Last week my nephew celebrated his first birthday and over the weekend I attended two birthday parties for him. I watched as he opened numerous presents and found himself surrounded with more toys than he could possibly know what to do with.
He played with each toy for a few moments until he seemed to become so overwhelmed by everything around him that he reached up for his mother (my sister) with open arms. The abundance was too much. He just wanted simplicity.
It was easier to return to the familiar comfort of his mothers' arms than it was to indulge in the excess of toys surrounding him.
I realized that like my nephew being surrounded with toys, we often surround ourselves with more than we know what to do with and, as a result, we become physically and psychologically overloaded.
Stress, feelings of isolation, boredom, a missing sense of purpose and direction, confusion, self-doubt, a lack of enthusiasm -- all of these are evidence of living with more than we can handle.
The evidence for this can also be found in our misplaced priorities and bad choices, not just as individuals or as a society, but as a race.
We start needless wars and support businesses that create harmful products. We waste enormous amounts of time and energy on things that are of no significant long-term value and we find ways to selfishly entertain ourselves while others are needlessly suffering.
But nature knows how to correct such imbalances; the universe has certain fail-safes in place that ensures balance is found when things get too far out of whack.
My one year old nephew, who can barely even walk, instinctively knew how to solve the problem of having too much: He returned to simplicity.
The growing trend in minimalism, the emerging interest in doing things the natural way, the desire to find ways to reconnect with nature and with our own bodies; all of these are a direct result of an unsustainable volume of abundance being made available to us over the past few decades.
Humanity is reaching out to its mother with open arms for comfort and a reconnection to what's real.
Abundance is Inherently Unsustainable
Abundance is like fire: If it's not contained and controlled, it will cause destruction and chaos instead of providing energy and a potential for progress.
Abundance requires intelligent life to intervene and shape it into something sustainable.
We can build, create, and accumulate to no end, but without putting any effort into sustainability, all our great achievements and incredible creations are putting us at risk of overloading our lives and destroying our planet.
But that doesn't mean we need to remain childlike and throw out all the progress we've made. My nephew isn't going to abandon his toys forever. Once he feels ready to stimulate his curiosity, he will return to those toys and they will help him grow.
The key to making abundance sustainable will not be found in dumping all the progress we've made and rewinding life to its pre-industrial form.
The answer to how we can make abundance sustainable will emerge when we learn to balance our connection to Mother Nature with the exploration of our endless human potential for creativity.
We can all work towards that balance by taking steps to reconnect our mind and body through exercise, yoga, and meditation. We can do it by finding areas in our lives where abundance is unsustainable and then take steps towards making those areas more balanced and harmonious.
We can do it by renewing and revitalizing our physical and spiritual connection to Mother Nature.
As my nephew grows and becomes more independent, the bond between him and his mother won't get weaker, it will get stronger. He won't ignore where he came from and who made his existence possible.
We need to remember where we came from and what makes our lives possible. We need to nurture the bond between our soul and the universe, between our spirit and and the Earth, between the energy and love that exists within us and every other living thing.
Nurturing a bond with the universe requires finding balance within our own lives. By identifying imbalances and taking steps to correct them, we can create an atmosphere that is conducive to forming deeper connections.
Here are a few unsustainable and imbalanced areas of my own life that I'm going to work towards changing over the next few months:
- Less coffee and caffeine, more tea and water
- Less time spent indoors, more time outside with nature
- Less sleeping late, more waking early with the sun
- Less physically idle time, more yoga, stretching, walking, and running
Each of these are areas in my life where I feel an imbalance or excess of abundance has led to unsustainable lifestyle habits. These habits are then having a negative impact on my overall well-being and disrupting harmony.
Is there excess somewhere in your life that needs to be made more sustainable? Have you experienced firsthand what happens when an abundance of something gets out of control? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed in life that your soul seemed to yearn for simplicity?
I know when I workout on a regular basis I feel less stressed and more energized.
Exercise is particularly helpful during times when I feel my world is spinning too fast. It’s a great way to regain my focus, and motivated to keep moving.
I couldn’t agree more! Exercise is an incredible cure for stress, especially long bouts of exercise where we get over the initial dip of pain.
Right before proofing this post, I was feeling anxious and stressed, so I got up and went for a 30 minute walk outside. Then I got a cup of tea, sat down at my laptop, and felt a renewed sense of life breathing through me. 🙂
Great post as usual. I’m working on a few of those areas myself. Have already became an early riser, but am beginning to move back into doing yoga and meditation again. Just the few weeks that I’ve been practicing again have already made an enormous difference in my stress levels and focus…not to mention I feel a ton better.
