Embracing minimalism

In the 28 years of my life, I’ve had trysts with radically different ideas of how to best live life. These ideas have changed with time. This is a history of some of them that have fascinated me over time. My latest fling is minimalism, but before I get to that, a bit of context.

Art of Living

When I was in first year of college, I joined a course called YES!+ which changed my life at the time. I discovered meditation and found an identity among like-minded people who wanted to explore spirituality, but not in the old traditional way of going to temples and listening to boring bhajans.

Bawa and Dinesh, leaders within Art of Living and the creators of the course, designed it to be one hell of an emotional roller coaster. I was so convinced that this was the right path, that I convinced even the most rebellious of my friends to join the course (Amit Sangwan, I hope you read this!).

I eventually started volunteering in courses and we had a tight gang of YES!+ people who’d spend most of our time together. These were genuinely good people, the bad stigma against Indians that had been indoctrinated into me in Nepal faded away quickly and I generally felt like I was in the right place.

This changed during the Advanced YES!+ training in the Bangalore Ashram. Back in college, my friends used to tease me while doing the Sudarshan Kriya and other breathing exercises in my room. I felt challenged to prove them wrong, the light feeling at the end of the meditation felt really good. Who were they to tell me what was right and what was wrong?

But at the Bangalore Ashram, there was so much unquestioning devotion to the guru that I started to feel uncomfortable. There seemed to be logic in everything, but somehow it didn’t all feel right. We were told that we should greet each other by saying Jai Gurudev. We were told that Jai Gurudev isn’t an ode to the Guru but it means victory to the big mind over the small mind. This got me thinking because the wordplay was just too smart.

At the end of the course, I got an opportunity to hug Sri Sri Ravishankar and that was it, the end of my journey with Art of Living. I realized that my guru was just another man, a wise one, but not someone I could devote my whole life to. I just couldn’t digest morality served on a platter anymore. I had to find my own way.

Ayn Rand

I was going through all these questions in my mind when a friend introduced me to Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead. The book blew my mind! Howard Roarke was my new hero and Ellsworth Toohey the villain of humanity.

As usual, I found detractors to her ideas and that only made my convictions stronger. After reading Atlas Shrugged, I became a huge fan of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. As with Art of Living, the narrative was simple and one-sided, easy to digest. This was right and this was wrong. Capitalists are the heroes and communists should all die. If the world didn’t listen, then the motor of the world had to be stopped.

Over time, I grew wary of the pure black and white characters that Ayn Rand portrayed.

There is a lot of grey in people, just look at the ashes when we burn a dead person.

If you liked the quote that I just conjured up, read it once again. At first it seems like a nice simile, but it doesn’t make logical sense. This is what I learned from Ayn Rand, to think critically and go beyond initial appearances of people and words.

Becoming an engineer

I think I became a much more mellow person after all these experiences in college. I’d take every lecture, every conversation and every idea with a grain of salt. Over time, I was learning how to balance trust with skepticism. On the whole, philosophy took a backseat. I started reading technical books related to computer science. Code quality, xtreme programming and software engineering mattered more than lofty questions of morality. To become a better person, I had to become a better engineer first.

What’s all this got to do with minimalism?

Hold your horses, soldier. We’re getting there.

As I started earning money, things started to fall in place. But at the end of 3.5 years of working my ass off, I realized I had no savings. I had no idea where the money went and my lifestyle was no better.

This got me thinking about how financially illiterate I was. I thought that my problem was not knowing how to do accounts. But when I started watching videos related to personal finance, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Leaders like Robert Kiyosaki and Warren Buffet and hundreds of youtubers were essentially saying the same thing — buy what adds value to your life, and nothing else. Buy assets, not liabilities. Don’t be afraid to give away what you don’t need. Simplify your life.

These simple ideas have turned out to be so powerful. The value of minimalism became even more ingrained when I visited Japan in June. Except in their toilets, the Japanese have taken the idea of minimalism to the extreme. Japanese offices and hotels weren’t cluttered like those in Nepal. Technology is always there but hidden from sight. The art of zen — if you are nothing, you can be anything — makes a lot of sense.

So this is where I am right now — trying to simplify my life more and more, everyday. Removing the clutter has given me a lot of freedom. I slowly started to realize how much baggage I was carrying, how much stuff I had that didn’t add any value at all to my life.

I can afford the latest flagship phone, but I know from my friends’ experiences that its a slippery slope. I’d rather invest on the latest Microsoft Surface laptop (asset because I’m a programmer) than a smartphone (liability because I’m not into clicking photos and social media). This kind of thinking will hopefully give me direction as I grow in my life and career.

But as with every kind of lifestyle that I’ve been fascinated by, maybe this is a passing phase. I believe that every lost fascination leaves its footprint. I don’t subscribe to Sri Sri Ravishankar’s teachings, but I still meditate when I’m stressed. I might not swear by Ayn Rand, but she taught me the value of critical thinking.

The more I explore new ideas, the more open I become to newer ideas. As I let go of life’s baggage, I hope to share some of these stories as I’m going through the experience, rather than in retrospect.