Trying not to be part of the problem.

Thoughts from a non empty room

This post is important.


I am coming to the realisation that the most basic problem in my life is distraction.  There are so many things to think about; in the day-to-day and in the abstract, that I find myself darting constantly from one to the other without ever actually really getting anywhere.  "Find myself" is a curious expression to use - I almost never really find myself doing the things I do.  Minute to minute, I am hardly present at all.

"Live in the moment" is the cliché, and recently I have begun to make my peace with clichés.  Clichés are there for a reason, and usually it's only pride that prevents us from accepting them and the wisdom they contain.  Accept this please, and humbly, because it is true.

One idea that underpins what I call "my new life", the beginning of which was marked last year by the decision to stop working full time, move deliberately towards a greater material poverty, and to value time above money.  Selling my non-essential possessions would maximise the time I could spend living off the savings I had accumulated from working too hard for too long at a career path which, although worthy enough, I had never really wanted.  (I never really wanted to be an adult, truth be told).  In turn, pairing my life down to the essentials would allow me to focus on what really mattered to me, even if I still didn't know exactly what that was.  In doing this, I would free up still more time to learn about ways to lower my financial and material needs still further: a virtuous circle of experimentation and self-discovery.  Somewhere along the way I would make peace with the "selfish" aspect of this decision, learning to live not only for myself but for the world, contributing in whatever way I could to making human life slightly less dull and disappointing - something which I still believe, for the vast majority of us, it quite definitely and unnecessarily is.  I would blog about this as I went along, and here we are.

That is the heart of the matter.  It has been satisfying to learn more about the trend towards minimalism (the kind that has nothing much to do with Steve Reich or Brian Eno or Stars of the Lid, although there is no reason why it shouldn't and plenty of reasons, thinking about it, why it should) in popular culture.  This is the "minimalism" that is as much ascetic as it is aesthetic - the recognition of the important truth hidden inside another uncomfortable cliché, that consumerist culture is making us miserable and alienated, and is built upon an unsustainable capitalist economics that threatens the very existence of life on earth (or at least, of the kind of affluent, convenience- oriented societies we have come to take for granted).  Sites like Sell All Your Stuff and Becoming Minimalist, and the plethora of blogs, Facebook groups, and communities (both online and offline) are testament to the power and popularity of these ideas, putting up a real show of resistance against consumerism, what might even be called a dawning of a new era in our cultural consciousness - one that connects us back to the original hippy spirit, and well beyond that into the more radical spiritual traditions that have been tarred with the same brush that has tarred the hippies too.  It's a quiet and gentle revolution, but no less radical or powerful for being so.

When you're motivated by powerful and easy to articulate ideas, there's a single-mindedness that comes with that, which can be a great source of strength.  More than a year since my decision to, in my own way, "drop out" I have no regrets at all, except perhaps that I didn't take the leap sooner than I did.  But in my own situation, still, I find myself distracted.

One of the attractions of minimalism for me is the thought that an absence of stuff, of "clutter" in my home would allow me to focus more on doing things, in the most practical of senses.  When you don't have as many things, not only do you not have to spend as much money maintaining them, subscribing to them, cleaning them and so on, you don't have to spend as much time using them.  With this should come a peace of mind, an improved focus and concentration as there are simply fewer things in your immediate environment to distract you.

For me, this has not happened.  This is why I sat down to gather my thoughts and write this post: distraction is an unsettlingly deep and pervasive problem for me.  It does not seem, overall, that having less stuff in my life has afforded me the mental clarity I crave: or not yet, anyway, though there have been inklings of it if my more meditative moments.  Certainly the abundance of time I now enjoy outside of having to work simply to pay for the bare necessities of life like food, accommodation and high speed internet access has been a blessing, but I am still a long way from the kind of mental discipline I need to really use this way of life for good.  I very much want to write a book about veganism's intersection with transhumanism, and what that means for the future of life on earth, but this requires not only time, but focus.  This is something I lack.  I find myself preoccupied by small concerns (should I wash up now, or later?  maybe I'll have another coffee, and then I'll sit down to work on my book?  Oh look the floor needs sweeping, perhaps I'll go for a walk in the park to clear my head...Oh look, now I'm in the park, I'll take some pictures, record some sounds, whip my phone out and look up some things about plants and trees and birds and lakes and aquaponics and vertical gardening and space travel) that are no fewer in number than the larger or more "important" concerns that come with things like interest rates, or mortgages, or any of the other things we minimalists are doing our best to tear away from.

This afternoon I took one of my two bean-bag sofas and moved it from the front room into the bedroom.  Immediately, everything changed.

I suppose expecting to attain enlightenment immediately once I'd cleared the unnecessary stuff out of my life was naive.  These things take time.  Who knows how long?  I have to remember that there is joy to be found in finding out.