Good luck with making your adjustments and thanks for the thought-provoking article.
Thank you, Steve!
I think the most difficult part of making these adjustments is creating long-term habits out of them. It’s easy for me to force myself to wake up early a few days in a row, but to make it a lifelong change will take lots of dedication. Same thing goes with making exercise, yoga, and meditation daily, lifelong habits.
I just keep reminding myself of the long-term benefits of creating such daily habits and how grateful I will be that my younger self took the time to implement them. It’s sometimes tough to take yoga seriously when you’re already relatively nimble and relaxed and the long-term benefits are not immediately obvious. 🙂
thank you , beautiful post, Ramdev. i have to achieve the same goals as you have listed too. 🙂 wish you success and everlasting peace.
Thank you, Praseena! 🙂
Great post! It’s funny how we can learn so much from children if we just open our eyes. They are so honest and most of what they do is based off instinct.
I know that for myself things are 200% different than they were two years ago when I started living a minimalist. I’m still working on it and I think it’s a daily thing. Dumping 90% of my things and and paying off most of my debts has made my like better in way I didn’t think possible.
Now I’m finishing things up and working on a few projects that will hopefully pay off and allow me to travel the world.
I could ramble on and on about health, exercise and minimalism but I’ll leave that to you! 🙂
Thanks Adam! 🙂
One reason why I get so much inspiration from children is that their perspective of the world is one of pure curiosity, open-mindedness, and a desire to understand a learn. I think as adults, we lose so much of that perspective.
My experience when something out of control in my life, becomes in a proof of life; for me means that I’ve to learn a lesson. But the out that I take it is in prayer, talking with God; and that moment change everything. It’s a solution and a guide in the darkness of that moment. Besides, helps me to be focus and aware that I’m human, and that those things happen. 🙂
Recognizing the inevitability of certain things, and how much of the world really isn’t in my control, always helps me get through situations that would otherwise be difficult. Reminding myself that there are other forces (including time itself!) that prevent me from changing a situation always allows me to refocus my energy and attention on the things that I can change. And doing something is always better than sitting idly in self-pity doing nothing.
As I began to read your words, my smile grew in anticipation of you likening your nephew’s embrace with his mom to ours with Mother Nature…
While on travel in NY this past weekend, I experienced the feeling of being ‘cooped up’..being inside at the bed and breakfast, being inside all day at a conference..I realized that while home on the boat.. how much I enjoy watching the sky..the sun’s progress, then the moon’s progress..the clouds..how much I love to be barefoot to feel my way as I walk..how much I enjoy feeling elements on my skin…I experienced an abundance of friendship, love, wisdom, joy; but I felt stifled so I would kick my shoes off and briefly go outside to check out the sky and let my body “feel” the day.
Now to combine abundance and nature..I’m working on *that* 🙂
I can totally relate to a love for walking barefoot! A few days ago I took a nice long (2 hour) walk through a local state forest and even though the ground was damp and cold, I decided to take my shoes and socks off and walk for about 2 miles barefoot. It was absolutely incredible to feel all the (painful) acorns under my feet. The colorful autumn leaves, the random bits of green moss, the granite rocks — it was an incredible experience! I recently discovered the “barefoot hiking” niche and I think I’m going to start doing a lot more barefoot hiking! 🙂
Talk about barefoot walking always reminds me about something I read years ago about how cities in Japan have “pebble paths” in parks where adults go on their breaks to walk barefoot and stimulate their feet. Studies have shown that stimulating your nervous system like that has amazing healing qualities!
It’s interesting to observe through your eyes how a small child has more common sense and ability to act on his intuition that most of us adults. This is such a wonderful lesson to inspire us.
I loved this sentence:
“Humanity is reaching out to its mother with open arms for comfort and a reconnection to what’s real.”
It’s true that balance occurs in nature, but when nature is so off-balance the re-balancing can occur quite dramatically. Let’s all hope we wake up soon.
In terms of my own excess, I spend more time on the computer than ideal. But not too bad, since I also spend time in nature and am always seeking balance in other ways.
Thanks for great lesson.
I’ve discovered that children are wonderful teachers if we allow ourselves to be taught!
You’re right that the re-balancing in nature can occur quite dramatically — it’s up to all of us to become part of the solution and be the subtle force that shift things just enough to avoid disaster!
I also spend way too much time on the computer, but like you I’ve been trying to get outside and take more frequent breaks from the keyboard. Even ten minutes walking outside every few hours is beneficial!
