Bruce Lee and the Zen of travel
I’ve always been a bit minimalist - I like surfaces, and shelves that are easy to dust.
Frequently moving home tends to mitigate against any latent hoarding tendencies, you quickly realise that the less you have to pack then the easier moving gets.
A few years ago, I took a job in Japan - I moved from London to Kyoto.
I rented my small flat out on a long-term lease, and packed everything I owned into two suitcases.
As I lugged my suitcases onto the scales at the check-in desk at Heathrow airport, the friendly clerk pointed out that I was 10 kilograms over the luggage allowance for an economy class flight.
“If you want to pay the excess charge, let me see….” she said, quickly punching some numbers in to a calculator. “That would be an additional £400… Or, there’s a re-packing area just around the corner…” she advised sympathetically, no doubt registering the look of financial panic in my eyes. “You could try and reorganise things to bring it closer down to the limit.”
Crestfallen, I wheeled my bags around the corner, opened them up and stared at them blankly. 10 kilograms. I had to somehow make 10 kilograms disappear.
I threw out my snow-boots. I changed jumpers, and put on my biggest, heaviest jacket. I was sweating and I looked like the over-blown Michelin Man, but I just had to make it as far as the plane so it was worth a bit of short-term pain. My hiking boots - super-heavy but also essential. I ditched my trainers and wore my hiking boots - totally impractical for a long-haul flight but these were desperate times. I started throwing out some clothes - that sleeveless fleece I never liked; the gym shorts so small they were obscene. I went through my bathroom bag and threw out all the moisturisers and creams that I always meant to use but never did. Any essential electrical items I hid in the pockets of the jacket I was wearing. I was done.
I made my way back to the check-in desk and presented my re-packed luggage with trepidation.
“Thirty-one kilograms!” announced the clerk happily. “Let’s just call that thirty…” she smiled and winked at me.
Zen is an ancient school of Buddhist thought and meditation, so there are lots of strands of doctrine and interpretation. One of the common beliefs is that experiencing ‘a moment of awakening’ is part of the journey to enlightenment that we all must follow.
There may be other moments of awakening that await me in the future, but as my two suitcases were whisked away on a conveyor belt and I walked towards the departure gate, clutching my boarding pass, sweating profusely, it kind of hit me - my life weighed 30 kilograms.
Ryōan-ji temple in Kyoto has the most exquisite zen garden. The temple dates back to the 11th century, and the karesansui - dry landscape - rock garden is believed to have been constructed in the late 15th century.
It’s a delicately balanced combination of stones and white gravel, carefully raked each day by the resident monks.
There are various theories on what the garden is meant to symbolise, but the most common understanding is that the garden is simply a composition designed to facilitate meditation - the cornerstone of a zen lifestyle.
Japan does minimalism well. Generally this is driven by necessity - living spaces are small and often shared.
In Kyoto I was staying in a house which was a short walk south of the city’s central station. It was old-school tatami mats and futon mattresses. There was no storage space for anything. Each day when I woke up, I was greeted by my clothes spilling out of my suitcases out onto the floor of my bedroom. I began to realise that there were a lot of things there that I didn’t need.
Action movie superstar Bruce Lee once wrote:
“Not being tense but ready. Not thinking but not dreaming. Not being set but flexible. Liberation from the uneasy sense of confinement. It is being wholly and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”
A minimalist life doesn’t scare me. Travel liberates me. Change is the only constant we have. I’m ready Bruce, I’m ready for whatever may come.