I visited my old high school this past weekend. I walked through the old haunts and smiled at their jauntily ambitious nicknames: Bahamas, the 20-foot square piece of lawn where we’d sun ourselves on Saturday afternoons, and Infinity, the landing at the top of the stairs to our four-story dorm building.
I’ve realized, my high school was unknowingly very Zen. The school was obsessed with simplicity and humility. We were allowed very few personal possessions. Everyone had a morning and evening task that taught us the value of manual work. We woke up early and went to bed early. Snail mail on Saturdays was the only communication with the outside world, and Silence was Golden.
Seems like a tough life, but some of the happiest times of my life were during those four years. Which emphasizes for me that happiness is a state of mind, and not a function of how much you have or where you are.
Take food. Today, I can walk into Nakumatt and buy the ingredients I’d need to whip up delicious dishes from any part of the world. If I’m too lazy to cook, I just have to stand on a corner in Westlands and half a dozen restaurants will be within spitting distance.
But back in the day, back in high school… How many ways can you combine ugali, rice, sukuma, cabbage and beans? I had four years to find out, in a school where no outside food was allowed. However, we had myriad ways to improve upon the half-assed efforts of our underpaid cooks. Fresh avocado chunks in our rice and beans. A pat of Blueband margarine melted in our hot githeri. Pinching off the corner of a Knorr beef cube and mixing it into our otherwise uninspired stew. A meal improved this way made me a lot happier, looking back, than eating at a restaurant when I now have the money and freedom.
I read a book once, The Paradox of Choice, where the author argues that the overwhelming choice available to us as modern consumers, creates all sorts of anxiety and unhappiness. I think that I am now living more simply than a couple of years ago where I owned twenty plus pairs of shoes, and spent tens of thousands on my hair, for example. But I’d like to continue to simplify. Where to start though? The thousands of books, websites and self-help guides on simplifying your life is an ironic confirmation the Paradox of Choice premise. Any ideas on an easy place to start simplifying your life?
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Maria is ever hopeful, and trying to attain furaha at furahaproject.blogspot.com