I dreamt of being a Shaolin Monk
When I was a kid I was obsessed with the show “Kung Fu” starring David Carradine. The intro alone was a complete story within itself, a young Carradine having his head shaved and going through the rituals of becoming a monk. There is the famous line where the monk says, “Grasshopper, when you can snatch the pebble from my hand, you will be a man.” Ha Chaw! I wanted to roundhouse kick, uppercut and tetsu te everything in sight after watching this show. It spoke to me on so many levels. Who doesn’t want to be a subtle killing machine when it comes to taking on unsuspecting bullies? Who doesn’t secretly dream of being stripped of all their earthly possessions and being emptied of all the things that constrain them only to be transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Am I the only one that longs for this kind of simplicity and selflessness? I don’t think so. I think that is why yoga, minimalism, some religions and meditation appeal to a number of people – we all long for something more.
Recently I was watching the documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix. As a single man I am currently living with some friends who have four children. I moved into their guest bedroom to save money and to downsize from my expensive apartment. I personally thought that my apartment was already pretty minimal but as I crammed a 10×10 from top to bottom full of all my earthly possessions I realized that I still had quite a bit of stuff. As I mentioned this to one of my friends he said that I should watch the documentary “Minimalism”. I am a sucker for anything that someone recommends and so I watched it at the next opportunity. The premise is really simple: “People dedicated to rejecting the American ideal that things bring happiness are interviewed in this documentary showing the virtues of less is more.”
As I watched the documentary I wasn’t suddenly inspired to get rid of a lot of things, instead I saw a lot of people coming to the conclusion that their stuff was not bringing them happiness and I couldn’t help but think how sad it was that we need a documentary to tell us this. I think we can spend our whole lives hoping for a big reset button and people push it in a variety of ways: Divorce. Religion. Weight Loss. Muscle Gain. Yoga. Plastic Surgery. Career Change. Adoption. Charitable Causes. Strict Diets.
Sometimes we are so desperate to shake things up that we will try just about anything to break the monotonous drudgery of life. We exist riding these waves of traditions and seasons passing the years sometimes feeling like we are just staying the same and all the while longing for more. Maybe not everyone is as introspective as me but I often find myself asking the question, is this it? Is this all there is to life, shouldn’t there be more?
Not so Minimal Minimalism
Toward the end of the documentary Ryan Nicodemus is speaking about his girlfriend and how she has 27 pairs of shoes and to her, that is minimal. The concept of minimalism to them is keeping only things that provide value to your life. If you need and are using 27 pairs of shoes, then keep them. I thought this was interesting because this is the trap that creates our “need” for things in the first place. No one “needs” twenty seven pairs of shoes. Hoarders don’t need all of their junk but that doesn’t keep them from feeling that they need it.
So my point is this, the idea that stripping away the excess in our lives should not be a revelation or a sudden “A-Ha” moment. We should all know that material things do not provide true contentment and fulfillment, or lasting joy. Plus, when you empty your life of things, you will often fill it with something else that you hope will make you feel complete. It’s like an addict that replaces one addiction with another. Instead of fixing the problem within, we try to resolve it by externally changing the world around us.
Personally I am a Christian and as Christians we are taught that we were created with a need and a desire for something that this world cannot provide. We have to fill that void with a faith and trust in God and his son Jesus Christ. For those who are atheists or Marxists you may believe “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (Karl Marx) However, “A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.” With these stats we cannot deny that religion and faith play a major role in the lives of most people.(Pew Research Group) (Disclaimer: this post is not about religion and conversion but merely stating facts based on my own personal experience.)
When it comes to faith, people’s belief system is based on their own personal experiences and upbringing. I remember studying psychology in college and how the various psychologists, Freud, Skinner, Maslow, Erikson – each of their own personal experiences impacted their theories. But life experience, science, and good storytelling cannot compete with truth. One of my favorite quotes from Orson Scott Card’s book Xenocide says, “When you hear a true story, there is a part of you that responds to it regardless of art, regardless of evidence. Let it be the most obvious fabrication and you will still believe whatever truth is in it, because you can not deny truth no matter how shabbily it is dressed.”
I don’t think we can deny the benefits in doing yoga, meditation, minimalism, being more efficient, etc. Sometimes we need a reset button to improve our lives, but these types of resets are only temporary if we don’t change ourselves from within. I could have become a Shaolin Monk as a child, shaved my head, but would that have really provided lifelong satisfaction and contentment?
In this life I have found no set of activities that will truly save you from the monotony of life other than faith in God alone.
A favorite passage of scripture of mine that speaks to my inner monk and minimalist is from Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)
These words pretty much sum up what I desire for my life. “Having nothing and yet possessing everything.” When I was younger I thought that I’d be content once I made a certain amount of money or acquired a number of things. But as I mentioned earlier in this post I’m living in a guest room with a family of six. I drive a 10 year old Honda Pilot that is paid for and I have almost no debt. For me, I measure my success by the friends and relationships that I have been blessed with, and if my wealth is measured in the quality and depths of friendships and people in my life, then I am the richest man in the world. I have learned to be content with where I am at no matter what stage of life I am in because my value and my identity are not wrapped up in things. It would be really easy to go from a Hoarder to a Minimalist and all you have done was switched identities.
Whatever you are doing in your life, whatever you are throwing yourself into, I hope it is brining you contentment and satisfaction.
Cheers! – Eddie Renz