When I started writing this column five months ago, I made a pledge that I would try to be extremely frugal for the next year or so.
You see, I’ve moved up to rural Vermont to live and work at a meditation retreat center, and I’m not making much money. I figured this would be the perfect time to try being highly disciplined and going without.
So far, it’s gone well.
The retreat center provides me with a place to live and three meals a day, so I don’t have many daily expenses and very few bills. I don’t go out to eat very often or spend much on entertainment (there’s not a whole lot to do up here that costs money). And I don’t have an urge to buy new clothes or other personal items.
As a result, my savings account has grown nicely by several thousand dollars. It feels great.
Not wanting to buy new clothes has been a real boon to increasing my savings.
But it also makes me wonder: Why has my desire to buy almost disappeared? And what will happen when I return to a more common, urban life?
Belly of the Beast
Back when I was living in Baltimore, it seemed I wanted – no, needed – new clothes, shoes, and coats all the time. I didn’t let myself buy things I couldn’t afford, but I definitely bought things when I should have been saving.
What was worse than my pitiful bank account was the digging, nagging feeling of always wanting.
I used to lust after $500 boots and bags, obsessing over when I might be able to afford them. I would create little savings plans for buying whatever item I wanted, which is not a terrible idea, but the object of my desire would often change mid-saving, or I would find something cheaper and buy it right away, sending myself right back to square one.
These days, though, that feeling of needing more has truly almost disappeared. Instead, it seems to have changed to contentment.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a blissful pauper walking around in rags claiming that appearance is meaningless. I definitely care about how I look, and I don’t wear clothes that are worn out or ill fitting. I’ve simply learned to really appreciate the things I already have.
It’s a real change in perspective. I’ve no doubt that my daily meditation practice helps me maintain my new view. But it’s not entirely internal.
For one, there’s less physical temptation. Up here in the Green Mountains, there are not a lot of places to shop and they take effort to get to. Walking past cool little shops was part of what did me in while living in Baltimore. I’ve found that if things I like are out of sight, they are also out of mind – most of the time.
Of course, there’s always the wide world of online shopping. But with that, too, I find I go to my favorite sites less and less. My workdays are shorter, so I spend less time in front of a computer in general. I still have just as much work as previous jobs, though, so I actually spent most of the hours at my desk working, instead of perusing the internet.
Lastly, I don’t compare myself to others as much here. In Baltimore, I would always be meeting new, stylish people and be instantly jealous of how good they looked, wanting that for myself. But at the retreat center, I work, eat, and socialize with the same 50 people everyday. At some point, I started seeing people in a different way. I know them too well to assume they’re perfect external look reflects a perfect life.
So, now the question I’m posing to myself is: Will my new perspective stick when I inevitably leave Karmê Chöling?
Instead of waiting until I move to find out, I’m going to perform a little experiment on myself. For the next two weeks, I plan to put myself in the face of temptation by going to stores, online shopping, and getting out to some nearby cities to see some new people.
I want to know how my new internal perspective will stand up to a little external change.
I’ll report back in my next column two weeks from today.