One of the lessons my yoga teacher has tried to convey is non-attachment, as I’ve mentioned previously. He tried to explain it in this way – non-attachment doesn’t mean that you can’t have nice things. You can have the beautiful house, the expensive furniture, the fancy car, etc., etc. But don’t be attached to them. Be able to turn your back on your house, filled with all your beautiful things, and toss a match at it to let it burn down. Don’t identify yourself in all your things, all your possessions.
Minimalism, as I understand it, also takes this tack – don’t identify yourself in all your possessions. They are not you. But it takes it a step further. It says “Don’t accumulate things. That way, your time and money is more abundant and isn’t tied up in stuff that you would have to burn down to be free of.”
I started pondering this during my dog walk this morning (as I often do, using my walking time as pondering time). I wasn’t out terribly early, although definitely earlier than most folks in my neighbourhood on a long weekend. I walked my normal route, and my pup was very happy at the cooler temperature and the low pollen levels which led her to feel much better. About a quarter of the way through our walk, I looked over to see a person with their head on a stuffed-full backpack, sleeping on a gentle downward slope beside a tree.
My first thought was, “Huh…” And my second thought was, “Do I feel less safe?” And my third thought was, “Huh. No, I don’t. And clearly they feel safe enough in my neighbourhood to sleep outside, under a tree, unprotected.”
I wondered if they were homeless. And then, given the backpack, I wondered if this was a person actually backpacking somewhere, on an adventure, travelling. I thought about trying to quietly bring them a sandwich of some sort for breakfast and maybe sacrificing an extra travel mug to give them coffee. But I doubted they would still be there by the time I returned, and there was a part of me that didn’t want to open myself up to a potential whatever – loony, stalker, person that doesn’t understand that generosity doesn’t automatically mean that you’re adopted as a dependent. But I was slightly romanticising the person and giving them the benefit of the doubt – making them a doughty wanderer, operating outside of societal norms.
How does this relate? Clearly, this person can’t be attached to their stuff, because they are living off of whatever is in their backpack. Also, I surmise that living that sort of lifestyle would necessitate that you not be particularly attached to your things because you may, in order to be safe as a person, need to walk away and leave them behind. But in this sort of a world, I’m sure it’s relatively easy to reacquire “necessities”, if you just look into what others are throwing away.
So, who is this person? They are their experiences, not their things. They are how they interact with the world, not what they have accumulated. They are their survival skills, not the facade they put on. One could argue that they are potentially the more honest human experience than the one you find in front of a 50″ TV in your house in the suburbs.
Not that the point of minimalism is to live with only 5 things in your life. And not that the point of non-attachment is to burn everything to the ground. The point of both of these things is that the person is more in their Self, and has an abundance of their Self – their time, their resources, their skills, their joy. Yoga is about connecting the body – the physical experience of the world – with the mind and the “spirit”. Instead of just automatically living physically, it is about living mindfully and considering whether certain courses of action will actually bring you joy – bring you real satisfaction. Real satisfaction ties in with the “spirit” aspect – not the ego-stroking satisfaction of being envied, but the real satisfaction that makes *you* more as a person.
It’s a process, and a difficult one in a world where we are told to always measure ourselves by what we’ve been able to achieve – degrees, bank accounts, houses, cars, a family. But are those really the measurements that mean something to our souls? What about experiences? What about the ability to sit, be still, be peaceful and enjoy the sounds of the world around us?
What about the utter trust of a place that you are able to lay your head down on a pack in a park and sleep?