It was below freezing and I was sweating profusely. A light snow dusted the ground, hiding small patches of ice that littered the rocky trail and made each step questionable.
It wasn't supposed to be a tough hike, but the weather, the extra clothing, and the weight on my back were all adding to the challenge.
I generally hike alone and for a short trek like this one I wouldn't have brought a backpack. However, a friend came along this time and insisted that one of us bring a bag for food, water, and extra warm gear.
I always prefer a challenge so I asked to be the one to carry the bag. But halfway up the trail, sweating, and out of breath, I suffocated my ego and handed the bag over to my friend.
Without the bag, my body felt so light. I began hopping from rock to rock, practically running up the mountain without so much as an elevated heart rate.
The freedom was exhilarating.
And then I landed on a patch of ice and almost slipped.
I was so free of that weight, so free of the burden of carrying that bag, that I had nothing holding me back. There was nothing slowing me down and I almost lost sight of reality.
I could've slipped and broken my leg. I could've fractured my spine and become paralyzed from the neck down, preventing me from ever reaching the summit of a mountain again.
All weight isn't bad. All things that hold us back are not bad.
Earth's gravity holds us back, but it also keeps us from floating off into outer space.
Time holds us back, but it also keeps us humble and reminds us what's important.
My backpack held me back, but it also kept me from leaping onto slippery rocks.
Sometimes we need to carry things with us to make us better prepared for what's ahead. If we start eliminating everything from our life just because we deem it unnecessary, we had better be ready to accept responsibility for all that extra freedom.
We had better be ready to do something with all that extra potential.
Minimalist aspirations must be accompanied with a willingness to accept responsibility for the freedoms we inherit. Otherwise, minimalism is nothing more than a selfish attempt at tricking life into giving us more than we deserve.
Instead of dropping the weight and getting high on freedom -- whether it's freedom from expectations, material possessions, lifestyle commitments, or a backpack -- we need to ask ourselves why we're freeing ourselves and what we're going to do with that freedom.
My friend and I reached the summit safely. I was thankful for the extra gear in the bag when the sweat on my hands and face began turning to ice in the sub-zero wind chill.
All weight isn't created equal. Eliminate what you don't need, but be proactive and make decisions based on your long-term goals.
Before you eliminate something from your life, define exactly why it needs to be eliminated and then examine how you will use the resulting freedom. Potential without direction is inert.
Extremely well written.
The last line speaks volumes.
Currently, my weight is the burden of financially supporting two people. I carry this weight knowing that the freedom that comes once it is lifted will be appreciated that much more.
I am inspired by this post. I will be writing a reflection on it soon.
I appreciate your effort in this post. Effort is often overlooked.
Thank you for the kind words, David!
Sometimes we need to sacrifice things in the moment for something more important in the future. I think about that all the time when I’m exercising and pushing myself mentally and physically: It might be uncomfortable and extremely challenging in the moment, but getting through that promises rewards further down the line.
I’m sure whatever financial burden you’re shouldering now will be rewarded with something money cannot buy in the future. 🙂
there is a lot to think about in your post, shedding off excess weight is one of them
Thanks, Zablon! 🙂
Beautiful analogy – something I’ve been feeling. With no reigns on the ego one day is enough to destroy a whole lifetime.
Then, we all crave the freedom, so what to do?
I feel very weighted down by my relationship and several times over the past years, months and day I’ve been thinking about going solo, at least practically. I’m very unsure about it because I’m not clear on the reasons I want to do this or exactly what is making me feel so suffocated.
Just this morning I’ve been looking at tickets to Thailand, Sydney… anywhere I have a possibility of survival.
I chose this weight. I’ve never really been happy as a single person – I’ve either been in a relationship or looking to be in one. I really want to experience life as an independent, happy person for a while.
The fact is that my relationship offers me a large degree of financial security, as bad as that sounds (and is), although I have been holding my own with some money saved. But as a struggling freelancer… what then?
Nice post Raam. Nothing to add really except you’ve made a great point. I hope every aspiring minimalist reads this, it will prepare them a little perhaps.
There are certain things we just need to look at and determine if we’re willing to compromise and sacrifice to hold onto them (I think this is especially true for relationships). When one side gets too unwilling to compromise, or when we discover we’re not ready to sacrifice something that’s asked of us, then we have no choice but to make the tough decisions (one of my prior relationships ended because she wanted more than I was ready to commit to; it was very tough, but I knew in my heart how far I was willing to go at this point in my life).
I’ve been exactly like you for most of my adult life, but now I feel the need to be independent and follow my inner compass until I’ve learned enough about who I am that I feel ready to share it with someone else. My inner compass has led me so many places that I never thought I’d go and as a result, every time I thought I’ve known who I was I ended up proving myself wrong.
