A couple of days ago I finished editing our latest YouTube video – a kind of paean to winter – in the hope that I might inspire a few people to embrace this time of year and all it had to offer. At the same time, I finished writing a blog about scarcity, abundance and the beauty of simplicity: the fact that I did all this on an expensive computer while using my iPhone to post the progress on Instagram was an irony that wasn’t lost on me.
In fact, it made what happened next all the more wonderful.
“As we generally say, not a blade of grass moves without the will of the Supreme…” – Bhagavad Gita As It Is
On a wet and mild afternoon, I drove into town to meet Seb, the catalyst for our first video, feeling concerned that I might have missed the boat by leaving it until mid-January to film a hymn about the coldest season of the year.
That evening we opened the back door of the cottage to reveal thick, driving snow which settled immediately into a crisp carpet of pristine white. Our once-familiar back garden and the neighbouring trees, roofs and fields were transformed into a timeless picture-postcard scene. The weather had turned on a sixpence!
With the joy of transformation came challenges: our electricity went down, and when it returned it operated only on a very low power. We were plunged into total- or semi-darkness. We had to cook on a single-ring camping stove (our cottage doesn’t have gas), and if it weren’t for the woodpile I’d amassed over recent months we’d have been pretty cold, too.
Without the distraction of modern appliances we couldn’t help but ruminate on the whys and wherefores of the situation. Eventually we came to reflect on what we were doing here in the first place, and whether we were walking the walk or merely talking the talk. Laughing, we felt the undeniable presence of a guiding hand, gently exposing the degree of sincerity with which we’ve embarked on our new lifestyle, and realised that there’s no doubt: we’ve been trying to have our cake and eat it. We love the peace, the quiet and the lack of light pollution, but we’re yet to truly forsake all the trappings of the digital, industrial age.
There’s a phrase in the Sanskrit language: yukta vairagya. Properly translated, it gives us the real definition of renunciation – that things are not actually ours to accept or reject, and that when properly utilised, everything can be engaged in the service of the Supreme. So using technology to further our understanding of reality, and to help others further theirs, is desirable – that’s why we started blogging and vlogging our adventure in the first place.
But according to higher knowledge there needs to be regulation and restraint. Technology is wonderful, but it’s not sustainable: over-dependence will cause problems in the long run, as will surrendering to our own selfish whims and forgetting that the true purpose of life is to explore inner space, not cyberspace.
It definitely takes practise. A solid daily spiritual discipline and an honest, periodical re-evaluation of the direction which our actions are taking us in help us to trim the fat from our day to day activities and ask important questions: are we approaching our spiritual goal with pinpoint accuracy, or are we distracted, expending valuable time and energy in pursuing our own limited and speculative conception of what will make us happy?
One thing that we’ll be doing is taking part in #declutterjan, a challenge which gives us until the end of the month to pass on fifty possessions which aren’t serving our mission. If we can take up the challenge internally as well as externally then we think that’ll be a pretty good way to start the year.