You can’t escape them. Anywhere. Ever. Cradle to grave, the bastards are ever present.

And somewhere it begs the question. If you could have everything your little heart desired; would it satisfy? Don’t think too hard here as I do believe the mages over the centuries have already answered that question, all with a resounding, ‘no.’

So that leaves some mortals to argue, ‘if you can’t have everything, then one should at least conspire to own the best.’

But what is often left unthought are the hidden costs. Wonderful (and expensive) things always have costs that are not part of the acquisition price.

Minimalism, in the case of someone like Thoreau, is not about owning less but better stuff but rather about reaching that point of equilibrium to where you have just enough. [Having] just enough, coincidentally is a wonderful and poignant family story my mother sometimes likes to tell about a family dinner back during the Great Depression. There was a paucity of food on everyone’s plate but at the end of the meal when everyone had hungrily finished dredging the last of the gravy with the final crust her aunt exclaimed, ‘See! There was just enough.’

Snobs, in the immortal words of Uncle Jun, ‘Are so far behind in the race they think they’re ahead.’ In this case meaning to fetishize some minor aspect of the material realm which is to totally miss the major grand mystery of marveling over our personal existence.

I just finished reading Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan, chronicling quite possibly the first hippie, that threadbare proto-bum whose writings and deeds are so humorously in contrast with the more contemporary vlogs and blogs, many of which ironically are attempting to monetize Ryokan’s lifestyle of voluntary simplicity.

As I read through (or watched) some of the blog/vlogs I sense more of a commitment to form rather than to function. In other words, it’s not what you do so much that’s important as is the perception of how you do it. There is one YouTube video judging by the title purportedly spends an entire hour walking viewers through the steps on how to configure the perfect minimalist apartment.

Or another video that hints at a marvelous satori that comes from having created a perfectly arranged closet.

Then there was another sadly ridiculous video dedicated on how to pack a travel bag minimally.

It seems that the 21st century uptick on the minimalism that was lived and practiced by the likes of Ryokan or Thoreau isn’t so much about the reduction of one’s stuff as it is about the artful rearrangement of it. (Note: But of course whatever you do these days, your efforts must be green and carbon free or it really doesn’t count.)

And so it appears that there is an insidious reverse snobbery at work here. Some of the modern minimalists opine that their sacrifices; their surgical lifestyle deconstructions are all positively aimed in the direction of a low impact life virtuously lived.

From my reading of the book, Ryokan didn’t renounce the material life inasmuch as he simply had no interest in it. The idea of him in this really makes me smile.

One of Ryokan’s most famous and telling poems was written shortly after his poor mountain hut was broken into – I assume w/o a lock which almost makes it seem like a contradiction in terms – but overlooking that, his wit and intelligence shine through with the most innocent of post-crime observations: ‘The thief left it behind, the moon at the window.’

I can’t imagine that the robber got all that much as Ryokan didn’t own anything. In addition to the clothing on his back he only possessed a walking stick and a begging bowl. And maybe on his best days he was gifted some ink and paper on which to capture his calligraphy.

Still, the moon was left behind.

And for that we should all be a little grateful.



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