I say go with the flow and follow your heart (it may sound cliche, but it actually works).
Good advice Raam, thanks. I’m sitting on this one. We really do love each other but we are both so imperfect. But I know from my past I project my dissatisfactions with myself onto the world and others so I’ve got to tread carefully – I’ve broken enough hearts!
See where this flows.
great piece. keeps things in perspective 🙂
Thanks, Vinay! 🙂
Extremely thoughtful and insightful article. I have been thinking on these lines recently….so I can relate all the more.
Eliminating from life without a thought, purpose and direction is almost equivalent to being self centered and damn-caring of the things/people that we chose to bring into our lives in the first place.
Thanks for this wonderful read…
Hi Rashmie, thank you for the comment.
You’re right — eliminating without thought is selfish and it’s even worse when our thoughtless actions affect the people in our lives. What’s needed is mindfulness with purpose. Elimination with sharper focus. Minimalism with direction.
You keep writing so beautifully you have a best selling book inside of you for sure.
Personally, as a long term hiker I feel a bit naked without my backpack even when I am not in the hills.
In the hills, most times I hike solo so I always carry the essentials with me. My lady says I may carry too much but it still feels right. I always have some weight on my back it becomes a natural part of my movement.
Like in your analogy, my life is never totally stress free with family responsibilities, business responsibilities, friends having difficulties around me so I look for the positive in the situation and see it as useful ‘Eustress’ and help out when I can.
Indeed, in my life I constantly update myself as to how I can better live more at peace and this is what helps me in my daily work with clients looking for ways to handle stress or grow their business and I believe all this helps me grow as a person too.
As someone once said ‘we are here to help make other people’s load lighter’.
Enjoy a wonderful day,
Hi David, thank you for the kind words. 🙂 I’ve been living out of the same backpack for the past ten months and I know what you mean by feeling naked without it! After spending six months in India practically glued to my backpack for fear of it being stolen, it was very strange to simply leave it in the car or to even put it down in the house and walk away from it!
Sharing the load, whether that means responsibility, difficulty, or a backpack, helps us uncover a piece of ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to find, so I think we need to share with others to learn more about ourselves.
Love the article and the analogy, Raam. The comments are worth the read as well. That’s what I always appreciate about your blog, the engagement of the readers and the value they add to the post itself.
About living an independent life, I sometimes wonder how sustainable this is. Do you see it as a stage in your life or do you see it as a viable way of living?
Thanks for sharing this with us! Much appreciated!
I think it’s a viable way of living so long as we become inwardly independent but outwardly open-minded and collaborative. I think right now we’re doing the exact opposite… we let others think for us and then we try to be physically and emotionally independent. That’s not sustainable.
Physical and emotional independence isn’t necessarily bad, but too much definitely is — how much I think varies from one person to another. For me, independence on all levels feels like a viable way of living, but I know that means I need to work on the collaboration and cooperation end of the spectrum. I’m good at thinking for myself, but not so good with letting others shoulder the weight or helping me with things.
For me, putting out comes naturally but taking in needs work and that’s partly why I put so much effort into these comments. They help me work on a part of myself that I know needs improvement.
So, is living an independent life sustainable? Yes, so long as we’re also willing to work with others and remain open-minded. If we’re independent but not willing to grow and learn, we may as well be resting in a coffin (then we’d really be independent!).
“Minimalist aspirations must be accompanied with a willingness to accept responsibility for the freedoms we inherit. Otherwise, minimalism is nothing more than a selfish attempt at tricking life into giving us more than we deserve.”
This has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I will admit to wanting to boycott some sites because my feeling is that the “freedom” they discuss is entirely based on the self. There is freedom in giving up/postponing your needs for the needs of someone you are responsible for, someone you love. It’s called freedom from the self, from the ego, and from the “I” and the “me.” In some religious/spiritual traditions it’s believed that it is only after the obliteration of the “I” that wisdom or oneness is achieved. Obviously that’s not going to happen to most of us anytime soon and I’m not talking about being a doormat and completely ignoring one’s own needs, but this constant focus on WHAT I WANT is really grating on me. And to be honest, it’s not the focus of my minimalism. I practice minimalism for a lighter presence on the earth. For a closer understanding of my faith. And finally for an easier existence free of unnecessary materials. This post was just what I needed. Sorry for the long comment!
You’re absolutely right about needing to have freedom from our ego! That’s one reason why I feel that serving (real, selfless serving, not serving in return for money) is so important: We’re forced to become humble and free ourselves from that part of ourselves that usually chains us down.
Like you, minimalism means far more to me than a reduction of possessions. It’s a way to help me better understand who I am, the real me, enable me to give back more through holding onto less.
