In her young twenties, writer and activist Eileen Flanagan spent two years teaching English in the country of Botswana, neighboring South Africa and Zimbabwe. She ate, lived, and slept in a 180 square-foot mud hut and was quite content. Then life got a tad more complicated … she married, had kids, and eventually found herself in a three-story house packed full of stuff: Barbie condos, heelies (sneakers with wheels), Wii games, electronic guitars, and microscopes. In her engaging new book, Renewable, she writes about her path back to simplicity and integrity—becoming a person whose decisions reflect the values she holds.
I was especially moved by her first “awakening” in the middle of the night, when she realizes her ideals are not in sync with her lifestyle, and feels the knot in her stomach that so many of us experience when we spot a place in our lives where integrity is missing.
She had been on Google Earth and looked up Bobonong, where she lived in Botswana. She saw the rivers were all dry, a result of global consumption. She thought about a dear friend of hers there, and how her children were just a few years older than her own. She writes:
“At 3:00 am, I stared at the ceiling, tears streaming down my face, as Tom slept next to me under the down comforter. I looked in the dark at our ceiling fan, larger and classier looking than the one in our old house, and I wondered: How the hell did I become a woman who has a big house, a chemical peel appointment, and stock in a fracking company? How did I become so sucked into the American mainstream, and what can I do to create the kind of life—the kind of world—I really want?”
I had that same sort of epiphany two nights ago.
Like Eileen, I have always wanted to live a simple life, so much so that I didn’t want to get married or have kids. I aspired to live as a missionary in some third-world country. I was afraid that all the “stuff” of family life – plastic pools in the backyard, American Girl dolls, and Xbox games — would somehow corrupt my soul. In hindsight I realize much of my vision was about escaping the baggage that I would have to confront at some point – commitment problems, abandonment issues … the material of 14 years of therapy. However, I remember telling Eric before we got married that I was committed to living simply.
Umm. Until two days ago I had four Facebook profiles, three Twitter accounts, three Google-Plus pages, three YouTube channels, and a Pinterest and LinkedIn account.
“All I need is for one-half of one percent of them to give a dollar to Project Beyond Blue, and I can pay my hosting and maintenance fees without having to beg family and friends for money again!” I said enthusiastically to Eric at dinner. “I just need to write to them first and confirm that it’s the right address.”
“Write to 25,000 people? Wouldn’t you need your own server at that rate?”
It didn’t seem ludicrous to me until then.
That night we stayed up late and talked about us, and my current stress load, and family life. He asked me, “Do you still want to live a simple life?”
I remembered Eileen’s 3 a.m. insight—different from mine and yet similar—and thought about the changes she has made in her life, the brave steps of action to move her, ever so gradually, toward her values and closer to her truth. I love this paragraph of hers:
“To find freedom in simplicity, I realized, you had to trust that if you only had one pair of jeans, you’d be okay if they got ripped, that if you didn’t stockpile onions, you’d be able to borrow one when you needed to. You had to trust that your worth wasn’t measured by what kind of car you drove or whether you owned the latest computer. Living with that kind of trust seemed harder when you felt like an isolated individual, responsible for meeting your own needs. Feeling connected—to a community or to a Higher Power—helped enormously.”
Back when I interviewed Alan Weiss, M.D., about the hidden causes of depression, he advised persons with chronic depression to “clean up any integrity issues you may have in your life.” I immediately thought of people who have been sucked into extramarital affairs, or folks who try to outsmart the IRS on their taxes. I didn’t think about me and my intention to live simply. He is right, though, living out of sync with who you want to be, or who you are at the core, can certainly cause depression.
So, as a small gesture of moving in the right direction, I deleted two of my Facebook pages, two of my Twitter accounts, two Google-plus pages, and two YouTube channels. I also decided that I was not going to email 25,000 former readers, and that I would just have to go on faith that I would be able to pay my hosting and maintenance fees on Project Beyond Blue from the members’ contributions.
I’m trying my best not to stockpile onions, or Twitter handles, to trust that if I live with integrity, things will work out.
Join the conversation at Project Beyond Blue, the new depression community.
Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.
Published originally on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.