Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Simplicity in action

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who has recently returned from a summer in Africa where he helped build a 400 square meter garden for an orphanage (these are his personal photos). Interestingly enough, he told me, the greatest culture shock was not adjusting to an African lifestyle, but rather returning to his American one. After living with people who were so happy with so little, the excess and waste of the American lifestyle was shocking. The result is that he has become more mindful about his consumption, realizing that he can get by with less (and in fact, he is happier with less). Needless to say, the experience has radically changed his life and refined his goals.

I shared with him the illustration that Jim Merkel gives us in his book Radical Simplicity (reviewed here), where Merkel encourages readers to imagine the world's resources as a vast buffet with every living creature in line behind you waiting for a share. How much do you put on your plate knowing the rest of the world has yet to partake?

What I have learned is no different than what my friend learned this summer - that the key to happiness lies not in our circumstances (in having or not having), but rather in our interpretation of them (being thankful for what we have, finding joy and indeed satisfaction in simplicity - a child's smile, a friend's hug, a warm sunny day, a soft place to sleep, and good food). The thing is, I KNOW this. Living it is something far different; something with which I struggle.

I'll be meditating on this in the days to come: may I continually be aware of a world in need, living in a manner that makes the world a better place; may I continue to find joy in radical simplicity, giving freely from what I have; may my belly be full, yet always leave behind me enough bounty for all.


Unknown said...

Beautifully written, with purpose and passion. May I, too, continue to meditate on and live by the radical simplicity you mentioned in the final paragraph ... and not let the superfluous/negative aspects of my culture sap my energy. We have so many resources and so many positive things in America -- every time I fall victim to unnecessary convenience & consumerism it feels like I'm insulting these children ... who taught me so much & who I miss dearly.

For those who are interested, please contact me (Brad) at, or on facebook (Brad Roberson: Texas A&M/Austin, TX network).

Please visit ( and consider making a contribution ... they are always looking for volunteers & provide free room/board.

Theresa said...

This is just so wonderful! Thanks for sharing those pictures - look at those very practical water storage containers, and that lovely tilled soil :) What a difference we could all make if we were always mindful of our place at the 'buffet table.' Thanks for reminding me of where that metaphor came from - I will keep my eye out for that book.

And thanks to you Brad, for walking the walk like that - many blessings to you.

Chile said...

Very nice. This reminds me of the personal stories in the second half of the book, "Living More with Less". The folks who did their missions in other countries often found themselves inspired by the same issues as Brad.

Sam said...

Aww...all those babies look so adorable!

The other day I looked at my kitchen (small as it is) and was shocked. I couldn't believe how much I can accumulated in less than a year. And this is supposedly a financial tough period for me?

I love your meditation and will be using it as well.

hmd said...

Brad - It's definitely difficult to live an alternative lifestyle in the US. So much intolerance. But it IS possible and I admire that you're willing to live a different life, a life according to what you've learned this summer and the values you've learned over a lifetime. Know that there are more of us out there making a difference. You are NOT alone :)

Theresa - I just love that metaphor. It really makes you think. We're so lucky, in the Western world, to have that choice. It makes it so much more important that we choose wisely. Happy meditating!

Chile - That's one's on my reading list. I'm going to have to get to it sooner than later. We all need inspiration every once in awhile...

Beany - That was my favorite of the photos he took. They're just so cute! No wonder he fell in love with them and misses them so deeply...

All: There will be more from Brad on Friday. He's allowed me to guest post his "lessons" from his trip. Stay tuned!

Theresa said...

Looking forward to the guest post! (And the ones from the usual author of course!)

Parmesh Rudra Joshi said...

Great. I Felt A Human Lump In My Throat.