We are born greedy. We want it all. The success, the house, the car, the family. We’re told that we deserve it by a thousand messages, subliminal or otherwise, beamed through the airwaves and newspapers. The notion of sacrifice, not as some emotion laden term, but a simple technical description of leaving some things out and taking other things with you, is all but lost.
One of my favourite Mulla Nasrudin stories features the Mulla watching his friend Wali making yoghurt. He observes how Wali adds a little live yoghurt culture to milk to make a large amount of yoghurt. Nasrudin asks Wali for some yoghurt culture and peels off. Next day Wali sees Nasrudin down by the lake carefully adding yoghurt culture to the great expanse of water. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Making yoghurt,” replied Nasrudin with a far off look in his eyes. “But that’ll never work!” expostulated Wali. “I know,” agreed Nasrudin, “But just imagine if it did!”
We want it all, and we can con ourselves we can get it until we come against a real limiting reality- such as having to carry our entire lives in a rucksack.
Bed. Food. Water. Clothes. Shelter. Kindle if you’re lucky.
And if it weighs much more than twelve kilograms you’ll be suffering. That’s right, get your life down to 12kg. It’s not only possible there are some ultralight backpackers out there who carry three days worth of food and EVERYTHING ELSE in a pack weighing 5kg.
It’s just about realising you can’t have it all.
To get down to the required weight you bite it off from both ends: finding the lightest version of everything and working what you don’t need. You start to get clever and find things that do two things for the same weight: a poncho that becomes a tent, walking poles that work as tent poles, tent pegs you can use as a fire grill, a kindle you can use as, er, a kindle, until it gets wet and breaks and then you can use it as a weight to hold your tent flap open.
You find the lightest sleeping bag and tent. You work out you only need a pair of shorts and a pair of trousers- why not get the kind that zip off to make both. If you get wet you can loiter in your sleeping bag until your trousers have dried out. Or wear underpants that look like swimming trunks.
And so you whittle the weight down. You carry mainly dried food. You work out where your water stops are so you don’t need to over carry liquid. You carry a stove that works on wood as well as meths or solid fuel- thus reducing how much fuel you have to carry.
I’ve even heard of people cutting matches in half to save weight that way. A bit extreme perhaps, but once you start weight watching its hard to stop.
You find out that mostly, people carry too much. One test is, after a trip, to make three piles, the first is stuff used everyday, the second is stuff never used, and the third is stuff used once or twice. You ditch the last two piles and only take the first on your next trip.
By such exercises you begin to learn how much you need in life. Not much. As long as you are moving forward along your path you need only that which keeps you going. It isn’t that different from your walking gear: shelter, bed, food, a few books instead of the kindle.
We accumulate stuff, tons of it, and it can very easily own us. Just looking at stuff, spread out round the house, can really drain you of energy. I deliberately write in a place devoid of any books, any clutter. It feels much freer, much lighter. As the saying goes: it’s easy to makes things heavier, the real skill is in making life lighter. Which brings us neatly to: