Last week I got back from an amazing trip to the US. I attended an incredible conference of heart-centered entrepreneurs, followed by a visit to Los Angeles, and then to Colorado.
It was my first time ever in the US and the experience has made me realise many things.
For one thing, the people are not so unfriendly as many of us non-americans are led to believe. In fact I found them to be the most friendly and welcoming people I’ve ever encountered on my many travels. In addition, the food is not just hamburgers and hotdogs (another common stereotype!). Everyday I was able to enjoy amazing, healthy, delicious, and often organic and locally produced food in delightful restaurants.
But what struck me the most about my visit to the US, is something that I find rather disturbing.
The absence of simplicity in everyday life.
Where is the simplicity in being so fussy about our toilet rolls?
The first thing I noticed about life in the US, is that you have millions of options for anything you want. One evening I went into a supermarket to buy toilet paper for the Airbnb flat I was staying in, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of different brands and options. One aisle, which must have been about 50 metres long, was exclusively for toilet rolls. I just stood there staring, mesmerised by this humongous wall of bum paper.
This experience was not just limited to toilet rolls. Everywhere I went I saw huge stores which specialise in just one type of product. If you need pet food, you can find shops the size of airports full of dog food. I went to buy some plasters (band-aids) and the local pharmacy was the size of a football stadium. Ok, a little exaggeration there, but it was ginormous. I think I spent more than an hour just exploring it to discover all the different pharmaceuticals you could buy.
I am used to a simple way of life. Of course in the monastery I followed the vow of poverty and I had only a few basic necessities. And here in Colombia, there are not so many choices for everyday products. Although I can buy all the things I need, sometimes I may need to make more effort to travel or find the right place. But in the US I had the impression that you have easy access to absolutely anything you could ever imagine.
That may sound wonderful, even a perfect way to live, but it just didn’t´t feel right to me. It doesn’t´t feel like a natural way to live as a human being. Where everything comes to you so easy, almost without effort. Of course, it’s a question of whether or not you have an income, to have the money to spend. And certainly, everyone has their fair share of problems to deal with. But I’m sure that many people don’t realise just how easy their life is.
A lack of simplicity erodes our natural way of living.
I think that spiritually, that’s not healthy. With excessive quantities of stuff, and inevitably, vast amounts of waste that result. When you have so many choices, when everything is so easy to get hold of, when life in general is so easy, the mind can become complacent. When you don’t have to make much effort to get what you need, for sure you aren’t growing so much spiritually.
In that environment I noticed it was more challenging to feel that clear light of my inner divinity. Whilst I enjoyed the physical space of the wide streets, and the open landscapes of the US, I found that mentally and spiritually the excessive materialism really cluttered my vision.
In spite of the runaway commercialism, there are many deeply spiritual communities in the US, as I was fortunate enough to come across. That gives me hope. But it still saddens me to witness this accelerated deviation from a simple way of life. I’m sure this isn’t unique to only the US. This explosion of materialism and obsession with choices of products can be observed all around the world.
Simplicity may require more effort, but results in greater fulfilment.
In many studies of happiness and life-fulfilment, simplicity is often identified as one of the most important ingredients. And I can confirm that from my own life. Even when life is hard, as it can be here in Colombia, simplicity creates space in the mind and heart. When you have to spend a couple of hours battling your way through chaotic city streets on uncomfortable public transport to buy something you need, you really value and appreciate it when you finally find what you are looking for.
And having just a few brands of toilet roll to choose from, instead of literally hundreds, brings you closer to a simple way of life, with more clarity of mind, and more space in the heart.
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