During the first 36 years of life, before choosing simplicity, I was immersed in the material world. I was never one who needed the latest and greatest ‘things’, yet the majority of my energy went towards developing my career in construction management and ultimately, I acquired more, more, more. I was constantly “upgrading” myself and my environment, or so I thought. Along that path of “success”, I also suffered from longstanding and recurring depression. This was a multi-layered issue with many roots. Upon reflection though, it’s clear to me that my need for success was a massive part of it. I was a successful, functioning depressive… until I wasn’t.
We’re invited from infancy to upsize and upgrade our lives, but very few stop to consider how best to do this, or the cumulative consequences of following along with cultural normalities. It’s a tightrope walk between losing ourselves to societal expectations and staying true to who we are. I’ll be the first to admit I lost my balance and fell into the should’s and ought’s of society very early in life. But what is the price we pay for our material upgrades?
As the popular motivational author Zigler said: “Money won’t make you happy… but everybody wants to find out for themselves.” For me that was true. Ironically, I was not able to seek out true happiness and the wholeness to embody this wisdom without first achieving a certain level of outward appearing success. What a tragic ego-death it was to find I’d been looking in the wrong place all along.
This may not be the case for everyone, but at this stage in my evolution, I understand that my need to acquire and succeed was an ego-based quest for validation built up on faulty foundations. I’d been deceived by my own attachment to the perception of who I would be if successful. I’d also been deceived by society, the media and the very backbone of my country, capitalism. Somewhere along the way I learned to seek wholeness and happiness in anything and everything outside myself. Yet in my perfectly curated oversized home with televisions in every room to keep me “informed”—yes, even the bathroom so I could watch the morning news from my shower—I felt emptiness and deep despair. I hadn’t yet been exposed to the ultimate truth that contentment and wholeness must come from within. I’d fallen into the misperception Krishnamurti warned of: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Jung attests that between the age of 35 and 55 one is often called to individuate beyond their own ego structures… and this was certainly the case for me. After a dark night of the soul awakening, somewhere between mental fracture and spiritual emergence, I recognized my own part in my successful depressive nature. I harnessed the inner strength (from where, I don’t know) to chart a new course in life. I couldn’t be who I was anymore! If I didn’t take drastic action to arrest my patterns and figure myself out, I knew I couldn’t continue into the second half of life. At that time, it felt necessary to leave my marriage, career, home, country and everyone I knew. I took a one-way flight to India with only two intentions: to find a better version of myself (free from depression) and a new creative path for my future. That was nearly seven years ago now. What an incredible transformative journey it has been toward choosing simplicity, wholeness and sustained mental health. I somehow feel I’ve survived and overcome something monumental. Hurrah!
Now, in this new version of myself, my whole life centers around mental well-being. I’ll do nearly anything to craft my life to foster a healthy mental state. This means eating whole foods, a primarily plant-based diet, being active, prioritizing a learning and growth mindset, limiting social and news media consumption, having a dedicated spiritual practice, working in a healing profession and choosing simplicity. In the quest for choosing simplicity I have chosen to live small.
Traveling for so long, carrying all my belongings in a trekking pack, I came to learn quickly the difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’. Any beautiful thing I came across that tempted my I want it mind, had to pass a quick analysis to determine if I could justify carrying it. It was a fast-track lesson in what I actually needed in life to not only survive, but to thrive. Free from the weight of the big house, mortgage and all the stuff I thought I couldn’t live without, I came to know wholeness and contentment within myself. In learning to live small, I became big. I didn’t need any of that stuff anymore to feel complete, I was complete with in myself.
After my global odyssey, I felt the need to ground and nest and be closer to my mother. What birthed from that was a small, 550 square foot (51 m2) house that I designed and built. By American standards that’s an unlikely choice in new construction design. But I knew living small would be a part of staying mentally healthy by reducing living expenses and keeping life simple.
Early on in my healing journey I came across a verse in the Dhammapada: “One is one’s own refuge. What other refuge can there be?” I took this to mean that I have to save myself. No one else was going to do it for me, not a higher power or anyone else. And I did. Miraculously, I empowered myself to prioritize healing and overcome depression to find the way back home to myself. That’s how I came to name my tiny home the House of Refuge. It’s my little temple-esque style sanctuary with Japanese torii façade, signifying the transition from the mundane to the sacred. This is the way I choose simplicity and self-care, with a small existence, which ironically enough allows me to be a more empowered individual because I’m healthier in mind, body and spirit. What a blessing to find the way home, to myself and to the house of refuge. I live, study, work and continue the journey there today.