Thank you for the wonderful comment! 🙂
I’ve just “discovered” your work more recently. I find it very thoughtful and provocative. I found this statement particularly intriguing:
“Minimalist aspirations must be accompanied with a willingness to accept responsibility for the freedoms we inherit. Otherwise, minimalism is nothing more than a selfish attempt at tricking life into giving us more than we deserve.”
I agree that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand—in so much as freedom means taking responsibility for your own life and not leaving it for others to decide. But I find the other half of this statement really vexing. “tricking life into giving us more than we deserve”. I’m not sure I see where you’re coming from. Sounds like you’re saying we’re born into bondage and we have to earn our way out. How do you determine that?
Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m happy to have you as a reader! 🙂
I think you misunderstood the line “tricking life into giving us more than we deserve”. That line was relating to minimalism and what I feel happens when we refuse (or simply forget) to take responsibility for the freedom that we gain when we rid our lives of unnecessary things (whatever they may be).
If we get rid of stuff but then just waste that extra freedom, what’s the point? As our freedom from stuff increases — and again, it could be any kind of “stuff”: material possessions, emotional baggage, grudges, anger, hate, opinions, rigid thinking, etc. — we need to simultaneously accept greater responsibility for the freedom that fills the space of those things we let go of.
Does that make sense? I’m not sure how it came across as being “born into bondage” and having “to earn our way out”, but please let me know if it’s still not clear. 🙂
Thanks Raam. It’s interesting, but I’m still not really clear. I understood the context, but you use language like “more than we deserve” (who’s to say what you deserve?), “waste the freedom” (who’s to say what’s a waste?) “a selfish attempt” (could it be otherwise?). It sounds like the responsibility you’re talking about is to something outside of yourself. Something you have to answer to. To me, freedom is the basis of life. It’s the pinnacle of self-actualisation. It doesn’t require any justification or due.
Yes, I believe we do have a responsibility to something outside of ourselves. We have a responsibility to the world we’re living in and feeding off of. We have a responsibility to each other, to be compassionate and caring. We have a responsibility to share our knowledge, our insight, and our potential with those whose lives would be improved by doing so.
Freedom without compassion for others is selfishness. A certain degree of selfishness is fine — we all need to work on ourselves, improve who we are, and enjoy life — but if that’s all our life consists of (“it’s all about me, screw everybody else”) then what exactly is the point of living?
I believe that we’re all here for the sole purpose of realizing our full potential and then sharing that potential with others.
I see lots of “freedom chasing” with seemingly no thought put into how that freedom can be used to do real good in the world. Selling all our stuff, setting up automated passive income streams, making boatloads of money, and then lounging around on a beach all day basking in our own success seems not only wasteful to me, but incredibly irresponsible and ignorant of the reality that we’re going to be dead one day.
I’m not saying we should give up all comfort, all excitement, and all adventure. I’m simply saying that we should be doing things in life with a bigger long-term goal in mind… something that contributes to nudging humanity in a better direction. When we die, will our life have meant anything for the world we leave behind? What good is freedom if in the end it meant (and changed) nothing?
Thank you Raam. I think I understand you better now. Peace.
lovely post, Raam!
Thank you, Varuni! 🙂
We almost lost ya for a second there Raam – don’t be breaking your legs or getting paralyzed on us!
I response to the idea of letting (almost) too much go so you don’t have the burden:
People are quick to assume that living minimally is that you get rid of everything but, to me, it’s more of a frugal mentality, you only keep what’s necessary and you make the conscious decision to gain items that will have substantial impact on your life – it could weigh you down but because you’ve aligned your philosophy and logical decision – it’s a great addition.
It also reminded me about mental baggage. In my mind, although it sounds really odd: I actually enjoy that fact that I’ve experienced tough times and I don’t just let them go because they’ve been such a character builder for me.
Life has its ups and down; most people just want the ups but don’t notice that the downs allow you to always build back up and enjoy of having “the experience” of life.
If that makes sense; it’s early -_-
Great points, Murlu! I really liked what you said about mental baggage. While most mental baggage is probably bad, it’s important to hold onto the lessons and experiences that have helped us grow along the way.
I think about all my “failures” and hold onto the lessons they taught me with an iron grip. I also hold onto the successes and use them as reminders for how far I’ve come and where I’ve been. Like you said, they build character.
This post is like an arrow hitting the target: “Otherwise, minimalism is nothing more than a selfish attempt at tricking life into giving us more than we deserve.”
I believe that the main point in anything we do is our motivation and intention. Minimalism is good with the right motivation! Thanks for pointing this out.
Thank you, Sandra! 🙂
Wonderful insights. I think you nailed it when you said “Instead of dropping the weight and getting high on freedom — whether it’s freedom from expectations, material possessions, lifestyle commitments, or a backpack — we need to ask ourselves why we’re freeing ourselves and what we’re going to do with that freedom.”
