Discover the beauty of having less! We all experience scarcity in some form at the moment – from restricted social interactions to a favorite food item that may be lacking. Or, during my bike expedition, from searching apples in Mongolia to repairing torn clothing when you run out of thread. How can we use this scarcity to raise our appreciation and to tap into our creativity? Enjoy the third episode of my new podcast!
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— Transcript of the podcast —
Hi and welcome back for another episode of me sharing some lessons from my cycling expedition, so the year and a half that I spent exploring Asia and the Middle East by bicycle. My name is Anne Westwards. If you like, feel free to subscribe to this page or this channel and I’ll make sure that I get more podcast episodes coming. Today, I would like to share some thoughts with you about the beauty of having less. This ties in with what I talked about before: radical acceptance and thinking from a state of abundance.
The experience of scarcity
If something is lacking, so just factually lacking – for example, we are supposed to stay at home, in order to make sure to not infect others with the virus. Or if you actually meet people, it’s supposed to be outdoors and we shouldn’t actually be close. Personally, I live alone in this apartment. Am I lacking social contact? Of course, I am. That is the case. Is there something else that I’m lacking beyond, something material? Of course, yes. I spent a week and a half trying to get some milk. There’s none to be had, it seems, in Berlin. And I don’t need milk, but I do like having a matcha latte from time to time.
Coping with less: complaining or appreciating?
There are different ways we can handle the situation. One option is to complain about what is missing, what we’re lacking. In particular, when it comes to social contact. We are social animals, after all. I think there are very few people who actually don’t miss the social interaction: the groups we usually attend, the team meetings, the training. Of course, we are missing that and we could complain about it – and many of us do.
The other option is to actually work with what we have. When it comes to food items that we are lacking, for example. Of course, we all have our favorite dishes. But we also know that there are recipes where we can find out easily, on the internet, how to try a new recipe that actually works without that one ingredient that we cannot get. This beauty of less is also: it doesn’t deny this. I guess you could also call this minimalism, in a way. I still prefer the beauty of less, because it’s a matter of appreciating things, seeing the beauty of not having everything.
Make it matter! From apples to conversations
During my cycling expedition, believe me, I really, really, really did appreciate every single fresh piece of fruit or vegetable I could lay my hands on. I spent a lot of time in steppes and deserts and high altitude mountains, where those fresh items of food were really, really hard to get by. In Mongolia, I remember, that I had a really hard time getting any piece of fruit, for example. If I did find apples – and apples are heavy, they contain lots of water – I would buy as many as I could. A bike is a very limited mode of transport, so normally it was about five (apples) – if I could find five apples in the first place. Then I would have an apple not every day, but every second day. Because who knew when I would get my next batch of apples? When I would
(a) come across a village and
(b) if they would have apples at all?
Believe me, my apple was the highlight of those two days. So in two day intervals, I would have one apple. And it was the best thing that I could have ever imagined. Those were small apples that probably didn’t have much in terms of aroma. It didn’t matter to me – it tasted like the best dish in the world. That’s what I mean with appreciating. And actually having less, maybe… minimalism is about having less out of a choice that you make. But sometimes you just have less than normal – and it’s not by your choice, it’s because of the circumstances. But then, you can actually make it matter and really enjoy that, as I did eating this apple.
So now, if you actually have social contact, so if you meet a friend outdoors over the weekend, or if I meet a friend outdoors: I’m radiant! I’m very, very excited! I mean, of course, I take care of keeping the distance. But I did realize that the conversations that I have become a lot lot deeper. Both people appreciate a lot more the presence of the other person. There’s a lot less small talk. I have the feeling the conversations dive deeper and I guess that happens when two people really appreciate having the other person around. The same is true, when I have phone conversations at the moment. I feel since we have less social contact, at least I try to make those points of contact matter.
Becoming creative when things are missing
So what happens if we actually are missing something and we can’t find it? This happened to me when I searched for four months for oatmeal. This is a long time, even for me. For three countries – I crossed three countries in this time in Central Asia – I just could not find oatmeal. I like having some kind of porridge or cereals in the morning. And yes, I can do without it. But I also needed to get some carbohydrates, just very practically speaking. Yet, I just couldn’t find oatmeal.
At this time, I thought: ‘Well, okay, Anne. Come-on, it’s time to remember that we got this far as a human species because humans can invent things, they can re-use things for other purposes.’ So I found my way around the missing oatmeal: I realized that: well, I need some carbohydrates in the morning. I don’t feel like cooking rice in the morning – so I had biscuits! It wasn’t quite like oatmeal. But I actually had my milk powder and some nuts and if I had an apple, I would also cut the apple into it and have this mixture. And then, on the side, I had some biscuits. And that worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough. And actually, it made me appreciate oatmeal a lot, lot more. I still do.
The same is true for most other things. I don’t know if you knew, but if you’re lacking thread… so if your clothes are torn and you have to take care of them, repair them, you can actually use dental floss which makes a very strong thread for sewing.
A different mindset: ‘This is all I have. How do I work with that?’
There’s a ton of things which you can re-use, once you get into this mindset of: ‘Oh well, these are all the things I have.’ Normally, you are used to another mindset where you want to do something and realize: ‘Oh, there’s something missing!’ So what do we do? We then go to a shop or a supermarket and buy what we’re missing. Or maybe we will order something online.
We’re not so much used to this mindset of: ‘Well, this is all I have and whatever I’m missing, I won’t get this. So how can I work around this lack?’ There are a dozen ways. And actually, once you get into this mindset, it’s like a scavenger hunt. It becomes actually fun. At least, I really enjoyed that.
Discovering your abilities is empowering
I never considered myself to be a very practical person for some reason. I guess, I just didn’t have many opportunities in my life to discover that I was a practical person. I come from an engineering family. So whenever something broke, they were already at least two people, who were eager to repair these things and they were a lot better at repairing things than I was.
You know, one of the reasons why I also wanted to go on this bike trip alone was just being thrown back on myself, whatever happened. So if something broke, if my bike had to be repaired, there was just one person – me – who had to take care of this. And this was a wonderful experience, really. Of course, there are a lot of things where – in retrospect or some months into the trip – I realized: ‘Oh, I could have solved this differently!’ But it’s really empowering to realize that even if there’s something lacking, you can do this! You’re an inventive creative person – we all are.
Children show us how to handle less
I mean, if you take a look at children, and we’ve all been children at some point in our lives: children do this all the time. Or maybe nowadays, children are complaining if they’re lacking something. But still, if you then tell them: ‘Well, no, you can’t have another color for drawing this picture.’ – they’ll make do with what they have. And that’s now the task for us.
I hope that I could inspire you a little bit with this philosophy of the beauty of less. I’d love to hear from you in the comments or elsewhere if that’s something that you are living already in your life. And if you’d like to try, I would even be more interested in hearing how you enjoy the journey.
That being said, that’s all for today. Stay healthy! I’ll see you again soon, bye!
PPS: Let me bring the Silk Roads into your living room! Join me for one of my upcoming travel talks (online):