“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
– Havelock Ellis
THE CLASSROOM: Port Albert, Ontario—In the springtime each year, the high muddy banks along the Nine Mile river near our village of Port Albert would become a sloppy mess of mud and clay. During this time they became a favourite playground for me and my family. We would make frequent trips to jump into the clay pits that had formed and would often return home from our muddy adventures with a boot or two missing.
My baby sister Meghan, brother Nicholas, our two cousins, Jonathan and Adam Chilton and me found ourselves a particularly sloppy clay pit and were having a blast jumping into the mud. Before long, however, Meghan found herself waist-deep in the clay, unable to free herself.
It crossed our minds that since she had so many other kids, Mom may not even notice if we returned home without Meghan. In the end though, we decided against leaving her and set out to free her from the muck. With a slippery grip on her wrists we hauled with all our might.
That day Meghan was wearing a pair of hand-me-down sweat pants with a waistband well past its prime. As a consequence, the more we pulled Meghan from the mud, the more her pants would fall down.
She would quickly snatch back her hands to hoist up her pants and, of course, sink further into the clay. Caught between the total embarrassment of losing her pants in front of a group of boys and being buried alive in a pit of clay for all eternity, Meghan broke down into tears as we tried to free her.
Eventually Meghan’s survival instincts overpowered her mortification and she stopped trying to hold her pants up while we pulled her out of the mud. In the end we saw more of my sister’s bum than any of us had any desire to, but she was free and we were happy because of it.
THE LESSON: Like Meghan’s muddy misadventures, simple living requires us to prioritize what is really important to us (getting out of the clay), which can mean having to give up something else (her pants). If we want to make the necessary changes to live a life that reflects our values we have to be willing to let some things go. The past, materialism, old habits, preconceptions, our pants—detaching ourselves from parts of who we were is often essential to becoming who we want to be.
My foray into the world of organic, free-range eggs is one simple example of letting go of one thing in order to achieve another. I’ve always bought regular eggs instead of the free-range variety because they were cheaper. As I learned more about the ethical treatment of animals and the health benefits of eating organic, I decided that being a conscious consumer of food was a priority for me.
Although not a significant price difference (about $1 more a dozen for free-range eggs than the regular kind), I “balanced my books”, so to speak, by committing to buy one less pair of jeans each year. With the $40 I save by not indulging in those jeans, I can more than afford to eat healthier and more ethically throughout the year ($1 more for a dozen organic eggs every two weeks = $26). Like Meghan, I gave up my pants in order to get what was really important to me.
THE HOMEWORK: Complete your own “Muddy Meghan” exercise. Determine what your priorities in life are and what sacrifices can be made in order to ensure your life reflects them.