There is a distinct difference in attitudes at our house when my husband and I take our boys and stay in our cabin, deep and high in the mountains of NC. A slight fraction of the size of our full time home, where we run our family, our business, and our technologically laden lives, the mountain retreat is a place where we early on decided there will be no invited technology or fussiness. This means no movie watching, tv's, computers, internet, or even phones. We are always in a constant state of stocking the place with books for kids and us adults, and we have our favorite family photos for art, and plenty of music for therapy. We do have our cell phones in case of emergency only - we never use them for chatting. Like my grandfather always said, phones are not for entertainment. Say what you need to say and get off of it (phone). I have always stuck to that informal rule.
Our house sits on a ridge overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains, and although the house is ultilitarian, practical, and homely, the view is excessively majestic.
Funny enough, in our humble abode high above the clouds, is where we feel most grounded. Without the influence of the world, and our email - our family operates in greatest harmony. We spend time communicating more fully, working harder (there is wood to be chopped to stay warm, for example), and leaving a smaller carbon footprint. When we pull back from the fast paced lifestyle we deliberately inject ourselves into every day - we realize how unimportant our daily pursuits are compared to the eternity of our souls.
It begs to ask the question - if we are most content in a house 75% smaller, if we are more family focused, in harmony with nature, with the earth, with others around us (heck, we know all our neighbors in the mountains!) - then what good is staying on the fast track?
As my husband wrote to me today, and as so many wise people and ancient spiritual texts will agree, we know how to recognize contentment through enduring adversity. In other words, we have to mire through the "bad" to know how to recognize and enjoy the "good".
We all have the opportunity to enact radical change in the world by making careful decisions about our own individual life. As I race forward through this workweek and enter into a nonstop work filled weekend, only interrupted by the thousands of miles I must fly to get there; my husband and children will be entering into the simplistic enigma of a more monastic type life. I wonder how we will interact when they return from their retreat weekend and the auto-adjustment of priorities that it provides, while I return from a fast paced 7 day work week, having flown thousands of miles after giving a 16 hour lecture over 2 days in a captivating super stimulated big city.
I would like to say that I should be grateful that I have work, that we are blessed to have a mountain retreat, and that I do not have the right to complain about anything. This is true - but the heart of the question still exists - the question we must all ask ourselves. Are we living the best lifestyle that we can, in harmony with the earth and others, are we over-consuming and under-appreciating, are we spending time doing what we should be doing, or what we think we should be doing, are we wasting time trying to please others, or are we working toward a greater good?
A close childhood friend of mine recently found me online and reconnected with me. Surprised as I was, I was grateful for this reconnection, as I always have wondered what happened to him through the years. I learned that in these decades that have passed, he has now come full circle (like so many of us). He is a minister and missionary. If you can think back to some of your childhood friends, you would probably be as shocked as I was to learn this about him. I was thrilled. Thrilled for him and for his journey. This weekend as I jet off to my urban work and as my husband travels into serenity, my long lost childhood friend now minister will be traveling to a remote town to give a week of his life helping Native American Indians rebuild their community. He is a missionary, and when I or anyone else hears of someone doing work like this - they breathe a sigh of relief. Ahh, we collectively say, here is the man or woman who is fighting the Good Fight, doing Good Work, and not for his own gain.
So I realize that what I am really wanting for me and my family - heck, for the whole world - is not so much a "permanent mountain retreat lifestyle" but a permanent attitude adjustment. An attitude of gratitude, that no matter what size my house is, or if I am covered up with work or out of work, whether I am working for a paycheck or working for free, whether I get to take a vacation or not, I will be content. We will all recognize that at any time, we have the control to relinquish micro-control over our lives and enjoy the view (no matter what the view is).
We can breathe a sigh of relief.
*a view from our mountain cabin, 2005