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What Can We Live Without?

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Now and then I dabble in intermittent fasting. I can’t always control where I am and whether I can exercise, but I can control what I eat and drink. Fasts range from 13 hours up to 24 in general, but mostly I seem to do two or three per week of either 16 or 18 hours. My longest fast ever was about 48 hours. I’ve heard of some people doing seven days. You won’t find me pushing that kind of limit. Simply put, I like to eat, and skipping a meal or two is a good way to remind myself to ease off on the eating thing a bit. There are health benefits to intermittent fasting, ranging from healthy weight loss to long term resistance to degenerative diseases (I’m told). But mostly, I do it to control the conversation in my own head about when and what to eat.

The question to ask of ourselves is, what can we live without? We soften ourselves with abundance: food, entertainment, friends of convenience, information… the list goes on. Removing most of this noise offers an opportunity to find that which is most essential to us in our lives. Food becomes fuel and not filler. Entertainment elevates to a highlight moment instead of background noise. True friends are true sounding boards and not frivolous back-slapping small-talkers. Information leads to a deeper understanding, not a sound bite with no substance. You get the idea.

If there’s an irony to Thoreau, it’s his tendency to jamb a hundred words into a sentence just to get everything out of his head and on paper. For a man that preaches simplicity, we sometimes have to wade through a lot of word soup to get to the key message. But Thoreau lived a short life, and there was so very much to put out there in the world before he left us. We all ought to feel that urgency.

A bit of temperance is good for us. A bit of solitude with our thoughts brings the truth to the surface. Life in the din isn’t all its cracked up to be, for we rapidly run out of time to find out who we really are. With a little less input, what might we put out there in the world? The more we say no to some things, the more we amplify our yes to other things. Choose wisely.

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