"We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.”
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."
– Henry David Thoreau
Not long ago, I was at a friend's house when the entire area lost all power. It was late and pretty close to the New Moon, which meant complete darkness throughout the house and neighborhood. We scavenged for candles and matches in the dark, which was challenging, especially for me, since I wasn't familiar in my surroundings.
It's good to have periodic reminders of how reliant we've become on electricity. I re-watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid awhile back and found it interesting to imagine what it would have been like to be truly remote out in the wilderness, in the dark, during the period of time before we relied on electric light. It's one thing to see it and imagine it in the movies, but it's so very rare to truly experience unaided darkness. Even when I go camping, there are fires, propane lamps, and any number of non-natural light sources. I took a walk with the kids up to an observatory above Henry Cowell State Park at night and turned off the flashlight while we were walking, to experience darkness by the light of the moon (they didn't like it, of course, and asked me to turn it back on!)
I still remember when I was a kid, on Boy Scout hikes up in the Desolation Wilderness near Tahoe, or even at slumber parties with friends, sleeping under the stars and looking up at the disk shape of the Milky Way. I can't see it at night anymore - at least not from my city.
Check out this photo of our globe at night, for a bit of perspective on this: GLOBE at Night.
There's something about our collective avoidance of quietness that tells us something about our culture. It's not okay to listen to nothing, is it? My teenage daughter has to have music on constantly, just as I did when I was her age. She's in a different place in her life than I am. I'll sometimes drive by one of those "cars that go boom!" and my initial reaction is "how does your brain work with all that racket going on?" But then I realize I have so much going on in my world, silence is calming and peaceful to me. You don't want to have a bunch of noise when your life is all about noise and obligations and constant sensory assaults. At her age, the music is moving, and emotional, and it helps you focus your feelings, and that becomes calming.
I don't think there are many people who want silence all the time, or even for that long of a period time. We just need to be OKAY with silence, with there being no auditory cacophony rattling our brains and interrupting our ability to get back in touch with who we are, what we feel and think. And listen to the symphony we create within ourselves.
We've built an entire world of finance, business, commerce, etc. on the sandy foundation of computer technology. We create and save vast amounts of pivotally important data on electronic media. We back it up on highly-reliant technology, ensure there are backups in different forms of media in different geographic locations. And yet, ultimately, it's all reliant on electric energy. It's sort of a facade, when you think about it - reminds me of the "other" world the main character in the first Matrix movie uncovers. All is not what it seems.
I was reading an article recently that spoke of this false sense of security we've created for ourselves with all of our electronic storage of information. In previous generations, they kept paper documentation of the truly important issues, memories, etc. I've converted to digital photography, and have hundreds more pictures than I used to of all of our vacations - and yet, I'm triple backed-up because of the fear one of my electronic storage devices will suddenly implode and my cherished memories will vanish into the ether!
The term "minimalist" applies to anything which is spare or stripped to its bare essentials. You find the term usually applied to forms of art, music and design. I'm not advocating getting rid of our increasingly complex infrastructure; I'm on the computer typing this! We have the most accomplished, successful culture in the history of this planet, with the greatest opportunity for security, happiness, success and personal fulfillment ever. I have no desire to go the way of the Unibomber and live in some obscure, tiny, smelly, insect-infested cabin. Interestingly, I remember 95-year-old Norman Vincent Peale writing that he felt the greatest invention of the 20th century was air conditioning - I can hardly fathom, living in California, not having AC and having to instead layer my clothing to stifle the stench of body odor!
I just think it makes sense to periodically touch bases with the fundamental sensory inputs that connect us to our world. Stick our toes in the sand. Listen to the swaying of trees in the early evening. Step outside in the crispness of early early morning and feel the 3:30am night air on our cheeks, and be able to feel at home and comfortable in the lonely knowledge of self, while everyone in our hemisphere is sound asleep.
It's strange, when you think about it, how seldom we are truly alone. Try this, if you haven't already: Go find a place to sit and have your lunch - other than your home - where you could sit and know no one else will pass by you for 30 minutes or more. Sounds easy, but unless you live in a very rural area, it's extremely hard. People are everywhere; it's hard to get lost!
There's a peace and a knowing comfort in keeping things simpler, or at least knowing who and where you are in relation to the (figurative) ground, so you can stop and feel the soil whenever you need to. I fear too many of us are starting to forget that.
And don't forget the matches.