Busy Is a Habit

A few excerpts from The Abundance of Less by Andy Couturier.

“Maybe to someone else this would be terrible. But to me, I spent fifteen years traveling, and I was so satisfied doing that, when I came to this village I could live like this—” He looks around [at the barn he converted to a home] with a deeply contented and thankful expression—“I felt like I pulled off something terrific. When I quit my job, I worried so much that my life would be terrible when I got old. And it turned out this good!"

Outside, the snow has turned to rain, and with it’s gentle sounds on the roof Nakamura lays out some old futons for me to sleep on. As my body begins to warm up the bedclothes, the familiar tranquility of the Japanese countryside settles over me again, and, with the sounds of the river below and the rain falling on the roof, I drift off to sleep.

In the morning, when I awake, Nakamura is already up and making breakfast. Out the windows, mists are gathering and drifting on the dark green cedar forest across the rainy valley, looking like nothing so much as an old Chinese ink painting. On the cookstove, Nakamura is making some sticky bread muffins in a set of stacked bamboo steamers over a wok full of boiling water. The crackle of kindling reminds me again of Nakamura’s wood-centered life. At the table he is cutting updates and other dried fruits to add to our sampa, the Tibetan staple food made from toasted barley flour, a chunk of butter, and in Nakamura’s case, Awa bancha tea, all of which is then mixed into a paste. It’s not what I usually have for breakfast, but it’s warm and tasty, and the dried fruit makes the meal particularly delicious.

I look outside, and it seems like it might just keep raining all day. I ask Nakamura what he usually does on days like today.

“Sometimes I carve woodblocks, or read, but mostly, when I have nothing to just stare into the fire.” he says his face showing an expression of a person in the movement of flames flickering their mesmerizing dance.

I raise my eyebrows, and then he says with a smile, “Doing nothing all day- it’s difficult at first. Being busy is a habit, and a hard one to break.”

But then I think that perhaps such a life—very little production, very little consumption—might be an important part of the solution to the world ecological crisis.

As we look out at the clouds on the far mountains, I ask Nakamura: “Do you feel that you are living a life of luxury?”

“Luxury? No, not luxury. It’s an ordinary life. But I do feel an abundance, a sense of plenty. A hundred years ago I would not have been able to choose what kind of life to live. I feel very lucky to be living in this age.”

The Abundance of Less. Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Courtier. From the chapter “A Woodblock Craftsman Discovers Hand Work and the Heart”.