to it, it just happens, just slowly – much more slowly than what we got ourselves used to, when stuck on the merry-go-round of the consumerist life. I got to the point recently when walking through my local shopping centre felt like a completely new adventure – that is how long I hadn’t walked through it.
And it’s not easy to lead a simple life in today’s world.
However, the simple life has many hidden gifts. I have finally realised that my simple life is often filled with time, beauty and love. Yeah, I know, this will probably come across as grossly idealistic. Yet, it is consistently true for me. And that’s because the best of life – to my mind these days – does not actually cost anything or demands any kind of purchase from me. The best of a simple life is free.
I recently started volunteering at a horse sanctuary in Surrey. Check it out, it’s a great place to be and well, it’s the place to pick up horse poo too… That’s what they do, every morning. And picking up horse poo is an interesting process. It’s physically hard – I promise you that pushing a wheelbarrow full of horse poo up a hill is something you remember for a while… And it’s also emotionally healing. There is something intrinsically good in cleaning something off the surface of the earth. And well, psychologically, it connects you with nature in unexpected ways.
There are the worms you uncover whilst raking the poo into the skid, and the different poo shapes you notice as you walk along looking for the next cluster of poo mounds – yeah, I know… I also keep noticing how the horses always look at us when we march onto their land, with our cleaning ammunitions.
I often think they know we care. We clean behind them because they can’t do it themselves. Then, sometimes, they come along and say hello.
I often think they have come along to say thanks. Unless they are some of those horses who have been beaten and ill-treated and who are still learning to trust good human intentions. And there are many of those horses, I have discovered.
This week, I met a couple of new horses. They had been abandoned by local gypsies. After a short time for assessment and reassurance, they approached us and stayed with us throughout the cleaning of their field. A beautiful Shetty horse took a liking to me and kept following me around. I got engrossed in the poo picking activity that was required from us at the time and momentarily ignored her. Until she came right behind me and nudged me up my backside with her nose. Everyone laughed. I turned around and gave her the big hug she needed. There were smiles all around. We all felt connected, to everyone else and everything around us – and to that cheeky Shetty horse in particular. Our bodies ached. Our minds were free. Our hearts were light. Everything was simple.
I see the trepidation rising around me at the arrival of Christmas and feel increasingly good at the prospect of another simple Christmas. After being the queen of gifts all these years, I stopped buying presents four years ago. My friends and family are still getting used to the idea – that’s how good a present gifter I was, I guess. And what I have noticed is that my friends now praise me for my generosity rather than for the creative presents I used to gift them with. It feels somewhat contradictory. And that is what, in my experience, a simpler life brings.
Now I buy things for others when I know they need them or that it will improve or change their life for the better. It’s a different perspective on gifting.
And that’s what it’s like to have a simple life. The choices are easy. You opt for less, rather than more. You learn to welcome the different rather then stick to the familiar. You learn to notice what is needed, rather than wanted.
Most of all, the simple life is teaching me to keep open.
So, how simple is your life?