The Challenge to Live Simply

The digital age has filled 24 hours with multitasking and moving at the lightning-fast pace of modern gadgetry. At any given moment, most of us are plugged in or logged on to some type of device.

But what if there were a simpler way to live, even if it’s only for one day?

One day. Just 24 hours.

The Unity August theme for Sacred Living Every Day is “Simplicity”—a call to delight in the small joys and simple pleasures in life. We turned this call into a challenge by asking a few people at Unity World Headquarters to part with a luxury item of their choice on August 2. The item could be a personal electronic device, TV, or cell phone. The following are honest reflections on how we felt as we “roughed it” for an entire day:

Marchel Alverson—Confessions of a Nook Addict

My Nook sits on my nightstand. The reading device is my morning and evening staple, and, on the weekends, my in-between feast. I enjoy building my library collection, downloading free samples of novels I find interesting, or relaxing poolside or on the deck while reading.

On the day of the challenge, I woke up and, with my arm on auto-response, reached for my Nook. I opened the purple case and started to click on the open button, when it dawned on me what I was doing. Guiltily, I placed it back on my nightstand and stared down at it. Some people drink coffee first thing each morning—I read. Most mornings, I read from my Bible. My Bible is on my Nook.

As my day progressed, I suffered from serious reading withdrawals. I realized my escape is often through the pages of a good book. I never thought I’d feel so lost without a fake page to turn. By the end of the day, I had placed the Nook inside the drawer of my nightstand because I kept looking and longing for that one click.

Hopeless, I rediscovered two whole bookshelves of hard copy books, choosing a classic favorite of mine, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Reading the first few pages reminded me of why I fell in love with writing and reading at a young age. Then there was my old Bible sitting idly on my nightstand, usually tucked underneath my Nook. It’s the first Bible I studied from and when I opened it, my eyes grew teary as I read highlighted passages I’d marked so long ago. The real surprise came at about the middle section when a picture fell to the carpet. I looked down and found an image of myself smiling back, holding tight to two tiny hands. My children. Were they really that small? I tucked the photo back into my Bible and spent the remainder of my day not wanting to miss a minute of them as they grow up right before my eyes.

Mary Patton—Tempted by the TV

I needed an excuse to give up television. Interestingly, I really don’t watch much TV— mostly CNN, HLN, and OWN. It’s on mostly to have background noise in my apartment since I live alone. I had already realized the noise was negatively affecting my subconscious mind with world news that was not always uplifting my spirit. It crossed my mind to turn off the television and devote my time to meditating, praying, and working on my spiritual projects. Bingo! This was my opportunity.

Praise God! I didn’t turn on the television after midnight, or forget and watch TV like I do each morning before coming to work. Isn’t the computer almost like a television in some ways? Well, I didn’t watch or do anything related to television on it either. That would have felt like “cheating.” 

I was tempted to turn on the TV when I returned home from work. By dinnertime, I was glad a friend was visiting. I knew his presence would keep me somewhat distracted from needing my usual background noise. But I prayed he wouldn’t ask to watch television. I would have to say “no” and tell him why. An unexpected issue came up and my friend had to cut his stay short. Without conversation to distract me, I felt lonesome without the familiar noise from the TV. This has clearly become a habit. 

After a while, I went to bed in the silence. Upon waking the next morning, I noticed I slept better that night, and I felt more refreshed.

Elaine Meyer—A Walk to Remember

During a recent editorial meeting, my coworker challenged me to give up a “luxury” item for one day. After careful consideration, I chose the MP3 player I use on my daily walks. Taking two- and three-mile hikes is a new experience for me, as is the idea of any type of exercise, so I take the opportunity to crank up my favorite songs, singing along with Meatloaf, Adam Lambert, and Queen as I make my way down the gravel back roads of rural Cass County. Not a pretty site or sound, but ours is a secluded farming area where the nearest house is half a mile away. Besides, singing at the top of my lungs makes the time fly, taking my mind off my weary feet.

So how did it go? Well, not being the most active of people, I admittedly wasn’t looking forward to giving up my musical motivation for the sake of someone else’s article. But I’m just that nice, so I did, all the while talking and reflecting to myself.

I can do this. Yes, it’s going to be boring and one of the longest hours ever, but Marchel would do the same for me. No, really. She would. Well, maybe.

The first half mile was uneventful. The noise of the gravel crunching seemed to echo across the cornfields. My first “aha” moment came when I realized I was looking around at my surroundings for the first time in a while. While I listen to music, I tend to stare at the ground, absorbed in the music.

Well, I’m to Kurzweil’s pig barn. That wasn’t so bad. I’ve seen a variety of birds any Audubon member would be thrilled to spot. The pig barn doesn’t smell too bad today, but I’m not downwind yet. Hmmm. What is that on the end of the ramp by the barn? It’s a dead pig. Ewww! Oh, if only I had my earphones and were staring at the ground. Could have gone all year without seeing that. Just look away. What’s on the other side of the road? Ah, yes. The lake. Very nice. Look at the beginning sunset glistening across the water. So peaceful. Almost takes my mind off the pig. 

By the time I’d gone another mile, I began appreciating the hidden gems behind the everyday sights and sounds. Where I first saw overgrown weeds at the side of the road were a variety of beautiful wildflowers. The hundreds of grasshoppers that first freaked me out jumped through the weeds, creating a wave of noise similar to a gentle rain. The sound of rushing wind turned out to be a flock of birds, gracefully soaring through the trees as one unit. I found myself playfully mooing at calves rather than belting out tunes.

In short, I enjoyed my time away from my MP3 player, for it gave me the opportunity to connect with and appreciate my surroundings. Well, other than the pig. That I could have done without.

Angie Olson—A Labor of Love 

Recently, I was leaving on vacation for a week with my family. I decided to give up the Internet for 24 hours as an act of living simply. I figured we’d be so active driving, hiking, biking, and so on that I wouldn’t have time for the Internet anyway, so the challenge didn’t feel too daunting. What I didn’t know was that within 24 hours of leaving our home, my son would break out in severe hives. We now think it was a reaction to some lobster he ate the first night of the trip.

At first, his mouth just itched, and we thought he got a bug bite. Then his mouth swelled. Then his whole face swelled. Then came the head-to-toe hives FOR SEVEN DAYS. In trying to figure out what was happening to him, there was no way I wasn’t going to hop on my laptop and investigate all the options that first day. I will confess; I am an Internet junkie. My work includes managing digital communications. I love watching trends with Web and social media. My son has other medical issues, and I have learned throughout our 12-year journey that the Internet can be my friend in helping to allay my fears and understand his condition. It also many times allows me to connect with people who are going through the same things.

So while I wasn’t able to give up the Internet for a full 24 hours, I did not spend nearly as much time on my computer during our week of vacation. I found that once I did my initial research, I really didn’t want to be on my computer, social media, or even texting with my friends. We ended up ditching our trip and coming home early because the hives were making my son so miserable. But I had committed to family time for the week and I stuck to that. Emails, texts, Facebook—all my normal modes of constantly staying in touch went by the wayside for the week. In some way I had my own little rebellion. If I couldn’t be in the mountains hiking and biking, then by gosh, I was going to spend all the time I could hanging out with my kiddos, snuggled up on the couch. I love having the Internet at my fingertips when I need and want it, but it was also fantastic stepping away from technology for a week. Sometimes, living simply comes because we are required to slow down and take care of the people we love.

Our challenge complete, each of us discovered that parting is not always sweet sorrow. The day helped us redefine what luxury truly is and that, sometimes, the simple things are priceless.