Thank you so much for the comment! 🙂
Reading your blog has made me more mindful of the messages that are conveyed by the media, government, and business. One of those is that we, as consumers, must buy more things to stimulate the economy. I got the image of millions of consumer-hamsters struggling to keep their wheels turning to drive the gears of commerce. Perhaps we need to consider a different paradigm where we don’t have to keep the wheels of a global machine moving. For my part, when I need something, I try to shop locally as much as possible.
Great point, Greg! The way we see progress needs to change. There still seems to be a strong focus on individual growth (not necessarily a bad thing, but it is bad when that remains the focus when you extrapolate to the entire planet!). There’s also a heavy influence from the money monsters (new term! :)) who pay to control the media and continue pushing consumerism forward.
When we stop looking for success and happiness from monetary things, we’ll discover the real happiness and real success that awaits. I think it’s already happening and we just need to continue playing our part, as you are with shopping locally as much as possible. 🙂
Hey Raam, I know exactly what you mean.
It always seems like I’m going going going – I’m up nearly 21 hours each day always grinding on work and projects.
Not long ago, on a whim, some buddies of mine and I went to an outdoor festival. On the way down I was getting anxious because I was away “from it all” and was getting a bit annoyed since I wasn’t convincing myself I was being productive.
Long story short: a moment hit me right in the face on one of the nights – I was sitting in a field, surrounded by my friends with glowsticks and people dancing.
It hit me – this is what it’s about.
Everything else really seemed like a means to justify the end; what really mattered most wasn’t trying to keep up with everything, sitting in front of my computer and working away – it was being around my closest friends with music I love and absorbing the nature around us.
I certainly need to cut out a lot of things that I do but it’s a process – one step at a time. I too want to get back to nature and have those experiences more often.
I think it’s really all about figuring out what’s important to us and then working on figuring out how we can do more of that and less of everything else, or how we can find a comfortable balance between the two.
For example, I’m committed to never tying myself down to one location ever again. That means if I ever take on a job that will stretch more than a few weeks, it needs to allow me to work remotely. If I can’t find something like that, then I’ll only accept part-time work and short-term contract jobs. I’ve decided the freedom of location independence is of utmost importance to my peace of mind (even if I’m not traveling, it’s the freedom to travel that is important to me).
Now my challenge is figuring out how I can spend more time outside while simultaneously earning enough money and doing something that contributes to the betterment of humanity. I know it’s going to be a process that will take me some time, probably another year, but I know down to the core of my being that if I don’t work towards that, all I will be doing is spending time dreaming about it. And why live life dreaming? I’d rather live life living! 🙂
Thank you for the comment and I’d love to hear what you do to work towards changing your own lifestyle!
I love that train of thought Raam – I’m right there with you.
Any job that I take on, I try to think of “what will I gain outside of finances?” – I only want to work with people that will inspire me, jobs that will push me beyond my limits, something that stimulates my thoughts and becomes a platform for the next project I work on.
I think that’s why project based work has always been for me – I see that it’s what’s for you as well – we can’t be tied down anymore because this is the first time in our history that every person has the ability to finally break out of the mold and live accordingly to how they want.
One thing that’s truly inspired me from your travels was your involvement with the school. I would love to, some day, teach whatever I have to offer to those that don’t have access to it all.
I know my limited scope of technology may not be as noble as those that are doing other world projects but I have to believe that making a positive impact by opening up the world through technology, in some way, is noble in itself. You’re giving the vast wealth of knowledge to people that once were limited.
Damn, I’m feeling all kinds of grounded today – the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, family is around and I’m taking it all in.
You’re right about being tied down. There are so many opportunities out there and so much potential for personal growth that we no longer need to do things the old way. There are exceptions for those with families, but I think even then there are an incredible number of opportunities to gain independence if the work and effort are put in.
My experience with the schools in Nepal had a huge effect on me too. I think there’s no better way to improve the lives of others than to share our knowledge with them (that’s not why I was there — I was just getting a tour of the school — but that’s what became most obvious to me). This is especially true for people from developed countries going to developing countries. Our access to information gives us so much potential to share and improve the lives of others.
The key is figuring out how to best do that. 🙂
Then you must tell your sister not to spoil the little nephew :)! I don’t have children but I don’t think I will buy them tons of toys to show my love – in fact, one of my fears and reasons for not having children is that because my life is so comfortable, they will grow to be spoiled against all odds….Anyway I digress – I just wanted to agree and add that without sustaining our health and mental well-being first, nothing can be sustained so that is first and foremost…..!
I agree, Farnoosh! But it wasn’t my sister that was getting him all the gifts — it was all their friends!
