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Original Essays

It's Simple

by Dan Price
  1. Radical Simplicity: Creating an Authentic Life This is as much a reading book as a how-to guide, one that expresses its profound insights into carving out a life of meaning in a beautiful, practical way. It is bound to strike a chord with world-weary baby boomers as well as time-pressured but still idealistic members of the younger generation.
This time last year, the publisher of Running Press asked me if I had an idea for a new book. I scratched my head, then thought about the amazing, life-changing journey I've been on these last fifteen years. That's the story I tell in my new book, Radical Simplicity. It's the story of how one person found true freedom right here in America, and how a stress-free lifestyle can be had by anyone with the desire to have it.

The journey started with a single decision. Back in 1990, I decided I had had it with signing pieces of paper (like mortgages) that burdened me with years of financial debt. So I bought a tipi, found a small piece of land to lease for $100 a year, and tried to live as lightly on the land as I could. My intention, as I say in the book, was to "honor our sacred earth by becoming so small, so quiet, and so unsubstantial that the environment...feels barely a whisper of my miniscule existence....In this way nature is free to express itself fully while I try to comprehend and appreciate its vast universal rhythms."

I didn't stay in the tipi, but a door did open on a whole new way of living. Now I live in an 80-square-foot circular pine-paneled room I built. I am still paying $100 a year to lease the land. My expenses are few, so my time is my own.

I know now that I will never return to the world of rent or mortgage payments, and the faster and faster-paced life that seems necessary to pay for it all. As much as today's lifestyle seems like the norm, it's a relatively new development for human beings. For 99.9 percent of our time on earth, we humans have lived as hunter-gatherers. Learning that fact got me thinking. It awoke within me a desire to return to the past, to live the way man did before the Industrial Revolution, before people lived in villages and then cities, back when hunter-gatherers wandered freely, as nomads.

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The idea to live as I do now has been growing inside of me since the 1990s. At first, I read all the books on Native Americans I could find. This gave me an entirely different lens with which to view the world. I started to reconsider every single assumption I have had since birth. The writings of naturalist John Muir, transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and spiritual teachers from Deepak Chopra to Ken Wilber carried me even further. Buddhist literature enthralled me so much that I immersed myself in it for five years, allowing it to transform the way I look at the world and my place in it. With repeated exposure to these more positive philosophies, I stopped blaming the world at large for my lot in life. I realized I was at the center, totally responsible for my choices and the way my life turned out.

I'm convinced that we all need to look deep inside to find our true calling. A calling is one that in some way serves the greater good. When you are successful at creating this circle of giving, then the universe, or God, or whatever you want to call it, will turn in your favor and offer up all that you need for a totally fulfilling life. The universe has put us here to do this. Best of all, it will tell us how if we listen for those subtle messages that direct us to step forward beyond the fear, to push ourselves beyond what we think is even possible. When you live this way you will be blessed with what others call "good luck."

The more of us who do this, the more we can help this world of ours to heal. It seems like every time you look at a newspaper or turn on the TV these days, there's talk of climate changes, overpopulation, disaster. What I have seen during my six-week tour has convinced me more than ever that we need to change course or we may not have a planet to live on. We've basically run amok here in our little Garden of Eden.

It is difficult not to become pessimistic about the whole thing. But we can make different choices. There are many books available now that explain how to do so, including one that I love, A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence, by Canadian writer Ferenc Mate.

One of the things I learned from studying native Americans is that they routinely considered whether the choice they were about to make would adversely affect future generations. If so, they took another course. This strikes me as a responsible way to steward this glorious earth, which was given to us to maintain and protect. We, too, should think about how our collective choices will not only affect our children, but our children's children. What will our legacy be? Will we be able to leave them a habitable planet? What right do we have to consume the world and leave them nothing?

My response to all of this — and the only way I can carry on with a clear conscience — is to live in what I call a "minimalist" way. That has led me to a genuinely happy, healthy, and full life. Your way may not be the same as mine, but you were also put here to be the best human you can possibly be. And part of that — given the world situation now — requires that we each make sane — and not self-serving — choices, such as: Find ways to be a giver instead of a taker. Consider the greater good. Don't over consume. Ride your bike! Take the bus. Eat less. Try fasting between noon on Saturday and noon on Sunday. Help a neighbor plant a garden. These may not seem like the easiest changes at first, but they're not only possible, they're life-enhancing.

Radical Simplicity tells the story of my attempt to correct, in whatever small ways I can, the wrongs we humans have wrought on this delicate planet. What will you be doing in this most important of endeavors? Is there a way you could simplify your life so that you leave a smaller footprint for all those generations to come? Try putting down that iPod. Shut off your computer for a week. Go out and draw the birds. Smell the air. Sit under a tree and listen to all the sounds you can hear.

From these kinds of activities you will find a more complete and sane life. I guarantee it. spacer

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