The Simple Life
By Emily Zell
Poi Dog Pondering produced the song The Ancient Egyptians in the 1990s. They could have written it 10 years earlier, or today. Singing the praises of walking over driving, Pondering’s message is simple but powerful. It is an anthem for slowing down – physically and mentally – that people should heed. Too often, we force ourselves to rush through days, accomplishing as much as we can. But to slow down and live the simple life benefits both ourselves and our natural environment. Walking is only one way to enhance your mental health and the health of our planet.
Walking the World
When I tell people that I lived in Cairo, so many times the first question is about the Pyramids (no surprise there). Up next is always a question about safety. I tell them the true dangers in Cairo are roving the streets and have four wheels and questionable brakes.
Driving in Cairo is, without question, extremely dangerous. There aren’t many traffic laws, cars are not routinely serviced, and everyone seems to have a lead foot and guts of steel behind the wheel. But safety was only part of the reason that I chose, more often than not, to walk wherever I needed to go.
When traveling, I have always been a walker. It began when I was younger in India. Intimidated by language barriers, I often stayed away from taxis and buses, afraid to converse with drivers. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that, as long as you are physically able, walking is the way to see a new city or country. You might not be able to walk to all of the majestic monuments and historical sites, but I promise what you do see is just as valuable and eye-opening. Your eyes are opened to see the people of a country. You see the street life and notice small shops and food carts. Eventually, you start to feel the cultural rhythm of a place. The simple life definitely has its perks!
Once you start walking to see the new, the real trick is to continue walking even on the most familiar of streets.
The Satisfaction of the Simple Life
In The Ancient Egyptians sings, Poi Dog Pondering sings about the simple joys of walking. But many daily tasks can have this joyous effect.
Walking as transportation is only one way to slow down and simplify things. The “simple life” of the past was often looked at with a critical eye, but those opinions are changing. With the global pandemic of 2020, many people have seen the joy and relaxation of slowing down and adopting a simpler routine.
Now, simplicity can come with a bit of effort. Learning to grow your own food for your family. Repairing your commodities and not replacing them. Taking the time to cook instead of getting take-out.
This effort can actually be one of the best reasons to start leading a simpler life. Walking allows you to slow down and really take notice of the world around you. And taking time with any “chore” can afford you a chance to still your mind and focus on the task at hand. It forces you to be fully present in one thing. And in the end, you will feel relaxed and satisfied in your work.
An Example To Ponder
Think about laundry for a moment. We usually throw our clean wet clothes in the dryer and walk away after pushing a button.
This makes life unbelievably easy!
But it also detaches you from the act of caring for your clothes. It allows you to quickly move on to the next task at hand without slowing down. Now, imagine hanging your clothes on a clothesline… It takes time and is somewhat physical You can’t do much else simultaneously. It forces you to slow down and be present in the task at hand. There’s no choice except to be in the moment and put everything else on pause for a bit.
This, in and of itself, is the simple life.
In the past, in “simpler times” as people love to say, less was accomplished each day. This was essential because things just took more time. It has taken a huge mindset shift for many of us to realize that less is more. To do less each day is to give more of your attention to each task. This, my friends, is living meditation.
And as Poi Dog Pondering sings, “You get to know things better when they go by slow.”
Living the Simple Life for Our Planet
Simple living can give you a more relaxed and satisfied mindset. It can grant you the opportunity for true and complete observation of your surroundings. But there is another, massive, reason to live a more simple life. You’ve probably already guessed it… That’s right, good ol’ Mother Earth.
The time and care that it can initially take to live a more simple life directly translates into care for our environment.
A Cyclical Approach To Life
You set out to do something the “old-fashioned way” (read: the simple way) like grow your own herbs on your kitchen windowsill. This takes time, but you enjoy the process. You peruse the garden store for seeds. You fill pots with warm, rich soil. And you carefully and kindly water your fledgling plants, keeping track of their growth like you would a child.
Before you know it, tending your herb garden becomes a simple daily pleasure. It is a time when you don’t think of the hundreds of other tasks you have on your to-do list. When those plants are ready for eating, you aren’t heading to the grocery store to buy herbs encased in plastic boxes or jars. You are saving time and resources by beginning to be food-independent!
You have grown something yourself that feeds and nourishes you, physically and mentally. Along the way, you have connected with the natural world – you have literally had your hands in the dirt. You feel a respect for what nature can provide for us, and how amazing it can feel to connect with our natural environment. So, you pledge to grow more of your own food and find yourself researching what tomatoes grow best in pots and when to plant carrots. You are off and walking on your simpler life path.
The more you choose the simple life – walking, planting, mending – the more time you spend in closer contact with the natural world.
The more time you spend closer to nature, the more you realize you want to protect and preserve it by living a simple life. Buying less stuff. Planting your own food. Using less fuel and energy and gas. All these things help our planet as well as our own mental health.
The Simple Act of Slowing Down
Allow me a final example: my friend Lucy. Lucy comes from a Swiss-Italian family and speaks five languages fluently. She works with the Swiss government in international development and has lived all over the globe. She is a fountain of boundless energy and ambition.
Lucy is a mover and shaker.
Lucy also knows how to darn socks. In fact, she is an expert sock seamstress.
This skill was passed down to her from countless older generations and apparently, her whole family does it. I once asked her why on earth she insists on repairing every torn sock rather than buying new ones, and more importantly, how on earth she has any time to do it.
Her reply was firm: she will never buy anything new if the old one can be mended because she cares so much for our environment and its protection. And she will always make time for this mending. It relaxes her, slows her down, and gives her a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to fix things herself.
Ah, ha… There it is again… That sense of pride that is absolutely warranted in these cases of living “the simple life”. There must be a reason for this feeling. The armchair psychologist in me thinks it must have something to do with our primal nature of hard work and survival. True, not all of us love to devote this time to daily chores or have the ability to walk somewhere instead of driving. But I would bet that many people share this deep sense of connection and satisfaction with the world around us when we do. I’m sure many, like Lucy, also try to reuse stuff whenever possible.
A Song for Then and Now
Poi Dog Pondering is spot on with their song The Ancient Egyptians. The ancients had a leg up when it came to getting around (no pun intended). They had to walk, and so, slow down.
These days, so many of us wish we could do the same. In today’s world, it can be difficult to take pride in doing less each day and instead devote more time to each activity. I urge you to do so whenever possible.
Fix something. Mend something. Build something. Hang your laundry on a line outside to dry. Allow your mind to go still and focus only on the small, simple task at hand.
Walk. Ride a bike. Listen to the sounds around you. Smell and see what you might have missed before.
Every time you simplify your actions the earth breathes a small sigh of relief. No car engine starting, no electricity drained, no new products purchased. For both you and the earth – the mutual benefits of living the simple life are immeasurable.
Emily Zell is a copywriter for the sustainable living and design sector. She has lived in California, Uganda, and Cairo, Egypt, and makes it a priority to swim in the ocean in every single country she visits.