“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault
Some people say that a book chooses you. Whether the message is just for entertainment, humour, or inspiration with a deeper meaning of learning, growth and wisdom, at times for me it feels like this is true. With two busy little boys I either have 10 books on the go at once – all dusty and at page 6, or I get to finish a book once a year on holidays. Peter FitzSimons “A Simpler Time” was my book of the year. FitzSimons talks about his childhood growing up in a big family on a farm in Peats Ridge NSW, and looks back to a time when kids had freedoms in a world that was for him, much more simple. Running around barefoot, living on a farm north of Sydney with a large family, long, endless days where kids worries were minimal. Back then you could light bonfires on firecracker night, take throw downs to school, play catch and kiss in the school yard, look for cicadas until nightfall and climb trees as high as your 4 year old self felt it was safe to go. You could ride bikes on main roads without a helmet or a parent and pretty much guarantee you would arrive at your destination just fine. In FitzSimon’s youth kids were given greater license and responsibility and freedom which came from living in a community of people who all knew and supported each other. In what could arguably be called a naive post war Australia it was ideal, uncomplicated, unrestrained and understated.
Where have these times gone? Was there ever a simpler time? Did they really exist and if so, were they contained to rural and small town living or just a firm upholding of good old fashioned family values and fun? Was it hindsight that made everything seem so simple? Is it relative? Looking back in this new millennium the 1950’s are considered a simpler time. The 1950’s two decades before were even more simple. “We all pine for a time in life when things were simpler. Even when they weren’t necessarily simpler, hindsight makes them look a lot simpler. The reality of it was that it wasn’t”. Ben Gibbard. Really?
“A Simpler Time” makes me think about how I am raising our kids on our farm in the same area as he grew up. It takes me nostalgically back to my own childhood, only a decade behind FitzSimons, in the snowy mountain ski resort of Thredbo Village. Albeit a playground for the wealthy through the winter, living there as a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s was liberal, free and simple and F-U-N. Nature was our mother, father and our teacher, we had a mountain as our backyard and often explored unsupervised. It took a village – literally – we had a huge extended family that took care of us if we ended up at someone elses house after dark fell. We caught an old 14 seater bus to school and if you misbehaved en route you were made to stand in the door well. We lit huge bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night, our families and community got together on a local farm and we let off firecrackers that were not officially sanctioned. We carried throw downs in our pockets and we played catch and kiss in the school yard. For all the lack of parental supervision there were no real injuries other than your usual broken bones and minor burns. If anything it taught us independence, confidence and freedom of thought.
Hindsight, lost values, no fun zone, whatever you want to call it, it seems that the times they are a changing. At least in terms of how we live and work. Freedom and simplicity are still available, just a little forgotten as the material world we live is no longer as uncomplicated as it was. It’s evolution baby. In this high tech, fast paced climate nothing feels simple. Computer says no. In most Western cities we live in a nanny state, a policed society where there are millions of rules and regulations and we need an officially approved manual to catch a bus. It sometimes feels like we are a society wrapped in cotton wool as a politically correct reaction that is not always, but often fear based. Even if all of this is for our own safety are we being dumbed down in the process? It could be said that prosperity brings complications and that human nature itself hasn’t fundamentally changed. “Historically, we’ve always wanted to provide for our needs as best we can; and there’s always been the potential to get distracted and forget what’s important”. Lori Deschane. A collective consciousness is emerging which is looking for a meaningful existence through a more simple way of living, before things got bigger and faster and more automated and we were bogged down in the frenzy of our own importance. Searching for that childlike joy and meaningful connection and the human wealth our tribal ancestors once enjoyed, we have come full circle. There is a growing global trend going mainstream to strip back to basics and reconnect through mindfulness, meditation, digital detoxes and even living off the grid in search of amongst other things, a healthier and more simple life balance. As we reconnect with ourselves we once again can see this way of life is to be preserved and treasured.
Like most parents I question how we are raising our kids. Are they getting the best on offer to them as they grow? Are they missing out on a fast, fabulous and cultured life in the city with all the extra curricular activities available? Psychology studies have shown that more choice actually causes people to become more unhappy. How do we know when our kids have more than they need? Chances are you give them the newest toys on the shelf and they go back to dragging each other around in an old cardboard box. We want to give them everything on offer and keep them abreast of choice so they can keep up with their peers and equip themselves for a competitive world, but are we doing them a disservice? Everyone makes their own decisions for their family that are the best or all they have available to them at the time. When my boys come inside after playing in the mud with dirty faces and feet (after my eye twitches and I freak out about the mess) I see how happy they are. When I reach for my glass of red wine each night, after I have spent an entire day on the farm alone looking at the chickens and talking to bloody no one, I am comforted in knowing that this time in our lives is a simple and very special one and that I need to hold on to it and squeeze it tight by the cheeks – just enjoy it all mindful-like and in the moment. It makes me happy to offer our boys memories that are full of fun and freedom, in a very basic way especially while they are little. The memories we create, how we treat each other and valuing people and our life more than things is what matters. Things get more complicated if we get carried away with our busy-ness and problems that in the grand scheme of it all don’t really count. When we die we can’t take much with us other than our sense of self and the connections we have made with people around us. It is easy to get overwhelmed and make things more complicated than they need to be, to not remember the little things we have in the moments of our day to day, even living at the end of a dirt road it gets crazy. So in the chaos, just remember to breathe, enjoy and keep it simple.
Pics from Sascha Jones; flickr.com; smallhousebliss.com; aharchitecture.com
References Ben Gibbard Brainyquotes; Peter FitzSimons “A Simpler Time”; Lori Deschane Tiny Buddha More Peace and Connection: Recreating a Simpler Time