by Bryan Grower
From my time studying philosophy at University, I have been interested in various thinkers, artists, and films that question the fabric of reality and the existential crisis caused by an uncritical pursuit of an “American Dream”. The crisis of identity and purpose seems to drive many to the extreme and often unhealthy measures to feel alive. Some have questioned whether consumer culture is our core vice rather than the ways we find to distract, numb or cope with our human condition. Where I am often disappointed in these cultural critiques is their focus on the human condition through the individual and their tendency to be cynical.
The Netflix documentary: The Minimalists is an interesting film about two friends Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus and their exploration of minimalism. They wrote a memoir, Everything That Remains about how they stumbled into a growing movement that is discovering the freedom possible from the clutches of debt and an insatiable desire of greed and acquisition. They raise the same questions of freedom and identity as those asked by many thinkers and artists before them, but they approach the question from a far less cynical and more practical perspective. They found that adjusting their lifestyle to live simply and intentionally afforded them the ability focus on the things in life the add value and fulfillment. This is a memoir about pursuing lives that are “intentional, deliberate and meaningful” and it challenges an uncritical pursuit of lifestyles we cannot afford, status advertisers tell us we need and an elusive promise of security if we could ever just make a little more.
“Understand, every moth is drawn to light, even when that light is a flame, hot and burning, flickering, the fire tantalizing the drab creature with its blueish-white illumination. But when the moth flies too close to the flame, we all know what happens: it gets burned, incinerated by the very thing that drew it near. For decades now, I have played the role of the moth, lured by the flame of consumerism, pop culture’s beautiful conflagration, a firestorm of lust and greed and wanting, a haunting desire to consume that which cannot be consumed, to be fulfilled by that which can never be fulfilling. A vacant proposition, leaving me empty inside, which further fuels my desire to consume. Accepting the flame for what it is, then, is important: it is necessary and beautiful and, most of all, dangerous. Realizing this, becoming aware of the danger, is difficult to do. But this is how we wake up.”
I appreciate the tangible “experiments” the authors provide in how they and others have adapted into the Minimalism movement and their honesty about their failures along the way. Practices and life rhythms are an important part of community development and crafting lives of meaning. I was speaking to a friend about the Minimalism movement and we began to discuss if there is more substance to this conversation than providing life tips and internet memes: ‘4 Ways to Clear the Clutter from Your Home’ or ‘How to Find Meaning in 3 Steps’. What is left once we clear the clutter? Will there be anything of substance that remains?
At Common Change, we believe the substance and meaning is built collaboratively with friends and neighbors around a table where we take responsibility for each other’s well-being. A community practice is an activity that gathers people together to share their gifts, teach what they know and create neighbors that seek after each other’s welfare. A discussion of a meaningful life must incorporate practices or life rhythms that help people be more human. Everything That Remains is an inspirational discussion that I hope drives us to not merely find ways to reorganize our lives in the pursuit of individual meaning, but drives us to the community table to discover ways to be “intentional, deliberate and meaningful” together.