This post is a reflection from Lou Haveman co-founder of Connect For Water, Lou hiked the Appalachian Trail raising money for life-enhancing products for those who live in the developing world. This is one of Lou’s reflections from the 2,172 mile through hike of the trail.
Living Simple is not Simple!
There was a hiker who had a back pack weighing over 75 pounds. We called him the Can Man because he had most of his food in cans. I started with a 46-pound backpack. Within a month, it was down to 36 pounds. The extra food, clothes, “maybe I will need this stuff” was no longer carried. One pair of underwear I found was sufficient. I do not pick up food just because it is free. I carry only enough to take me to my next resupply location. I have discovered that I need to carry more water. Life on the trail is not what you have but what you do with what you have.
Long distance hiking is filled with essential core tasks that in themselves are simple; seeking water, insuring dry clothes, enough food, planning one’s day. In that simplicity, I was constantly evaluating my needs, changing clothes, carrying various amounts of food, and planning resupply locations. The trail experience is a master class in keeping things simple.
This simplicity is a common desire for those of us who live complicated, busy, and sometimes “out of control” lives. I discovered on the trail, it is not simplicity or the desire to do less that I seek, but rather to consciously choose what I do instead of feeling an endless obligation to please others.
Most of our work in Africa was a response to poverty as represented by disease, lack of adequate food, illiteracy, disasters of violence or drought. We measured our effectiveness with metrics on a better life; health, access to education, a larger home, peace and stability.
In North America we largely measure our success in terms of wealth. My wife was the head of nursing at a nursing home. When they hired new staff, they would take them though an exercise where a list of possessions was given to them; items such as memory, health, a home, vehicle, Jewry, furniture, clothes, family, travel, abilities, privacy, books, and so one. One by one they would ask a new staff person to give up one of these items. The point was that each resident had a multitude of things they had to give up as they now lived as a nursing or retirement home as a patient…until death.
It is neither simplicity or wealth that is my goal.
Simple living is not necessarily about reducing the amount of what we have or what we do. Nor is development that of accumulation of wealth and possessions. Successful living is best experienced by removing distractions, so we can clearly identify our choices and do precisely what we find to be most fulfilling. To do that often means we have to periodically move out of our comfort zones to see what alternatives life has to offer. The difference between the poor and wealthy is often that the poor just do not have choices. This trail experience was out of my comfort zone! Living and working in Africa was way out of my comfort zone. Development is having the freedom and ability of choice. A poor person does not have that freedom.
Simple living is not necessarily about reducing the amount of what we have or what we do.