14 Apr Simple Living as a family
Probably Srila Prabhupada was one of the first to formulate a phrase in the 1960s that would become a guiding idea for many of our contemporaries – simple living and high thinking. Today we have growing groups of minimalists who gather around the similar idea of simplifying our lives from too many things and expenditures that modern lifestyle dictates. In the field of parenting, we have a bestselling author Kim John Payne who leads a Simplicity Parenting movement of parents who want to protect their children from the competitive, goal-oriented lifestyle that today’s society imposes on families. More and more people feel the need to slow down and to leave a lifestyle that begins to lose its meaning: to work hard, to earn more, to spend a lot, to enjoy until the last drop – a race that leaves them exhausted and empty. In general, people today are forced to overwork, to be able to spend more than they actually need, to be able to enjoy more than they can digest. As a result, we become sick, exhausted, frustrated, prematurely aged, and unhappy people. We know from the Vedic literature that these are the symptoms of the mode of passion – rajas, that leads to frustration if it is predominant in our lives. It is especially harmful if it takes over the lives of our children – and it is just happening today!
Children are overloaded with toys from the beginning of their lives. Very soon after they start to walk and talk they are sent to music, sport, foreign language classes, and different kinds of creativity sparking workshops. In school, they are overloaded with academic learning and homework. And in the meantime, they are exposed to all kinds of screens with ongoing vibrating invitations to interact with virtual reality. Do our children have enough time for old-fashioned free play in mud and dirt? Do our children spend enough unhurried time with their families? Do our children have time at all to digest all the learning that happens to them? These are some of the basic questions that we should consider as a parent living in the modern world. And if we feel that our children need more free time and space for proper and healthy growth, we should begin to make practical efforts to simplify their lives. Of course, it can’t happen if we do not simplify the lifestyle of the family as a whole.
What it practically means to simplify our lives?
As devotees, we have heard many times Srila Prabhupada’s formula “simple living and high thinking”. How do we implement this formula in our day-to-day family life?
To me, the word simple means in tune with nature and the laws of God. It means to focus on the substance and the basic priorities. It means to leave behind what is not serving my self-development or self-realization and my life’s purpose, and embrace what helps and nurtures it. Living in this material world we get entangled in its complexities, willingly or unwillingly. There is a need to analyze and make revisions over and over again of what is truly needful to accept as a part of our life, and what to reject. It is an ongoing process because we need to put some effort to keep things simple to be able to engage ourselves in “high thinking” and fulfilling a higher purpose in life.
When we get children, life usually becomes even more complicated, and proportionally we need to put more endeavor to practice simplicity as a balancing force for keeping our family life on track. That can mean we have to build our priorities around the basic needs of our children and the family as a whole, and that can mean that some of our personal needs and desires we must put aside for a while. This is the sacrifice of motherhood and even though it can be hard, if we do it as an offering to the Lord, with a heart full of love for our children and family, it becomes the source of our strength, not misery. Being a mother is a very grounding and healing process because by focusing on the basic needs of our children we have an opportunity to accomplish our self-development in areas that might not be mature enough, and even to begin healing our own childhood wounds. At least, this is my experience of motherhood (and I hope I am not the only one having it).
Talking about simple life as a family, I would say it begins with being aware what are the basic needs of my family as a whole, and then each of the members of a family after it. Next is setting the priorities based on those needs. It practically means being ready to reject or cut off all that is not fitting in there: things, activities, socializing, and endeavors that take our and our family’s energy more than we can make it up. It practically means, usually, to slow down, to have a steady and balanced rhythm of giving and taking, of working and resting, of active serving and peacefully meditating, of doing some routine work and being creative. There will be a time when some of these bowls on the scale will prevail over the others. That’s fine if it’s temporary. Life is not perfect, we are not perfect, and we should not try to be artificially perfect. We just need to try to come back to the basics when life gets too complicated, to be able to embrace simple living and high thinking again.
Simplifying the space and daily schedules of our children
From time to time we should ask ourselves these questions: Do I really need this thing, activity, habit? Do my children really need this thing, activity, habit? How would be if we do “something else” instead? It is a part of the cleansing process. As we clean our bodies and our houses, we should also clean our habits and schedules from time to time. Leave those that serve you, and drop off those that drain you. Do the same with your children, especially if you see that they face some difficulty, or if you feel something is not going smoothly. Sometimes the solutions are very simple: cut off their screen time and introduce outdoor fun time or spend less time doing homework and give them more time for free play. If the problem is not in overworking but in too much leisure time then do the opposite: assign some practical tasks for them to accomplish, make lunch or work in the garden or some other service together on regular basis.
Children need to have enough meaningful engagements to be able to learn different skills and to gain knowledge, but also need a good portion of free time to process all the experiences within themselves. They need the space and time to express their creativity, which happens mostly through self-directed free play. If the children have loads of toys filling their space, many activities that they are running from one to another, many hours spent in academic learning, or many hours spent in front of screens, then we set them off the path of a passionate rajasic lifestyle from the very beginning of their lives. Simple living and high thinking mean living in tune with the mode of goodness, which is the only material arrangement that can grant us happy and satisfying life and from where we can access the spiritual platform much easier. Being in the mode of goodness, we know it from the Bhagavad Gita, means to be able to control our senses and to have a regulated lifestyle. In the age we live in today, it means to constantly endeavor to protect our children (and ourselves) from unnecessary things, foodstuffs, activities, and information (because our real and virtual space is constantly bombarded with them!). We have to carefully select what to allow to enter into the sacred space of our family life, which serves as a starting point of our children’s future habits, mindsets, and adult-reality.
Please, feel free to write in the comment below what it means simple living and high thinking to you, and how you practically implement it in your family life. I would love to hear it!