Yesterday morning I was driving my three-year-old to nursery, taking a road that winds up through farmers’ fields. For a mile or two we were flanked by sheep-filled greenery, our presence being the only visible sign of human life. The wind rocked the trees violently, birds hung strewn in the air, caught on the stiff breezes that elevated them far above us. My eyes kept returning to the sheep. One knelt forwards on its front legs, positioning itself strategically in order to be able to eat more comfortably. A magpie perched on its back. Dotted about, absorbed in their single pursuit of consuming the grass, the sheep were completely oblivious to us, unaware of a world beyond their immediate one.
And so I began to think about the vast gulf between the sheep’s existence and our own, one that is infinitely more confusing, busy and chaotic. Much of the pressure we feel encumbered by is self-created, and I’ve been on a small mission over the last couple of years to disencumber myself as much as possible. Someone said to me recently that if you strip away all the bullshit, basically what we are about is waking up each day and feeding ourselves (and any dependents) three times, before going back to bed. A very simplistic description of the human experience but really, one that is true. All the additional layers that we weave in are not essential to our survival, but rather are there because we have achieved the basics and so have free time and energy to devote to complicating things (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).
Some of these complications, the additional extras, are nice. Holidays, for example, or meeting up with friends, indulging in a hobby or wandering around an art gallery. But lots of the tasks and activities that we set ourselves each day just cause us huge amounts of unnecessary stress, resulting in us bombing around like headless chickens in a desperate attempt to tick off everything we set out to do when we woke up.
The reason I’m writing this in a blog about my sober life is because when you add in all the needless, supplementary elements to modern life, you inevitably put yourself under stress. And when you do that, you tend to seek out relief. For many people, that relief comes in the shape of a bottle. A major part of my success in staying sober for (almost) five years is that I work hard at maintaining as stress-free a life as I possibly can. Sometimes life should just be about waking up, feeding yourself three times and then going back to bed.
It feels good to strip back the layers of complication and make things easy on yourself. Whether that’s making a change to your job, slowing down in your efforts to achieve perfection in everything, or not saying yes to every social invitation that comes your way, there are amendments we can all make to simplify our existence. Maybe not quite to the baseline of sheep, but a step back from the mayhem of the typical twenty-first century human experience can only be a good thing.