By Chelcee Johns. Photography by Eric Michael Ward.
From October 2015 to January 2017 I called Bali, Indonesia home. A nomadic move mostly spurred by my desire to test the waters of nomadic living and become a global citizen. Bali gifted me with a thick journal full of notes, self-reflection, slowness and growth but if I zoom out it showed me the radical difference in what we call basic and how we judge it. It scripted the blaring “get, get, get” tone threaded into American culture compared to the more “be, be, be” of Indonesia. The be still. The be content over this rushed desire for more; mainly one that isn’t true to our purest nature.
I thought that one of my biggest lessons learned, well second (first was learning to trust my intuition/inner voice especially in a country whose first tongue I didn’t know) was the letting go of Western consumptions and desire for more. I steadied in contentment and found a home in less. Be it living on less literally, having no access to my typical beauty staples and relying on local coconut oil for everything or being 12 hours ahead and scheduling work in a way that supported my wellness. I lived out of 3 suitcases for 15 months, ate more rice and veggies than any other time and fixed my illnesses with fresh coconuts, rice water, rest and stillness. The basics.
I wanted these things to stick. The steady contentment with simplicity. I remember sending my family a photo one time while abroad and their response being, “They look so peaceful.” And they did, the Balinese worked hard but not to attain more or compete, simply to provide a comfortable living. And this isn’t a post bashing the luxuries in life.
But more so, asking if we need to redefine what we consider luxury? And, if simplifying our lives holds a bit of luxury in and of itself.
This month here at BGIO September our theme is Simplify Your Life. We’re focused on all the wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) ways we may need to simplify our lives. Be it our complicated internal truths that cloud the way we actually live or our financial wellbeing. Typically, when we talk about living simply, the mind moves directly to tangible things and what we own; but it’s so much more. I’ve asked myself often what has caused the complications or possible unhealthy patterns I may have internally and how do we simplify these spaces by unpacking them and rerouting our habits to further support our wellness. In Bali, there was no furious desire to climb the corporate ladder, there was village life and love and Hindu ceremony and help your neighbor. The basics.
At one point in my stay abroad, I’d moved over 5 times in the course of 2-3 months. A time that forced me to simplify how I defined home. I declared, home is wherever I am—this body, this spirit, this mind. I don’t go home, I am home. In the third village and new abode, on a day that found me tired and yet restless I journeyed to a small Indian restaurant for comfort food. A tall brown man with long white hair began to speak with me, and you know those days you just want to hush and eat and let it coax you some? It was that day for me, but he wouldn’t stop talking. At the end of his diatribe and questioning I asked his name. He responded, “Surrender.” I thought I misheard him, so he lifted his arms like in the tradition of worship and said again, “You know, my name is Surrender.”
I believe that’s what living simply asks of us, to surrender the notion that things have to be complicated and to surrender to the basics of our lives and pursuits. It doesn’t rebuke the goal-chasing, it redirects it to align with our inner goals first.
When I think about the concept of surrender, I cherish this time in my life. When electricity and wifi would go out due to a rain storm and I’d declare it a reading or praying or candle and rest day. Annoyed a bit, but accepting. Surrendering to the simplicity life has to offer and learning to cultivate it for myself.
If I’m honest, some of those foundational lessons were highly tested when I transitioned back to America. There’s a meme you’ve probably seen that goes “Don’t let the internet rush you.” But, it does sometimes doesn’t it? As does typical everyday American living, we sometimes see friends and family in passing, we work and work and put off our passions to the few hours we’re not trying to unwind after a long day. This sounds a bit more complicated, more congested than needed. If we took a moment to really look at every sector of our lives and asked how can I simplify in this area, I believe we’d feel lighter. I know I did (purposely past tense because staying true to that has ebbed and flowed).
I fear that the idea of “basic” has become a negative term. That we desire the complex, and hell, often we need it. Humanity itself is complex, however the complex allows us to get to the simple if we’re handling it correctly. Living simply is not about the pairing down, or immediately running towards minimalism.
Living simply asks us to ponder what matters most and hold those in our highest regard.
I don’t want to forecast a listicle that may help you get there, that doesn’t feel authentic to my current space. But I will set before you questions I’m currently asking myself to get back to the basics and honor simplicity.
- What are the simple truths that guide my life and am I currently living from them?
- Am I being fully intentional with my everyday actions and words?
- Does my passion and purpose feel muddled and begging me for a bit more tender love and care?
- When do I feel the lightest? What am I doing…or not doing?
- What is more complicated in my life than it has to be? Is it my daily routine, my love life, my family, my work?
- What are my patterns and how could I bring more simplicity to my life if I fully acknowledge them and work through them?
- What are the simple joys of my life (mangoes, reading) and could I indulge in them more often?
Are you working on routing more simplicity in you life, your finances, wellness, mental space, your diet, beauty routines, rituals and more? We’d love to hear your story this month on you how Simply Your Life and wisdom you might offer too! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chelcee Johns is a digital nomad, Detroit native, editor/content strategist and word & world-loving soul. She is based between Harlem and Detroit, and recently called Bali home for a year. Her passion for the power of the written word & highlighting often policed narratives has led her to work in publishing for the past 7 years with organizations such as Moguldom Media Group, Serendipity Literary Agency, the New York Times and writing for the likes of Ebony. In a rupturing political climate and blooming social change, BGIO is the place Chelc is able to create a community of safe space in our collective stories as Publication Editor. She is empowered by the (inner)work! With that said, her self-care go to is journaling, prayer and meditation.