By Neesha Noronho
Neesha Noronha chronicles some stories of living lightly on Planet Earth.
Recently I have been rereading, Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown. One thing that she said is that in a culture of scarcity, we can often believe we’re “never extraordinary enough”. For me, a big theme of my life is to live lightly. This means to live in such a way that I leave a world that is as little damaged, ecologically or socially, as possible. Now there are thousands of ways I can do this – reuse plastic, use only public transport, buy organic. However, the effort to be extraordinary sometimes leaves me with too much stress/exhaustion, not enough joy and way too much self-righteousness. And that is so NOT living lightly.
In fact, not only is this not living lightly but recently I’ve begun to see how this theme of mine goes against other themes I hold dear. For example, I value ‘being beautiful’ which has nothing to do with physical beauty, but is a function of seeing with the heart, and acting with care and attention. Another theme is ‘being one’ which is about connecting and relating, rather than disconnecting and separating, which means that I haven’t been too helpful if I make others feel guilty or ashamed that what they’re doing isn’t enough.
So, one of the ways Brené suggests to counteract the scarcity mindset is to “honor the ordinary”. I realized that this idea could potentially encapsulate all three of my themes, beginning with living lightly. So I started paying attention to the little things that people do. Here are some.
• For the last 21 years that we’ve been friends, one of my best girl friends has only walked or taken the bus, and made me walk or take the bus any time we’ve been out. I could probably count the number of rickshaw or cab or car rides we’ve had together on one hand. It hasn’t mattered that she’s worked as an econometrist in the US and Australia, we still enjoy a walk and bus ride.
• There are many gannawalas (sugar cane juice vendors) where I live. My favourite still operates a hand crank and keeps the neighboring footpath and road cleaner than any other street. His sons aren’t necessarily distinguishable from the college boys he often serves. Often, any one of them volunteers to operate the crank for him. To top it all, he’s got a little temple going at the foot of the big tree.
• I have an uncle who retired from the Electric Corporation of India. For as long as I can remember, he and his wife have heated hot water on the stove for baths. This was much after reliable geysers and water heating machinery were available. He believed that the electricity would enable some children somewhere to have enough light to study.
• I currently live on the fourth floor. Every time I stand in front of the elevator door I remember my friend who takes the stairs. To this techie, it’s a good workout and more efficient than using the elevator, especially if it’s only for one person. I try to take the staircase more these days.
• When I was in Italy the sole of my shoe came off. Fortunately, my hosts are do-it-yourself types who had some heavy duty glue and a willingness to temporarily lend me a pair of work boots. I feel blessed to have at least three cobblers (mochis) within walking distance of home, and enough family and friends who share their belongings including washing machines, cars, formal clothing, and skills such as sewing, photography, baking, marketing, hair styling, and writing with me.
• A yoga client of mine was narrating how she’s been putting off fixing her shower. She’d heard that using a bucket for a bath resulted in less water used than a shower, and this was one way she knew to do her bit. I try to make my shower count.
• Just this afternoon a friend was saying how she’s been enjoying a break from her PR job and being a mom and making home-cooked meals for her grownup son everyday. Wistfully I said, “What a luxury”. And immediately I realized that it is both a little thing and a big thing. Moms around the world cook for their children, and thank heaven they do. Thank heaven for my mom.
So those are my little things. Supposedly little things. What if, as a culture, we stopped being ashamed of doing little things and began to honor them? For example, what if we all carry lunch in a tiffin box, take leftovers or a doggie bag back from a restaurant, reuse containers and plastic bags? Maybe, if we continued to do these little things, the big things wouldn’t be so necessary. Maybe some of the eco strategies, movements and activism of more recent times (e.g. www.lovefoodhatewaste.com and corporate social responsibility) would be redundant. What if it didn’t matter what our careers/professions are or our bank balance or status in society? What if how we do what we do everyday would be enough?
I used to think we could never do enough. However, five years ago when I travelled through Brazil I lived with a group called Pau e Lata, whose effort is artistic and pedagogic. They make and use percussion instruments from recycled materials to educate on a variety of topics. Considering that they’re well known enough in the city and state I was interested in learning from them. However, as it turns out they also learned from me. The surprising part is that they did not pick up on the bigger things, not the fact that I refuse plastic bags and carry a cloth bag for groceries or that I buy organic and local. The thing that struck them the most was that I always carry a water bottle, refill it at home and drink water rather than juices, cold drinks or beer. Sometimes the water had spices depending on health needs, but other than that it was just about plain and simple water. In retrospect, considering the amount of discarded water bottles we saw at the World Social Forum and the number of sessions on water rights, I’m not surprised. However, at the time I was surprised. It was such a basic, little thing.
So, I realize that people need to tell the little stories. People need to appreciate and notice the little things. People need to do the little things. So, go ahead, do one, do all. Do a little thing. Appreciate a little thing. Tell about a little thing. Go ahead and honour the ordinary.
About the author
Neesha loves sharing movement (through yoga, dance, capoeira and interplay) and sustainable food to build healthy, happy communities
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