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Going Without :: A Search For Our Lost Perspective

For breakfast today I had 12 oz. of fresh juice. For lunch 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 you worried about my health you needn’t be. I have researched this practice and performed it many 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 eliminating the television from our home. Three days later our TV set died and we took it as a sign. We never replaced the beast and one year later we’re happy we haven’t. Before you begin to worry, let me assure you I’m not going 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 is 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 the planet, available to us at any time for a relatively low price. We have also grown accustom to being fed 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 switch to another. Hundreds are available twenty four hours a day. Devices to record and replay these programs have made even the necessity of watching at certain, scheduled times 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 and tents, fishing rods and fake fingernails. 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.

Our ever increasing desire has removed the context of our situation, historically and in terms of the relationship between us and those other citizens with whom we 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 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 the summer their specialness returns. You also learn how to once again eat seasonally. When you turn off the television even for a week or so, not only do you appreciate it more but you recognize the importance of time spent doing and learning other things. Leave your cell phone off for a weekend and you will be more grateful for its 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 outdoors 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 perspective on 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 really is 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 grocery store after fasting for five days. As a family we probably won’t get another television. That experiment just provided too much free time to go back. 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 now I think- to the pleasures with which we are blessed. Going without might not be the only way to understand how much we have and how great those items are but I am thankful for the renewed perspective it provides me on how to live my life and what I truly value.

Editorial Notes: See more from Aaron at Powering Down blog and Groovy Green Magazine. One of the comments at Groovy Green says, "My power went off with the last hurricane season, i have not turned my lights back on. I use oil and Aladdin (mantle) oil lamps. I save all the water from the sinks for outside. My friends think i'm nuts but i feel i am helping the environment in some small way. I like the feeling of not constantly consuming more and more and more." -AF

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