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The Age-Old Secret of Well-Being

It’s existed for as long as humans have walked the earth and one that you can reclaim with little effort

I was twenty-two when I went to work for Outward Bound, taking groups into the wilderness on long expeditions.

It wasn’t all roses. No doubt there were challenging times — after all, the whole point of Outward Bound is to push you to step outside your comfort zone.

Yet there was something pure and magical about carrying everything I needed on my back. At the end of each day, we would cook a simple meal on an open fire before laying out our sleeping bags to sleep under the stars.

Our days were filled with inspired conversations that dig deep into the reaches of one’s heart.

The only goal for the day was to get to our destination. And even if we weren’t to make it, we knew we had everything we needed. We’d be okay.

These were days before mobile phones and always-on internet. Even still, if you venture beyond the walls of suburbia, you can still find tracks of untouched land where technology doesn’t reach.

It might seem like I am romanticising the past. There is no exaggeration here. And while I no longer live the camping life on a full-time basis, it is a lifestyle that still exists, and every year people shake the shackles of the city life for a pace that is simpler.

The simple life

And it wasn’t just while camping and hiking with Outward Bound that I experienced this. I have lived a minimalist existence for the best part of my life.

I’m not hardcore about this and never evangelise minimalism to my friends. After all, it has its downsides. I have also experienced the pangs of living in cities with insecurity.

Yet, for most of the past twenty years, everything I have owned could fit in the backseat of a car. I have occasionally accumulated furniture as I’ve held down jobs, only to release it when moving overseas or interstate.

This process of letting go and traveling light forces self-reflection and discernment around what truly matters.

The only possession that’s remained a constant in all that time is my guitar. For a long time, I never wanted to let go of books, but then I realised I will always carry the story inside me.

The same was with my journals. I was a prolific journalist over a period of two decades, accumulating two boxes full of books. In my last move I shredded or burned them all. I was even prepared to let go of the stories I carried about myself.

The secret of well-being

“Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being.” — Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen’s book, The Snow Leopard, chronicles his journey on foot through the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet.

As he meanders through the mountains, he reflects on life including his wife who lost her life to cancer a few years earlier and the son he left behind.

The simplicity of carrying everything he needed on his back and the only stimulation being the ancient landscape were the perfect conditions for personal healing.

This is the heart of the minimalist experience. It doesn’t just simplify one’s outer existence. It declutters the mind.

I learned this years ago. Whenever my mind gets cluttered or unsettled, I clean. Not in a fastidious or unbalanced way. It isn’t about getting perfection in the result.

Cleaning is the art of purification. It’s about creating order out of chaos and putting things in their rightful place.

I don’t know how people live in massive houses, unless they have the wealth to hire people to maintain it. I personally prefer a simpler existence — one where my footprint is not much bigger than my literal footprint.

It isn’t because of some righteous view that we should all live this way. After all, it’s not always easy.

But I have discovered that even when my life becomes stressed and chaotic, the solution is very often found in the simplicity of getting out into nature and walking with everything I need.


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