There are work demands, responsibilities of raising children, mortgage payments, utility bills, income tax, home and car maintenance, medical and dental care, Facebook notifications, volunteer commitments… it just goes on and on.
It sometimes seems as if the world is conspiring to keep us so occupied that we can’t stand back, take a breath, gather our thoughts and reflect upon our lives.
It’s easy to blame external forces for this. After all, we’re deeply into the “Information Age.” Even some of the greatest minds in civilization; Isaac Newton, Rene’ Descartes, Leonardo Da Vinci and Albert Einstein, dealt with much less information than we do on a regular basis.
We can blame our complicated world on inventions and innovations; the computer, internet, even our modern appliances. Our automobiles have become devilishly complicated with computer-controlled systems that require specially-trained mechanics equipped with sophisticated diagnostic tools.
Getting things done – both in private and business matters – seems to be more difficult than in the past. We have more rules, laws, and regulations. With a growing human population, we have more and more people to deal with at every turn and in just about every aspect of our lives.
But does the problem come from without, or within? For some, is it a problem at all? Do they really want to simplify their lives?
In many cases, I don’t think so. I met many people in college and later in my career who thrived on drilling down into deeper and deeper complexity and staying constantly engaged. They loved the challenge. And granted, to successfully function in this world one has to be willing to delve into and exist within the nether regions of the complex. We certainly expect that from our best doctors and scientists! Our universe is complex, from the macro to the micro. Every study or discipline has its depths.
But over the years I’ve found that many people cannot disconnect themselves. They cannot pull back. They cannot function unless they are deeply embroiled in some entangling issue or project that keeps them preoccupied during every waking moment. They become habituated to constant external stimuli.
Staying simple is complicated
To paraphrase famed mountaineer and outdoor equipment entrepreneur Yvonne Chouinard, who is now retired and living in Patagonia:
[quote]The most complicated thing a person can do is to try and keep his or her life simple.[/quote]
Much of this boils down to the definition of “simple.”
We might think a person living off the grid in a remote cabin leads a simple existence. But hunting, fishing, gathering – the very act of surviving – is not a simple undertaking. While such a person can avoid civilization’s loud and never-ending clamor, he or she must learn how to deal with the complexities of living close to nature; and to dealing with isolation – the restless clamor within their own minds.
I believe that whether a person lives in downtown New York City, or on the banks of the Koyukuk River, achieving a simple life is mostly a state of mind. It’s about release. In winter, Bush folks daydream while looking at ice crystals on the window, or in summer, reflections in the river. City folk meditate on subways. They visit art galleries, museums, theaters, and become “lost” in the world of creativity and expression.
I know quite a few people who meditate and practice yoga. I know others who get outdoors often during all seasons for range of activities that ultimately involve communing with nature. They take their kids along in backpacks, sleds, and carts behind bicycles. Some people paint or play chess. Some are into photography. Others are car restorers, movie buffs, and voracious readers.
In all of these diverse activities what people have in common is the quest for a “release,” a respite from life’s cares and woes – a recharge of the psyche’s batteries.
That’s why in these columns I am so often like the “ECHO” for which my section is named. I continuously encourage people to get outdoors and forget about the monthly profit-loss statement; the car that needs a new alternator; the deductible that has to be paid before insurance will kick in, where you’re going to get money for a new septic system.
None of those and other issues will go away. But they might become easier to deal with if we can take a mental or physical hiatus, a release; or to use a common term: “chill out.”
For some it comes easy. For others it takes practice.
Sometimes all we need to do is watch children playing. They’re masters at what I’m talking about. They are carefree, the way we used to be. We can’t be kids again, but maybe we can try to visit that care-free zone where they live. It’s certainly worth a try.
And to revisit the battery “re-charge” analogy: a slow and steady “trickle” charge is preferable to a rapid, high-amp surge. This business of regenerating the psyche is something we have to pursue on a regular, ongoing basis.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the ECHO News team, a freelance writer and an outdoors enthusiast who lives in Eagle River. His presentation on his nearly half-century of hiking in the Chugach Mountains is set for April 9 at 2 p.m. at the Eagle River Nature Center. Contact Baker online at: firstname.lastname@example.org.