There is an idea that there is always something better to do, something better to have, somewhere better to be, someone better to be with. Solving the problem, I have sometimes allowed myself to believe, just requires buying something (and using planetary resources).
The problem is that when I get the better thing, it turns out that there is, yet again, something better to do, something better to have, somewhere better to be, someone better to be with. This is what the positive psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill”—a gerbil’s merry-go-round that never gets me to the happiness I hope I might find.
I was reading Jack Kornfield’s After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. In it, Kornfield tells a story about an old Chinese man at a water-well. He lowers a bucket tied to a rope, and slowly pulls the water up, hand over hand. A young man comes by holding a pulley and proceeds to explain how it would make the old man’s work easier.
The old man says, “If I use a device like this, my mind will think itself clever. With a cunning mind, I will no longer put my heart into what I am doing. If my heart is not in my work, my work will be joyless. When the work is joyless, how do you think the water will taste?”
I don’t think it is the use of the pulley that takes away the joy, but the frame of mind of the young man which never stays in the present but constantly defiles it by looking for an easier, better, more enjoyable way. When my wife and daughter eat the bread I cook, not only are they sustained by the wheat, but also, I like to think, by the fact that I baked for them.
There is no electricity and therefore no electric bread machine during the No Impact Man project. One of the things I think the project has offered me—that my previous unconscious consumerism did not—is a glimpse of the freedom that comes with no escape. There’s nothing I can buy to try to make things better. Since I’ve had to make the bread by hand, I’ve had the chance to enjoy it rather than try to escape it.
What I guess I’m driving at is that buying less stuff may not just be better for the planet. It may be better for me too. If I seek to escape the bread-making with a bread machine, then my bread-making will be joyless. When my bread-making is joyless, how do you think my bread will taste?
Click here if you want to read more about the satisfactions I’ve found in making bread, or if you want my sourdough recipe. Click here if you want to read more about the joys I’ve discovered in doing chores.
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