Tuesday, July 25, 2006

going without

The following was originally published at Groovy Green. I am in the process of revisiting these ideas and thought I would share.

Going Without :: A Search For Our Lost Perspective
Aaron Newton
May 23, 2006

For breakfast today I had 12 oz. of fresh fruit juice. For lunch and dinner I will have the same. I am in the fifth and final day of a fast. I have had no solid foods, no other liquids except tea and water. I feel fine. For any of those worried about my health you needn’t be. I have research this practice and performed it main times. I find it to be a tough but rewarding experience physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I am doing it in celebration of my family’s one year anniversary of television-free living. This time last year my wife and I were discussing the possibility of an experiment that would involve getting rid of our television. Three days later our TV set died and we took it as a sign. We never replaced the beast and one year removed we’re happy we haven’t. Before you begin to worry I am not here to try and convince you to give up eating or to condemn you for watching American Idol. I would however like to interject an idea into the growing critique of our way of life and its future.

I believe in our hasty, valiant effort to change some of the more ecologically destructive behaviors of our unsustainable consumer culture we’ve missed a step. We have not stopped to consider the excess of our present existence. We have become accustom to an ever-increasing availability of food, entertainment, travel and more- always more. This has become ingrained in us so much so that currently our argument is often over how to produce more fuel for our cars not about how to make less driving necessary. The discussion is frequently about how to produce more electricity without emissions not about how much power we really need. The conversation is commonly about technologies that will allow us to do more while hurting less not about how much we really require in the first place.

I am not suggesting a return to the Stone Age. I think technology can play a part in adjusting our lifestyles such that we may begin to do less harm to our environment and use fewer of our children’s resources. I do not however believe in the endless growth of consumption. In this I doubt I am alone. I am asking how much is enough? Have you ever asked yourself?

Strawberries in December, cranberries in June, and lettuce in august; we have become accustom to food from all over our planet, available to us at any time for a relatively low price. We have also grown accustom to being feed amusement and distraction at all hours of the day- whenever we want. Television has made this possible.

If one program does not deliver we simply flip the switch and give another channel a chance. Devices to record and replay these programs have made even the necessity of watching at a certain scheduled time a thing of the past. Cell phones make everyone available anytime almost anywhere. Cars provide cheap transportation to wherever we want to go. One must simply fuel with cheap energy and hit the road. To Wal-Mart we go to buy cheap toasters tents, fishing rods and fake finger nails. Our thirst for more, better and faster seems to have reached a fever pitch. In the midst of this whirlwind we have lost touch with just how precious our position is. The increase of our desire has removed the context of our situation historically and among those other citizens with whom we currently share this planet. We have available to us more of everything than any other population on the Earth at anytime- ever! And the end result is that it’s hard to hear myself speak above the bombs.

The sound of our way of life is deafening. Isn’t anyone else ready for some peace and quiet? My response has been to stop shouting if only for a little while so that I might hear my own voice and listen to what it tells me.

When you only eat strawberries in summer their specialness returns. You also begin to learn how to once again eat seasonally. When you turn off your television even for a week or so not only do you appreciate it more, but you recognize the importance of time spent doing other things. Leave your cell phone off for a weekend and you will be more grateful for this technology come Monday morning. You might also begin to communicate in a more thoughtful manner with those whom you share your weekends with. Give up that car for a day and you might have to bike to the store. Imagine that- getting exercise and spending time outside on the way to wherever you’re going. You will return more appreciative of your automobile and you might even enjoy the ride!

I believe as we examine the way we live our lives in an effort to do so more sustainably we have at our disposal an exercise that provides a more proper prospective for our affluent era. By purposefully going without we can again understand just how good we’ve got it. We can return the extraordinary to that which has become commonplace and we can learn a lot about what we need, what we want and just what is really important to us.

I will eat again tomorrow. I think I’m going to make a pizza- my mouth waters at the thought. I wish I could properly convey the experience of visiting an American supermarket after fasting for 5 days. As a family we probably won’t get a television again. That experiment just provided too much free time to go back, but we still go to the movies. How much more sensual they seem now that I can’t watch one every night. Overall I am pleased with my self-imposed limits. They are flexible, open for discussion and bound to take on new forms in the future. For now though I am content with life as it is and pleased to be awake and aware- more so I think- to the pleasures with which we are blessed. Going without might not be that only way to understand how much we have and how great those things are but I am thankful for the renewed perspective it provides me on how I live my life and what I truly value.


crz53 said...

Excellent post. It's easy to forget that changing one's lifestyle is as much mental as it is physical. If we get ourselves in the right mindset, then the actual changes come much easier. Congrats on the one year anniversery. It's something I might consider, if I can convince the wife - haha!
Just out of curiosity, do you place any restrictions on computer/internet use as well?
- Mike Lorenz

nulinegvgv said...

Thanks Mike. To answer your question, as a family we don't have a hard and fast rule about internet use. Computer use is an individual action. It seems that if one of us spends "too much time" on the computer the other person tends to vocalize this fact. It also usually has a specific purpose -checking email, downloading pictures, etc. The problem with TV was that we were watching it together so neither of us really noticed when we were watching too much. Also TV isn't really a tool for accomplishing a task. At best it's an entertainment escape. At worst it's time suck.

We've talked about the merging of technologies that could possibly combine the television and the computer during our lifetimes. We'll cross that bridge if we ever come to it.