I think raising children not to be selfish or spoiled in a developed country — with access to so much technology and convenience — must be extremely challenging. I’m not thinking about kids right now, but if I ever started a family, homeschooling, exposure to raw nature, and frequent world travel would be an absolute requirement for their education!
My guess is that consumerism is a symptom of our dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with our disconnection from people and disconnection from the other parts of nature.
I think that connecting deeply and pleasurably with others and nature will cure consumerism.
I’d agree, Evan! I wonder how often that dissatisfaction is actually interpreted as a lacking or a feeling of missing something. The logical answer to a feeling of lacking wouldn’t be to look inward, but rather look outward for something to fill the hole.
When you then add to the fact that society and the media is telling us, over and over, that what we need is right here — in this object and that object, in this pill and that pill — it’s easy to see why consumerism is a popular as it is! Looking inward is the answer. Looking towards the source of that feeling of lacking and disconnection, that’s how we’ll discover what we’re looking for.
Hi Raam 🙂
“Humanity is reaching out to its mother with open arms for comfort and a reconnection to what’s real” This sentence felt very resonant for me. I know this feeling so well.
I’m so on-again off-again with yoga and meditation. I was getting into the habit a few months ago but once I hit the road I fell out of it…and now I’m trying to pick the habit back up. It’s funny how often I have to convince myself to make time for these things yet once I actually do them, I feel amazing! Like a new person! But like you said, I can do it for a few days really well and then…one missed day turns into two and so on.
But when I read posts like this, I feel inspired and reinvigorated. You remind me how important it is to make conscious decisions in our lives to reduce stress and reconnect. Because it’s really very simple but…not. We have to decondition ourselves from yucky old habits and work on the new. For me, surrounding myself with a community that reminds me of this value (online and in person) is a huge help in keeping up with a new habit. And for that reason I thank you for this post 🙂
Hi Vanessa! 🙂
I think a familiar environment makes it immensely more difficult to form new long-term habits. I’ve found that when I’m on the road exploring a new place, it’s so much easier to build a new habit and stick with it (not moving around constantly… I’m referring to settling down somewhere new for a few weeks/months). Back in the familiar comfort of my parents house, I’ve found that it’s incredibly challenging just to prevent myself from restarting old habits.
But I don’t think the answer lies in escaping familiarity. I do, however, think that we can use that to help us. If we just stick with the new habit long enough to get over that hump of resistance that the familiar environment pushes on us, we’ll be successful!
I totally agree on your point about surrounding yourself with a community that reminds you of the values you’re striving to integrate into your own life. I experienced this many years ago when I was getting in shape — whenever I spent time reading the online fitness forums, I instantly felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm for exercise. 🙂
I’ve been reading your blog for some weeks already. You present your ideas clearly and well elaborated.
It was interesting for me to see you writing about changing lifestyle in “Taking Initiative and Instigating Change” just after having decided to limit myself to drinks that are not detrimental to my body (alcohol, coffee, coca cola and other soft drinks) at least until Christmas. I came to this decision after a night with (unintentionally) too much alcohol. I laid in my bed being hung over and noticed that I don’t care about drinks as much as I do about food. That’s the time when it really hit me. After having lived about two years as a vegetarian (five years ago), I had started to care about a balanced nutrition. I eat less meat (once a week) and abandon unhealthy things like fast food. And even though my subconscious mind probably told me that alcohol or coffee are not good for me as well, I still had it, maybe just because I was used to it. Now I’m going to take the next step and limit myself to drinks like water, tea, milk and juice.
I’d like to point two things out. First, every change in my lifestyle also makes me think about things differently. E.g., It’s a new experience to go to a place where you are expected to drink and you do not drink (alcohol) because you don’t _want_ to. I’ve been on parties before where I didn’t drink because I wasn’t allowed since I had to drive (and drink+drive is a really bad thing). This new motivation shows up new perspectives to me and makes me feel better since I can be more confident about my decision and also my mind is clearer. In these days I experience new possibilities in my everyday-live just due to this little change.
Second, I think it’s very important to not suffer from your own decision. Imagine someone decides to stop smoking for at least one month. If he is looking forward to the time afterwards (when he can have cigarettes again), the whole thing won’t have any positive effect. Or the other way around: No smoker will stop smoking because he “knows” that smoking is detrimental to his health. It has to come by heart. I decided to abandon alcohol, coffee and softdrinks at least until Christmas but already now it’s clear for me how much better I can live without. The next step around Christmas is to disengange myself from my own strict limitations without reverting to my old habits.
Thank you for the comment, Aranaman. There’s a lot to think about here.
