What I Learnt While Away In Not Quite One Sentence

When we came back from Asia, my wonderful tenant (one of those people who make your house actually look BETTER when they’re living in it) asked me if I could say in one sentence what we’d learnt from six months living out of a backpack, what would it be?

I was still a little giddy from travel so I blithely replied I’d learnt that anything is possible. Well, that was quite wrong. I mean, we should listen to each other but don’t forget that perhaps 20% of what comes out of our mouths will be pure garbage at any one time. The challenge is nobody knows which comment is the 20% garbage… because they think you actually believe everything you say.

My reply wasn’t entirely wrong; after all, anything is possible within reason. But really what I’d learnt was how incredibly important community is to the human soul. There were some places where we found no community – simply because it was too large a place or the layout of where we were staying meant we never ran into the same people, things like that. Then other places where instantly a network sprang into place. The contrast between the two experiences was stark – in one you felt the tendrils of community stretching out and holding you, like those strange photos of cells you see with tendrils branching out. Those places brought a sense of peace and relaxation. In the other places with no community, why am I here reverberated quietly in your soul.

To return to Vancouver with that thought in mind was to come back feeling like the people I knew stood for so much more than they were as people. They were also pillars keeping us all together and holding each one of us, however invisibly. They were signposts that we are walking together even if it looks like we walk alone.

Like hamsters endlessly making beds out of cedar chips, we can’t NOT create community. It’s just an instinct. Even if we uproot ourselves so much more in modern life, we begin instantly the process of community. And if we don’t, it’s the path to depression and shrinking of the soul.

The other thing I learnt was to weaken my attachment to stuff. Before we left to travel, I’d hauled heaps of bags to the Salvation Army. At least, what I thought were heaps of bags. But when we returned and I opened the door to our basement storage, I was shocked. There were bags and bags of stuff still remaining. Oodles of coats, shoes, toys, books, towels, sheets… I mean, how many coats does one person need? I’d hardly scratched the surface of getting rid of the Excess. But I could only see this now after living out of a bag for months.

And now when something breaks, I have the thought “Thank God, now I get to get rid of it.” That has definitely been freeing. For years I’d been longing to live in a mud hut, but it was (mostly) a wish to escape from Stuff. Because Too Much Stuff simply doesn’t feel good.