Simple Living in 2021 — Lessons from Kamo no Chōmei

depiction of Kamo no Chōmei by Kikuchi Yōsai (1781–1878)

“So briefly rests the dew upon the bush clover

Even now it scatters in the wind.”

-death poem of Lady Murasaki from the Tale of Genji (c.1010) reflecting on the brevity of her own life

A new year is upon us. The tumultuous year 2020 has begun to fade into the background, though the international pandemic and related crises remain. The past decade has seen the emergence of two phenomena that can be immensely impactful — allowing people to live meaningful lives with less : minimalist living and the tiny house movement. The Minimalists — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus — just released a new documentary on Netflix called Less Is Now which focuses on the former. In it they detail their shift towards more meaningful lives. Living more intentionally, however, goes back way before the emergence of minimalism as a noticeable phenomenon over the past decade. Japanese monk and recluse Kamo no Chōmei (c.1155–1216) lived a minimalist lifestyle in a tiny house outside Kyoto in a time of war, famine, and natural disaster. His lifestyle developed as the result of his reflection on the calamities which befell Japan during his lifetime. He was one who reflected on living with less because people had less, and because of the anxiety so many experienced worrying about their possessions in a city doomed by warfare, fires, and earthquakes. Kamo no Chōmei’s vision of living with less was prophetic and remains deeply relevant in the world of today in which a deadly pandemic has altered the way of many of us live our daily lives.

my step count for the previous few days — walking is essential to health