I have ascetic aspirations. I certainly don’t live a monastic lifestyle, but I try to listen to the simplifying impulses in myself.
Years ago, I decided that an easy way to live more simply was by limiting my choices. These inclinations are, at least in part, why I don’t drink alcohol, coffee or tea, and why I don’t care much about food. When at a restaurant, I usually scan the menu until I spot something I want to eat, and stop there. I frequently don’t read the whole menu.
These impulses are also at least partially responsible for my ignorance of entire segments of our culture: celebrities, cars and so forth.
I suppose this approach could lead to an ‘ignorance is bliss’ argument, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Modern life in the developed world throws a lot of cruft at you–a lot of inconsequential decisions that have only a minuscule impact on your happiness. Those decisions differ from person to person, but everybody has too many of them.
In theory, the more of these decisions that I can avoid, the more time I can spend on stuff I care about. And, in theory, the happier I’ll be. So, I’m always on the lookout for ways to distill the important choices from the great froth of trivialities.
As it turns out, living in the developing world really helps my ascetic aspirations. Simply put, there are fewer trivial decisions to make:
- Menus are shorter, and most restaurants have more or less the same thing.
- There are more shops, but they roughly sell the same things at the same prices.
- There are fewer forms of entertainment, or least the kinds I’m used to.
- It’s more difficult to get from point A to point B, so you do less local travel.
- I don’t know anybody, so there are few invitations or social obligations to contemplate.
These sound like complaints, but actually it’s quite liberating in the short term. I’m speaking primarily of my three months in Morocco, but these also apply (with slightly less strictness) to rural Malta.
There are frustrations, but they’re definitely exceeded by a sense of simplifying your life, and of spending your time more meaningfully. This has been an unforeseen side benefit of a year away from Vancouver.