Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our mortality — not in a bad way, but as a healthy reminder that life is short, and it’s important to live our lives fully and authentically. This full-length post combines luggage with death in observations about what it means to truly live.
Meet Mr. Backpack: Achieving simplicity by focusing on the essential
As many of you know, over the past year I’ve really tried to simplify and declutter my life. I’ve even made it my goal to reduce my belongings so that I keep only the most essential items — items that, ideally, would all fit in a backpack.
For me, this backpack “goal” is very helpful in achieving material simplicity and a minimalist lifestyle. In observing a self-imposed limit on possessions, I’ve become more aware of what I use on a daily basis, and I’m better able to detach from cluttery items I don’t need. Even if I don’t reach the point of being able to fit everything I own in a backpack (although that would be extremely cool!), the exercise and mental image are still enormously helpful in identifying and discarding the unnecessary “crap” in my life… and keeping only the essential.
In many ways, a backpack is the perfect vehicle for containing my material possessions: a backpack suggests travel and adventure… a journey filled with new places and experiences. Carrying a backpack means carrying only what you need for the trip — and leaving everything else behind.
A backpack is equipment for a life in motion. Every person experiences this dynamic state of being on the lifelong journey of discovery and growth. We’re continuously moving through life — and like a long wilderness trek, the less “stuff” we carry, the better. The less we have to worry about and weigh us down, the more we’re able to enjoy the scenery and engage the experience.
Life is change. Everything changes; in fact, the only constant is change. Our lives are permeated by countless cycles looping through every moment: breathing in and breathing out… waking and sleeping… day and night… beginning and ending. And all human experience, of course, is bookended by the cycle of birth and death. Death is the inevitable, final trail-marker at the end of our lifelong journey. Although we’re ambling along the path now, the day will come when we, too, will be gone.
And that’s what’s been on my mind these last few days: I’m just a visitor here on this planet — we all are. We’re all just passing through. Our time here is extremely limited… and yet we often try to create an illusion of permanency in how we live our lives.
Not wanting to face our mortality, we often try to build personal empires to satisfy our desires for permanency. We stockpile material goods and spend enormous amounts of time, energy and resources on our homes and possessions. We amass money and property, and we “put down roots” in an effort to convince ourselves of stability and grounding. But the reality is we’re all just passing through. We’ll all be gone soon.
This isn’t intended to sound morose; it’s just an honest reminder of the truth. Although we often fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, much of what we focus our time and energies on really doesn’t matter in the long-run. The possessions we accumulate and homes we tend will mean very little 50 years from now… if they’re remembered at all. And while spending one’s life acquiring and maintaining “things” doesn’t seem noble or worthwhile in a broader sense, we live in a materialistic culture that incessantly pushes these values.
For me, life is simpler with just a backpack. Without burdens of property ownership, one is better able to experience the world — and live freely and authentically. It’s not about possessing “stuff”; it’s about having new experiences and cultivating relationships. Life is better when you’re carrying less baggage.
But few people are willing to go through life with nothing but a backpack. Social status is often tied to wealth accumulation and “conspicuous consumption.” And being itinerant is a risky, uncertain way of living, with no security or stability. A free-roaming lifestyle usually isn’t accepted by mainstream society: those who choose such an unconventional way of life — wandering rather than settling — are generally not well-regarded by the larger population. Vagabonds and drifters get a bad rap in our culture.
It’s just ironic that we don’t recognize that we’re all vagabonds. We’re all drifters. We’re all transients in this brief life… here today, gone tomorrow. And like all things in the dynamic and ever-changing universe, we ourselves are constantly in flux; it’s silly to think we have greater permanence than anything else in creation. We’re on a journey just like everyone — and everything — else. We’re just visiting.
Being reminded of life’s impermanence helps us appreciate the richness of this trip through life. And for me, simplifying to the essential sharpens focus and increases awareness. By not being hung-up on baggage or carrying useless crap, I’m better able to learn from the variety of experiences that happen every day of this unique, time-limited journey. Like any traveler on a trip, my goal is to immerse myself in the situation as fully as possible. I try to savor the moments and develop meaningful relationships.
Achieving this means not overpacking; the goal is to keep things “light” to facilitate mobility, involvement in experiences and making connections. By not carrying excess equipment, I trust that I have enough to meet my needs and that everything will be OK — I’m not governed (or weighed down) by fear. And by not worrying about stuffing my bag with chintzy souvenirs I don’t need, I’m better able to live in and enjoy the present moment. Real freedom is being able to reject the things that diminish our lives.
Like any trip, this journey we call “life” will one day come to an end. I’m grateful for the time and experiences I’ve had thus far and will continue to have; and I know deep-down there’s no need for me to amass useless goods that have no lasting value. Present awareness and contentment are all I seek.
So I’m thankful to have been reminded recently of my own mortality, because it encourages me to be bold in my outlook and actions. There’s no reason to hold back… life is too short.
After all, I’m just a visitor on this amazing trip… and I definitely want to make the most of it.