the freedom of repetition

Six days a week, I make the same lunch and carry it to work.  I know that the chips are in the basket on top of the refrigerator, the juice is in the door of the refrigerator, the cold pack is in the freezer, and the peanut butter is in the jar. If we haven’t had a chance to shop, I make something else…but for the most part I’m a creature of habit…freed by repetition.

I could, and often do, make this lunch in my sleep.  I eat my lunch in the same place everyday…at about the same time…always just about the same except for the wild turkey sightings and the occasional hawk.

What can I say?  I’m a postman…same is my middle name.  If boring things didn’t become automatic, I think I’d probably go insane.

Other people might say, “variety is the spice of life…why so much same?”….and it would be a good question.  Maybe I keep some things the same to free up the chance for variety in other parts of my life…maybe I’m just lazy and unimaginative…I don’t really know.

Helen and Scott Nearing, authors and simple living pioneers, believed in same.  Much of their life was routine….the same breakfast every morning, eaten out of a wooden bowl with a wooden spoon…the same chores season after season…but their lives were anything but boring.  They had a full life of necessary routine. Both of them lived to be reasonably old…Scott passed when he was 100 (by fasting)…and Helen died when she crashed her truck into a tree at the age of 91. They authored more than 50 books…built many stone structures on their Vermont homestead….lectured extensively…and somehow found the time to eat the same breakfast out of a wooden bowl every morning.

I’m not advocating repetition for the sake of repetition. I’m not saying that eating your breakfast from a wooden bowl is going to make you holy. What I am saying is that we have the ability to prioritize…and if our priorities take us towards something that is more important to us than eating a different sandwich 365 days a year that it’s nothing to apologize for. The “how could you live like that?” question could just as well be answered by saying, “how could you not live like that?”.  Choice is the final frontier…it’s the only real power we have anymore.

Helen and Scott wrote a book called “Living the Good Life” in the 1950’s.  It wasn’t called “Buying the Stuff to Get Real Simple” or “Gearing Up for Good”…it was just “Living the Good Life”…and it became kind an early primer for all the folks in search of an alternative way of living in the 60’s.  They balanced the conflicting worlds of living a quiet life…and of being spokespeople for quiet living.  It was their choice to live that life.

Many religious disciplines talk about repetition and getting closer to God by freeing your mind to concentrate on Him.  The “chop wood, carry water” approach is one of them…”pray without ceasing”…I’m sure there’s many others.  I don’t think that making the same sandwich every morning is my personal form of spiritual obedience…it’s not some strange peanut butter ablution that purifies me for the perfect communion of a day of delivering mail…it’s just making the familiar lunch every day so that I don’t nod off mid-route in a hypoglycemic coma. If any of the other stuff happens along the way…well, that’s just the GRAVY.

Helen and Scott Nearing lived a good and simple life by design. They “set the wheel in motion” and rode it all out until the end…and influenced generations with their philosophies….both by word and example.  The Nearings were consistent…and while many would say that the repetitive parts of their lives was boring and unnecessary, it was always real and in service to a life of thought and contemplation. I am going to have to really work hard at being more mindful when I’m smearing my thick layer of peanut butter on Monday if I’m going to catch up with them in that department.


About Peter Rorvig

I'm a non-practicing artist, a mailman, a husband, a father...not listed in order of importance. I believe that things can always get better....and that things are usually better than we think.

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