One of my rallying cries for the #GrassrootsGreenMobilization is “Small-Footprint Living Large!” The idea being that choosing to live light on the earth need not involve deprivation. And moreover, by cutting out activities and expenses that are not adding value to your life, you not only help Mother Earth; you also liberate yourself from junk that’s superfluous to your wellbeing, so you can live large according to your own definition.
But what IS living large? Being a product of an affluent, media-saturated society, when I think of that phrase, what comes to mind is things like yachts; jetsetting movie-stars with big hair and big sunglasses; traveling all the time to Cannes or Mumbai or Barcelona or wherever.
But then there’s MY personal definition of living large, which is totally different. Having time to sit on my porch and listen deeply to the layered sound of rain splashing on leaves. One camping trip back when I lived in Japan, just sitting still for two hours and literally watching it get dark, leaf by leaf. Learning how to read Japanese by spending hours copying characters over and over again on lines of a notebook, for hours at a time, as hot summer insects sang outside the window of my tiny tatami room. Watching a TV show with a neighbor and getting so much enjoyment out of it. Deciding at one point that I really wanted to be a fire performer, and doing that for a while. Owning, at one point, about 30 pairs of platform shoes, many of them wildly ornate, and actually wearing them for everyday wear. Using my own money to rent out a local theater and put on an Earth Day festival. Back when I lived in Austin and had a course to teach in Santa Fe, deciding at the last minute to go there by bicycle. Living on a friend’s farm for three months, painting signs and helping with miscellaneous tasks. Spending an afternoon with a couple of friends on the beach. Writing a book and actually putting it out there. Sipping coffee with friends on their porch in the morning; wine in the evening. Really having time and headspace to fully savor those things.
What’s your definition of living large, what is that for you? Whatever it is, there is almost certainly a way for you to be/do/have that while also living lightly on the earth. And, in fact, your conscious choice to minimize your footprint, by paring what’s superfluous to you, will smooth your path to living large according to your own definition.
I cross paths with so many people who are living large according to their own definition. The latest is a guy named Botan up in Minnesota, who decided to start a farm using only scythes and other hand-tools. People told him it was unrealistic, but he made it realistic. (What’s really unrealistic is continuing to trash the soil with chemicals and mechanized equipment.) Besides having a farm, Botan is also a dealer of high-quality European scythes. When he first started out with his farm, he couldn’t find the quality of scythes he needed, but he persisted til he found them, and now he also sells them. (I found his website OneScytheRevolution the other day, when frustration at the noise of lawn-slavery and soil degeneration finally motivated me once and for all to order a darn scythe, already!) This guy is living large according to his own definition.
What I notice about people who are living large according to their own truest definition, is that the benefits tend to ripple out into the world.
But what if your definition of living large is more like the stereotype “glamorous” yachts and jetset life? Personally, I think that is totally do-able even with a low-footprint mind-set. And the benefits can ripple out into the world. What if your boat is a training vessel for people interested in learning seamanship, shipboard cooking, or other skills? What if it’s a vessel for plastic garbage recon and retrieval missions?
What if your jetsetting takes you overseas to learn languages, or start micro-businesses that provide jobs to other people? What if you’re a movie star or stage actor making a difference with the roles you choose?
Living large can be just about anything. One person’s nothing is another person’s everything. Some of my largest moments have been laughably plain “on paper,” but the reality was huge, like dilating my pupils with a kind of eye-drop that makes a raindrop or a tiny insect as large as the whole universe.
In that vein, I love looking at flowers. I mean, most people love flowers, right? But I love slowing down and seriously spending time looking at a flower. Zeroing in on that miracle. Time stands still; sounds and other sensory input recede, beyond the immediate universe of that flower.
In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes: “The Buddha is said to have given a ‘silent sermon’ once during which he held up a flower and gazed at it. After a while, one of those present, a monk called Mahakasyapa, began to smile. He is said to have been the only one who had understood the sermon.”