Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why Being Simple is Complicated

And so I spent another day wasting a lot of time online, supposedly working, but actually doing a lot else. I have turned a little bit of a net junkie, though I will not, will not admit it! Following one link after another, I came across some articles on the Amish people in the US. I often tend to read up a lot on some topic that catches my fancy (there is a word for that sort of reading, I just can’t remember what it is now) and while doing so I ended up watching a documentary on them. It was specifically about the practice of ‘rum-springa’ (loosely translated to mean ‘running around’) that allows teenagers to live like the rest of the world for about a year or more. After that they have to choose to either be baptized or leave the community if they prefer not to follow the customs of the Amish.
Now for those of you who haven’t heard of them, the Amish are an ultra conservative community that is mainly known for simplistic living and for shunning all modern technologies, including electricity, cars and communication devices. Children study only up to class 8 after which they are baptized and work in the fields from dawn to dusk. The patriarchal system of society emphasizes on family, the church and the community and discourages much contact with the High People or The Englishers as the non-Amish people are called. Predictably, there are several cases of crimes of hate against these people who continue to drive around in horse driven buggies and wear 17th century clothes.
Watching the videos and reading up on them, I got thinking (what else could you expect, eh?). I remember vaguely an old Readers’ Digest article on them, talking about how they churn fresh butter every morning. The pictures were taken at dawn, a cow and some Amish people around a table. Addicted that we are to modern amenities, I wondered how easy (or not) it would be to go to a simpler life. No, I don’t mean the Amish way, which would be rather regressive in these times. But then, hear me out here, will you, do we really need all that we burden ourselves with?
There was a time when I was mighty interested in the idea of kibbutz and even contemplated visiting one. I would be the last person to be comfortable living without my personal space but these experiments in alternative living (I believe ‘conscious living’ is the fancier word these days) have long fascinated me. A kibbutz is where you work for the community, where the kids live in separate quarters and there is no concept of individual space. I wonder then what role individualism plays in the creative process of a life. If all things are for and by the collective, would creativity still thrive? Or in the other case of places like Auroville, where nothing belongs to the individual, would it be an ideal field for a creative process to take root in? I have often wondered.
I recently read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, that gem of female polemic where she argues that a woman, to be able to pursue a career in writing, needs to have her own resources and be allowed to occupy a space of her own. Does to have individuality mean that you are obliged to give up working for the common interest of a unit, say the family? Is it easy to reconcile the two and have both? Can you be an individual and yet be able to fulfill the roles that traditional society assigns you? I think not.
In that light, I sometimes wish (call me regressive, or perhaps idealistic) for ignorance. Ignorance of how big the world is. Ignorance of how many ideas there are. A simple life comes with simpler concerns at least. But when you have seen the other side from over the window, it is just too complicated to let go. To let go of complications in life. To choose the simple over the so-not-simple. To find my way out of another tangle that I have landed myself in with these paragraphs here!
Within the blink of an eye, we go from what is simple to what is twisted, drawn like the proverbial moth to the fire, singeing its wings on the burning blue edges, yet unable to turn away. When simple has been the way things were for longer than they were complicated, why should it be so tough to revert? But it is. Or maybe I am just peeking in from the outside through the coloured panes of the window.

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