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Live Simply & Wisely: What If We Could Design Our Ideal Future?

by Charles Creekmore

My whole past can be boiled down into the four words a wise Zen monk once suggested for his autobiography: “one mistake after another.”

For most of my life I’ve behaved like the self-absorbed Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day, in which he had to relive the same 24 hours over and over again until he learned humility, unselfishness, and insight from all his errors.

I’ve always thought that Groundhog Day was a fine metaphor for reincarnation. If you don’t get it right the first time, keep doing it until you finally do!

But what if there were an authentic way to reincarnate ourselves in the here and now to fix our floundering lives? Well, there is, as this article shows: by following the advice of Henry David Thoreau and the Buddhism he introduced to America in 1844. It can all be summed up by Thoreau’s revolutionary suggestion to “live simply and wisely.”

The complicated world we inhabit, the frantic pace of the 21st century, and the quiet desperation experienced by so many of us all demand a return to a simpler, wiser way of life. Those of us who refuse to accept this basic ground truth about today’s frenzied culture are indulging in an idiot’s delight.

By definition, American life is one massive overdose. We live in a country constantly on sensory overload. Constantly on the verge of freaking out.

To escape from this prison erected from overindulgence, there are many practical ways for us to remake our lives simply and wisely. By downsizing our possessions. By downscaling our busy schedules. By down-trimming our budgets. By downloading our spare money, used clothing, excess food, or extra bedding to the homeless, the desperate, the disenfranchised, the broke, the broken, and the broken-hearted.

I have spent much of the last decade simplifying my life and discarding all my prized belongings, whose only worth was the heavy burden of owning them. As Thoreau himself might have said with his zeal for wordplay, I have forsaken all my valued keepsakes for the sake of keeping all my values.

“My greatest skill is to want but little,” Thoreau cracked. “I found thus that I have been a rich man without any damage to my poverty.”

Beyond these general suggestions, the secret of living simply and wisely is planning our future very systematically, in much the same way that a serious runner would train scientifically for a marathon, building up for the event slowly but surely. Except, in this case, you can’t get hurt!

Here’s the key question each of us must ask ourselves: “What if I could design the ideal life of simplicity and wisdom I would like to lead?”

In other words, what if we could move figuratively to Walden Pond, build our own cottage, and live the unpretentious lifestyle of the world’s most famous squatter? What if we could make use of the same frugal lifestyle, love of nature, and contemplative behavior that Thoreau employed to raise his consciousness?

In fact, we can. By reflecting on what exactly makes up any profound and satisfying lifestyle, based upon our own personal skills, interests, and values, we can set our own standard for this spiritual ideal. First, we need to meditate on how to divest ourselves of unwanted distractions, complications, possessions, and luxuries. Then, we ought to contemplate how to create a lifestyle of modesty, meaning, and evolution.

Thereafter, we can work slowly but surely toward making our ideal into hard reality.

Indeed, as I write this article, I’m engaged in just such an exercise. I’m planning for that financial afterlife, divine stomping grounds, and last resort known as “Retirement.”

What I’m discovering as I carry out this extended exercise is that retirement is my opportunity to create a genuine, Walden-like future for myself.

After reflecting on my future for many months, in much the same way most people plan their retirement portfolios, I’ve come up with a list of simple and wise pursuits: meditating daily; exploring Thoreau’s writing; studying Buddhism; learning yoga; working out every day; supporting my food coop; giving alms to everyone who asks; hiking and bird-watching; volunteering for worthy causes; and publishing free books and articles to help my readers discover the knowledge I’ve stumbled upon.

Likewise, we can all conduct the same exercise in fertility at any age. Any of us at any time of life can spend a few weeks, months, or years meditating on the perfectly simple and wise future of our dreams. We do it with our finances, so why not with our ethics, which form the economy of the soul?

Anyone of any generation can be born again into a life of fulfillment, awareness, happiness, and sustainability. All it takes is the will, the discipline, the perseverance to make it happen.

Accordingly, at the same time as I’ve been reflecting on my future, I’ve been introducing all my projected retirement activities into my current life. For me, the future is now, and each now is yet another forever.

As I keep telling myself, “This is your big chance at happiness, pal, so don’t blow it!”

One lesson you can learn from this article: If a blunderer like me can fix his floundering life, then anyone capable of appreciating this magazine can certainly do the same. And probably much better.

Surely, if we all spend some quality time contemplating, examining, planning, and creating a simple and wise future, we could all arrive at ideal and idealistic lifestyles for ourselves, personally tailored to our own interests. We could all live more simply and wisely. If so, wouldn’t the world become a better place? It would be groundbreaking.

Together, we could help incite a Thoreau-ly radical social revolution; a revolt of rugged individualists, united by their idiosyncrasy, each marching to a different drummer.

Charles Creekmore is the author of the online book Back to Walden. He also wrote Zen and the Art of Diabetes Maintenance, published by the American Diabetes Association, as well as Beyond Diabetes, a book soon to be published by Jim Healthy Publications. He has written for the New York Times, Psychology Today, The Humanist, Buddhism Magazine, National Wildlife, and many others.

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