I think awareness, reflection, and self-examination is a lost practice for most of our culture. We hear buzz-words and labels like “minimalism” and “minimalist” and tend to automatically think about them in very shallow terms. Many fail to understand that minimalism, at its core, is a philosophy; and philosophies require reflection and intention when being implemented. It’s what separates philosophies like yoga from activities like stretching. Yeah, you may receive some of the surface benefits just by going through the motions, but the real life change happens when you start to understand what’s under the hood.
Great post as always. Lots to think about.
Steve, that’s a really great example with yoga and stretching. The same could be said for martial arts and kicking/punching, story telling and words/characters, and even exercise and running/lifting/health (the health aspects are great, but it’s really the inner strength that we discover through being able to command and shape our body that benefits us in the long-run).
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the shallower interpretation of minimalism, as I think a reduction of material possessions helps lead us towards a deeper understanding of ourselves. However, like you said, at its core minimalism is a philosophy that requires us to reflect on the broader implications that minimalism has on our life. It’s about questioning the importance and purpose of life itself.
I love this post, it zeros in on the necessary balance between selfishness and selflessness, freedom and caution. Very, very well thought-out and well-written. With every post you are ascending to the next station on Everest!
Thank you, Meg! Everest is actually on my list of places to tackle. 😀
Thanks for sharing this story and it’s powerful message of the need to be intentional. We do have to be careful for what we wish for – we might just get it.
I’m happy you enjoyed it, Alex! Thank you for reading. 🙂
Great post! I’m gonna try to eliminate some things in the new year.
Thank you, Andi! That’s great to hear you’re going to eliminate some stuff. We all have things we don’t need! 🙂
Powerful stuff, thank you for the food for thought Raam. I never considered that more responsibility would accompany more freedom.
Thanks, Roy! I hadn’t really considered it either until that incident with my backpack, but it makes a lot of sense now! 🙂
A great thought provoking post as usual 🙂
The line “All weight isn’t bad. All things that hold us back are not bad” is apt for me at the moment. I want to commit to things that I can’t due to our daughter’s education, I have to accept this and hope that one day it will work out but I want to make the most of the time now to prepare and enjoy the stage in life we are at. I am preparing also by working towards a simpler life to make our future plans easier.
I have also loved to read all the comments and replies, it makes wonderful reading, thanks everyone 🙂 x
I love reading the comments too! 🙂 They add so much color and value to every post. Thank you for being part of that!
Making the most of your time and enjoying every moment of it is the only way to live! I love that you’re look forward to a simpler life and taking an active role in shaping that future for yourself.
Great post! Like I said on skype, It gave me a lot to think about. But your example hits home when you ask, who am I living for? Myself or others. If it’s just myself I can carry only what I need and nothing else. But life is not meant to be lived selfishly. That means carrying the load of your friends(and being grateful to do it). Then, like you found out, when you’re not able to carry it any longer, your friend(s) take over. But in your example, your friend not only was carrying his stuff, but yours as well. That’s a small picture of living in community. Thanks Raam
Great point about this being a small picture of living in a community! I hadn’t even thought of that, but it makes a lot of sense! When we refuse to be grateful, compassionate, and carry each others’ weight, the essence of what makes a community work breaks down. Thank you for those thoughts, John!
Dear Raam, I save and savor your articles and always you manage to bring a point to surface that is rare, unique and authentic in your own beautiful voice. Thank you for the reminder on not carrying the weights that we could do without but also in doing it all ever so responsibly!
Is that you in that glorious photo?
Thanks for another fantastic read here!!
Thank you for the kind words, as always, dear Farnoosh! 🙂
That’s not me in the photo — I was taking a photo of the scenery with my iPhone when suddenly another hiker walked over to the edge to look out. I managed to take that photo just before he walked away. I was worried the slow iPhone shutter speed would mess up the photo, but I think the hiker paused just as I snapped the photo. 🙂
Wow. This is exactly what I needed right now! Ever since I began practicing minimalism, I’ve been in purging mode pretty much constantly. Always looking for something else to excise from my list of possessions, something to sell or donate.
While I do this because these possessions don’t fit with my future goals, it is still nice to take a step back and evaluate the evaluation process.
Thanks for the reminder.
Evaluating the evaluation process… that’s an excellent way of putting it! I think that’s such an important part of progress, one that is easily overlooked. No matter what we’re doing, we need to make sure we don’t fall into the trap of doing things simply because “that’s the way it’s done”.
Excellent point, Jaryd! Thanks! 🙂
Exactly. Minimalism is supposed to be fighting against the “that’s how it’s always been done” mentality, but we can get caught up in that, too. It’s just a habit we humans have, I guess. We like the rules because it takes a lot less effort than thinking.
Any philosophy that keeps us from thinking can be dangerous.