MeSimple Inaugural Symposium Gets to Simple, Naturally
By Amanda Eggert
“Simple” and “easy” are not the same thing—in fact, for some, simplifying their life is the hardest thing that they’ve done—so it helps to have inspiration and instruction from people who have already committed to that change. Speakers at MeSimple’s inaugural symposium on April 25th shared wisdom gleaned in nature and described periods of transformation that have allowed them to live a life that is—in the words of keynote speaker David Romtvedt—rich with a “deep intimacy” to the things that matter most.
Cultivating this intimacy is more important than ever. In many ways, we are hyper-connected—it seems there’s always something or someone demanding our attention—but this often leads to a chronic depletion of one of our most precious resources, time. The symposium was powerful because it reinforced the importance of fostering life-giving connections and created an opportunity for attendees to meet others following that path.
About 160 people attended the symposium, which took place in downtown Boulder, Colorado at eTown Hall, a recently renovated community center and world-class music facility that served as a church for the better part of a century.
The symposium speakers, a diverse group of entrepreneurs, musicians, filmmakers, writers and outdoor skills specialists, were tasked with answering a vital question posed by poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The question resonates strongly with symposium host and MeSimple founder Scott Edwards, a successful entrepreneur who has been exploring the benefits of a simplified life inspired by his time spent in nature.
A Life Transformed
Several years ago, entrepreneur Colin Wright gave up an over-scheduled “champagne lifestyle” in L.A. to pursue a pared-down—but still vibrant—life as a writer and international traveler. Wright, who created a popular blog about his experience called Exile Lifestyle, discussed strategies and guiding philosophies that have served him throughout this transition.
Wright’s openness to risk and willingness to let go of unnecessary baggage (both literal and figurative) have served him well. Wright is a proponent of minimalism, an approach to life he defines as “identifying your core values and then focusing time, energy and money on those things that really make you happy and fulfilled.”
A video of Wright’s speech, as well as the symposium ’s other speeches and performances, will be available online in July along with a highlight reel of interviews between symposium attendees and master of ceremonies Ryan Van Duzer.
During breaks in the day, Van Duzer asked attendees what simplicity means to them. A sample of their responses: “paying attention, bringing my mind and my heart to [the present]”; “it’s an internal thing where you’re not as burdened with stress, with things that are really outside of what it is to be a human being”; “getting rid of distraction”; “not being in conflict with the environment, but working in harmony with it”; “doing work that is meaningful”; “getting the clutter out.” For one attendee, it’s a mindset: “if you really enjoy [what you’re doing] and you’re being fulfilled, your life is simple.”
Between sets of original piano music inspired by his home in the high plains of Montana, professional musician Philip Aaberg noted, “One of the geniuses of this day is that a lot of people are saying a lot of the same things in completely different ways. There is really only one thing that I know for sure: there has never been anyone in the history of the world like you—and there never will be, so we might as well be ourselves, huh? That’s the story.”
For Aaberg, a life that more fully reflected his unique gifts involved playing concerts of his own music, spending more time trout fishing, and eradicating the writing of jingles from his work. Aaberg, who has played with musicians like Peter Gabriel and Elvin Bishop, gave himself one year to make the transition. It was tough at times—he weathered six months of depression while adjusting to playing for smaller crowds out of the Hollywood limelight—but those days are behind him now and he’s created the space in his life to do what he really enjoys.
Ushi Patel’s insights into a life well lived were gleaned during a year she took off from a fast-paced life as a San Francisco branding and design professional. She was careening toward burnout when she decided to slow down and spend more time—at least a little bit every day—in nature. Her time off energized a sleeping talent inside her. I am a poet, she realized.
After sharing several poems from a recently published collection, Patel reflected on her life now. She’s still incredibly busy, but she has found professional work that more closely aligns with her values. She works exclusively with businesses that positively impact the world, and this has made all the difference. She’s also discovered where to go when she feels upset, sad, or lost: back to nature.
What Nature Teaches Us
What is it about time outside that affects us so profoundly? We can explain it scientifically—we can talk neurotransmitters and stress hormones—but we don’t need to know the mechanisms to appreciate the effect, suggested Kris Abrams, a Boulder-based psychotherapist and shamanic healer. Abrams asked us to reflect upon a truth we already know intuitively: time in nature heals.
Her understanding of this fact centers upon this truth: “Nature helps you to connect more with who you really are—the core you, the authentic you. That authentic you is wise and joyful and it knows what really matters in life, what your priorities are. Nature is an invaluable ally, teacher and guide in helping you to create the life that you really want.”
Nature doesn’t just bring us back to center when we’re stressed out and lost; it also shows us what we’re capable of when we dig deep and call upon our inner resources.
Kirsten Rechnitz, an instructor at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School in Utah, believes there’s inherent value in “fully engaging with life and the inevitable adventure of the unknown.”
“Some of us are hungry in the pit of our stomachs to know what we’re capable of,” said Rechnitz, who has appeared on Capture, a reality television competition focused on wilderness survival. She’s found that taking advantage of the challenges presented by the outdoors makes it easier to face our fears, take risks, and experience personal growth in other areas of our lives.
Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to integrating nature and simplicity into daily life. Robin Blankenship, founder of Earth Knack Stone Age Living Skills, said the trick is to find ways to combine time-tested wisdom from our ancestors with appropriate modern technologies.
“We have choices about how we find the fulfillment of that empty space that many people living the modern lifestyle feel. And we all go about it in different ways, but nature really does hold the key,” she said. “You’re walking around in this amazing, amazing form that needs the out of doors to feel itself fully, wholly happy.”
Romtvedt, a Wyoming-based poet, professor and windmill mechanic, offered this summary as the day’s takeaway message in his keynote speech: “I think the big deal is to gain a life that has a high degree of intimacy.” An intimate relationship—whether it’s with a person or a landscape —that’s the vital connection we seek, “a life vivified” that we experience more directly by simplifying.
It’s an elegant concept, but how do we manage the on-the-ground complexity surrounding it? How do we know what to eliminate and where to start? Each of the speakers illuminated a step in the process. I think an integrated vision of their recommendations looks something like this:
- – Humans are built to spend time in nature. Science has proof that when we don’t, our bodies and minds aren’t healthy. Time outside reduces stress and increases creativity, clarity and connectedness.
- – Clarity gained outside helps us to define what is truly valuable in our lives. 20 minutes a day in nature can organize our thinking and help us to solve day-to-day problems.
- – The deeper we go into the natural world the more profound the changes in our life. If you are ready for real transformation, keep hiking when the trail ends.
- – Nurture the meaningful relationships in work, at home, and with things that add value to your life. Cut the clutter and pack light.