Simple is Good

I think for some reason (maybe being the outdoorsy type) tribal life has always held an allure for me. I loved the documentary “Tribal Wedding” where filmmakers Larry Gray and Mary O’Malley a western couple from Sydney, traveled to Tanna in Vanuatu and married in “kastom” style – the native way.  There were so many great quotes and ideas raised during the documentary. There is a simplicity to which these villagers live that don’t involved the stress and busyness and utilitarian lives we live in the west. I call it the simple life.

To me the simple life revolves around simple tasks. For villagers it’s things like procuring firewood, building or maintaining shelters, fetching water, tending their gardens, hunting for food, raising children and maintaining relationships. The men have secret men’s business where they deal with issues in the village, but it’s evident that reinforcing relationships between the elders is significant to village harmony. So too, the women gather around the fire and preparation of food, which goes way beyond simply feeding the family. It’s building community.

One of the things my wife has found working with ‘at risk’ youth who are in trouble with the law, bombing out of school and getting into general mischief is that it takes a village to raise a child…. but that way of life is long gone from our “cultured” societies.

I think as a result of my burnout and slow recovery, I’ve come to long for the simple life. I’m actually trying to build a modern-tribal lifestyle. I am my own guinea pig.

I’m not about to take my clothes off and go live in the backyard, but I think there are certainly elements we can learn from tribal people. I try and take time over food preparation. Instead of seeing it as a necessary evil, I see it as part of the daily ritual that helps anchor us to the simple life. It takes time to prepare good food. I involve the kids with our cooking so it also helps us work together and they enjoy the food a lot more if they’ve been involved in making it.

Our home has electric heating and a wood fire. I have decided to buy a chainsaw and cut up logs, haul them home, split them, stack the wood and burn it. It’s a lot of hard work, but again, there is a certain earthiness and reality involved when you don’t just flick a switch, but actually take the time to light a fire and burn it to heat the home – not to mention the atmosphere and toasted marshmallows.

I’d like to be slower with the children too. I’d like to take time to talk to them without feeling hurried. I’d like to waste time with them – play with them – enter their world. I took my son interstate on the weekend for a funeral. We had lots of time to talk. Last thursday I bailed him out of school and took him fishing. On the way to the lake (where he hauled in a 4lb brown trout in fine fighting condition) I asked him what he’d like to do when he grew up. He said he’d like to perhaps be an artist, or a musician, or a ninja. Ahhh to be seven again.

I try and drive slower. I accelerate to the speed limit more slowly. I try and achieve less each day than I would otherwise. If I get one or two things done, I’m happy. I’m not the kind of person to just waste time. I’ve found if I build in lots of buffer and space into my time, that I tend to fill it with more meaningful things – like talking to people I love, or reflection. Or maybe reading a book. Or as it turns out, it may be conserving energy so  i can read to my kids when I put them to bed.

In the documentary, Mary (safely back in Sydney) wrestles with the great gulf between the modern and tribal life. She says ”I do believe we need to slow down and wind back our lives and consider some of the things that traditional cultures do… But how far back can we go? And how to go back? I’m still not sure. I think there’s a whole lot of us who are trying to figure that out.”

Yep. Simple is good. Do you have similar yearnings? Do you have any ideas for modern tribal warriors that I can experiment with?

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2 Responses

  1. Suggestion #1 – throw away the TV.
    Suggestion #2 – use cash only.
    Suggestion #3 – cell phone are only for emergencies, with the texting/internet turned off permanently. Use answering machines, it’s what they are made for.
    What do you think?

  2. I think TV is a legitimate form of relaxation (not dissimilar to maybe going to see a play, or listen to a band), but it should be used sparingly. I tend to record anything I want to watch so I can see it when it’s convenient and skip the ads. I hate it when the TV is on all the time though and it can really stop families from engaging with each other.

    Cash only is a real inconvenience because I’d have to go to the bank all the time. I guess it would help reign in spending though if I had to only use cash!

    I think in families where everyone has a cell and is constantly talking/texting it would be diabolical. Setting a “blackout” time might be useful, say 8pm-7am?

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