What you said about that battle in your head constantly pulling you back and forth in your efforts to change your habits is so true. I think that’s the biggest challenge we need to overcome: Our inner critic (or the “lizard brain” as many are starting to refer to it) will always try to resist change because change is usually more dangerous than doing nothing.
But like you said, the decision to change has to come from within us — it needs to be more than a passive thought or a simple reaction to information (e.g., smoking will kill you). If you don’t care enough, you’re not going to put in the effort needed to make big changes and change deeply ingrained habits.
One thing that always helps for me is to think about things in the scale of my lifetime, instead of months or years. When I want to change a habit, whatever it may be, I don’t think about changing it temporarily. Instead, I think about changing it for the remainder of my life.
For example, when I stopped drinking soda, it became a mission to never drink soda again for the rest of my life. That made it really easy to stay away from it because I had already accepted inside that I will never have it, at any point in the future, so any urge to drink it disappeared. If my brain knows that “waiting it out” or “getting through the temporary discomfort of resisting the urge” will never result in getting what I desire, then it gives up and I don’t feel myself struggling repeatedly to stick with the new habit.
Hey Raam, I definitely agree with you here. We have become too distracted by material luxuries that we have forgotten how to connect with nature.
One thing to remember however is that I don’t think a balance can be found. Even Mother Nature herself is filled with imbalances, destruction, drastic change, and other spontaneous events. At best we can dance around the fulcrum point.
You’re right about nature being full of imbalances, but the thing is that nature is always working towards finding balance and equality. It doesn’t give up or decide that balance cannot be found. It just keeps searching for balance. That’s what I think we need to do. Always be working towards finding balance.
Thank you for the comment! 🙂
“we often surround ourselves with more than we know what to do with and, as a result, we become physically and psychologically overloaded. ”
Yeah, totally! However it’s interesting that not everyone seems to be adversely affected by this build up of ”stuff”. I think that when we too busy, too rushed and overloaded in that immaterial way that seems to be something that is completely untenable in the medium to long term for almost everyone. Well, if they wish to remain healthy anyway. But in terms of stuff, material possessions, I know people who are quite happy and relaxed completely surrounded. I don’t get it (lol) but it seems to be fine for them.
You raised interesting points about abundance and sustainability and in particular the idea of all this abundance and all this human effort being channelled in the wrong direction…very sad. It’s a wonderful thing though when go in the right direction: sustainable, thoughtful, creative, genuine, caring, smart…..
I like your ideas on applying that in our personal lives too. I definitely have areas I can focus on 🙂
I too have seen people who seem to be totally happy and comfortable with having too much stuff, but sometimes I wonder if they’re just really good at ignoring the discomfort. Maybe they’ve gotten so good at living with too much that they’re able to ignore the stress and negative affects of it. If that’s the case, I think it’s still affecting their health and overall well-being (maybe even their lifespan!).
I think the beauty and benefits of channeling effort in the right direction is similar to the power of love over hate: even an ounce of love can overcome a ton of hate. Likewise, even small amounts of effort in the right direction do far greater good in the long-term than all the effort being dissipated in the wrong direction. 🙂
Hi Raam. I was drawn to this post because I have a 3-yr-old and another baby in my belly. I constantly struggle with sustainability because being a parent means two things: 1) being busy, which often leads us to make unsustainable choices (disposable diapers, quick snacks, etc.). 2) kids love receiving new things, and it can be hard not to buy your kids things you know they will enjoy. However, there are ways to add sustainable habits and raise children to value that. It’s very important to have a like-minded community to encourage those values in me and to show a good example to my children.
And meditation and long walks outside are 2 of my saviors right now, and for always. 🙂
I couldn’t agree more with what you said about raising children to value sustainability. I think with our incredible access to abundance, it’s so easy to give children more than they need and allow them to feel that an excess of abundance is just “normal”.
I’d love to see some blog posts around what you’re doing to set an example for your children. I think other parents who are also interested in raising their children to value sustainability would find such posts not only valuable, but very motivational! You’d end up creating that like-minded community you talked about (it might only be virtual, but it helps inspire real-world action!) 🙂
Hmm. I honestly hadn’t thought about that, but I liked your idea (about the posts about sustainability and being a parent). Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll send you a link when I write about it!
Thank you for not subscribing to the MYTH that is going around, that tea has more caffeine than water.
I find green tea to be the best for my health, but black tea just tastes better 🙂
With a little soy milk, it’s so creamy.
I’m a huge fan of green tea too! 🙂
But black tea does have more caffeine than water, right? I know most herbal teas don’t, but I was under the impression that black teas usually do.