THROWBACK NON-FICTION: Joys of minimalism

So I was at a local food stall with Jo, staring at my glass of water. Deja vu. I knew I’ve lived this moment before but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Finger? Rhymes with anger. Anger makes me want to punch things. Punch? Kickboxing. Thailand. Then I remembered.

I was in Thailand, staring at my glass of water. I looked at the pitcher where it was poured from. Every meal came with a complimentary serving of refillable water. I didn’t get sick drinking the same water for the past few days, so I wasn’t even bothered if it came from the toilet pipe.

“Aroy mai?” the waitress asked.

“Aroy mak. Nam mi mai?”

Yes, I picked up some basic words. Especially that sentence. Through repetition. Many times. Because I was a cheapskate.

“Mi kaa,” she said as she took my pitcher to the kitchen, or possibly the toilet.

No, it wasn’t a new found love for water. I wasn’t hydrophilic. I was just thinking.

A meal and a pitcher of water. That’s all I need to survive.

There I was in a foreign land, not knowing anyone, surviving on RM3 meals three times a day, and I was perfectly fine. For a brief moment I actually felt present, and it was then I realised that happiness did not depend on things, but merely the value we put on things (which in itself doesn’t mean anything, unless we attach a meaning to it—sorry if I lost you for a minute there).

I packed only a few changes of clothes, a book, my journal, and my training equipment. I had a mobile phone and a cheap camera as well. It all fit into a small school bag, and that was basically all I had for a month, and that was all I needed.

Everything that I left back home that I thought I’d miss turned out to be meaningless distractions. My computer, bicycle, car, fancy clothes, and fancy meals all meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. It was a surreal experience because I can be real dependent on objects, but when I had time away from all that materialism, I found a sense of joy and liberation.

Then I started to think about the complainers and naysayers.

“I’m glad you’re having fun, but you don’t have bills as big as mine to pay,” they said.

“Where do you find the time? I’m too busy with work to enjoy life.”

“I can’t imagine life without my smartphone.”

“I need to eat less from now on so I can buy that BMW.”

The puzzle pieces in my head started fitting, and as the image formed I began to see the bigger picture—or in this case, question. Why—I wondered—are people torturing themselves so much? Is owning an old phone so bad, that it’s better to be in debt to have a new one? Does it really bother you to drive an older, paid-for car; instead of a brand new one that ties you down? Did anyone force you to buy that plasma LCD on debt? Are you working so much because you love your job, or are you just keeping up with the Joneses? Oh, and rich people are a different matter altogether. But most importantly though, does all of the above bring you happiness? If it doesn’t, maybe a trip back to the drawing board is in order.

But I digress.

Back to the trip. It was a beautiful experience, and I left vowing to create more moments like those. I also noted that the only reason why I hated everyday prior to this was because I created it. I dug my own hole. So I came home with a different outlook on life. I let go of all the stuff, responsibilities, and people I didn’t want in my life, got a job that I love, made more time for writing and exercise, surrounded myself with people I love who love me too (aww), and now I can truly say that I look forward to waking up each day.

All that space I made must’ve created a vacuum, because all of a sudden, joy started rushing into my life faster than I could spell it. By letting go of  the toxic relationships, physical clutter, and mental disquiet; I provided room to accommodate better things and experiences in life without even knowing it.

Now I live by my few ultimate goals, not bound by others’ expectations and what people think of me, and I feel freer than the days I decide to go commando.

I used to have so much angst during the time leading up to the trip, and I hated that part of my life more than a cat hates water, but now I see its necessity. It was like watching a matchstick wilt and burn, and feeling sad about its destruction; until I realised it had to happen so I could build a fire.

And there I was, sitting with my cup of water in hand. Jo raised an eyebrow.

“You okay?” she asked. “You look tired. Need anything?”

I got all I’ll ever need.

“Maybe another glass of water,” I said.

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