“Your presence, your meditation, your dignity, has to be vivid enough so that when you bring your bowl, people want to offer food because that’s the only way you can eat! This creates an ongoing dynamic of offering that goes both ways, from those who are in the process of being initiated in the monastery and those of the community whom it benefits.” Jack Kornfield’s description of being a Buddhist monastic renunciate where his daily meal was entirely dependent on what villagers put into his alms bowl, from Bringing Home the Dharma.
The skill I need to develop most in preparation for simpler living is not minimizing stuff, living in a smaller space, or being frugal—it’s the ability to ask for help. I really suck at it.
Since finally feeling independent, financial and otherwise, late in life (heck, I got my driver’s license at 42), I have not wanted to “trouble” friends or family for help when I could simply pay someone else or do it myself. Why? Partly not wanting to inconvenience others. Partly not wanting to owe favoUrs. But mostly my pride: it might look like a sign of weakness. To me.
In 2012 when I moved from the apartment I’d lived in for six years, many friends asked if they could help. I declined all offers: I decided to hire a moving company to move the furniture and to move the smaller bits myself in what I thought would be a few car loads. Despite several trips to drop off donations, I was shocked by the amount of STUFF I had accumulated that I now had to singlehandedly move. Did I ask for help once I’d realized my mistake? No. And my body succumbed to a cold because I was so exhausted. But I saw clearly for the first time how my pride was not serving me. My failure to welcome help was just plain stupid.
I remember that when MF first offered to drive me to the airport for a flight home, I was surprised and initially said no expecting to take a shuttle like I normally did. I admit I was even more surprised the first time he asked me to drive him to the airport. In my mind, once you “grew up” and had enough $ to pay for a cab, you didn’t ask outside of family. This is just one example that looks silly once I’ve written it down, but that’s truly the place I’d got to in my quest for independence and in the stinginess with my time: apparently my general feelings of compassion and generosity did not include these kind of back-and-forth personal favoUrs. Now, the upside on a return flight is not waiting for a ride share at 10PM. The downside is MF seeing the physical remains of me after 14 hours of air travel.
Asking for help while living simpler is not going to be optional. It’s going to be a frequent requirement whether in exchanging of services or products, seeking guidance with my new business plan, or getting advice from people currently living a slower, softer, simpler life.
There is a social and community focus in simpler living that, being an introvert, I naturally shy away from. But I can’t possibly do this on my own—I’m going to have to get comfortable with receiving help and the concept of interdependence. I would never want my friends to withhold asking for help from me, so I need to be equally generous with myself. My vulnerability in simply asking looks like the most challenging part of this whole plan so I need to start opening up and practicing now. There’s hope: this week while learning to drive a manual transmission and messing up the gear changes many times, my automatic response was often “HELP ME!!!”