For those in the know, Ev (as I’ll call him) was a successful blogger and writer on the subject of minimalism. His blog Far Beyond The Stars achieved national success and made Ev a fair amount of money through his information products. Earlier this year he chose to let it all go, opting for a different life path than what was laid out and expected of him by his fans. He admits he could have had a stream of writers publish guest postings as he continued to sell his e-books, but chose not to do so.
I think a lot of people were surprised at the decision, but some people incorrectly surmised was that he was very literally quitting minimalism. So instead of living with less than one hundred possessions, he was going to buy more stuff, furnish an apartment, get a car, and live a peaceful if conventional life. Personally I didn’t perceive that to be the case. From reading some of the articles that he wrote late in the process it became clear to me that it would have been far too great of a shift to turn back to his previous life. I think he would have announced it very differently if he arrived at that conclusion.
My own experiences with yoga and working with Integral theory also support that, if anything, there was a transformation of consciousness occurring over time that eventually bubbled up on a Web page and a three-minute video. The fact that he literally didn’t quit minimalism was confirmed in a blog post on his new site soon after its launch.
I also went through a similar process with minimalism at about the same time Ev did. Prior to writing about integral theory, I wrote for months on the subject of minimalism. I didn’t deliver the news of a change in the same manner as Ev did; instead I worked on it more subtly. Some of the same thoughts went through my head a couple of days before the video hit the Web. Only after sitting with the experiences was I able to understand what Ev and I went through without having an emotional reaction to it.
Ken Wilber has something to say about this. In his book Up From Eden, he describes two processes when it comes to personal growth and consciousness: transformation and translation. Both have the meanings you would expect. Transformation implies a deep change in bodymind structures, while translation is a change in the approach within a given bodymind structure. Wilber describes both in relation to each other with a metaphor of an apartment building. Transformation is when you move up or down a floor in the apartment building, while translation is where you rearrange everything on the floor. Relative to the magnitude of Ev’s shift, the experience of walking away from minimalism was a transformative one. Moving away from the term “cybernetic yogi” in his current work is more of a translation.
The difference between translation and transformation can also be defined relative to each other. Once a transformation has occurred, your bodymind structures do the translations based on the new information the bodymind is working at. Thus we’re translating all of the time, but to do transformational work means we’re retrofitting how we translate in each and every moment.
All of this serves a purpose. Why did Ev transform his career bodymind from one of being a minimalist to being one of a technologist? There are several possible triggers of the transformation outside of instant enlightenment. To be fair this is only my perception of what happened and how this can be achieved in every practice we undertake. Keep in mind I’m also working with a very small sample size, namely one event and a few blog posts.
Full integration. Enough experiences and sustained effort can make any practice unconscious and effortless. In this case Ev has been diligently working on minimalism for so long, it’s part of his bodymind now without any thought. One post in particular on Far Beyond the Stars appears to be a contributor. A similar parallel is riding a bike. Once most people learn to ride a bike, it’s difficult to learn how not to ride one. It’s true that some of the bike technology changes (e.g. lever shifters to grip shifters to newer ones on the handlebars/brakes) but the general principle of how to ride a bike holds true.
Completion of the path. It’s possible that Ev experienced everything on the minimalist path or saw the end of it. Another example of this is college: once you graduate or drop out, that’s the end of the college path at that specific point. While you can start on the college path again, you’re certainly transformed for better or worse due to the experience. Granted, I perceive the minimalist path a little differently, but everyone can still walk the minimalist path after experiencing it the first time.
Expanded worldview and/or deeper realization of purpose. While Ev was working through minimalism and on his yoga practice, some other event occurred along the way that changed the way he looked at the world and his reason for incarnating on it. It may have been a quick hit or it unfolded over time, but something external to this particular conversation may have made him realize that there’s something he’s supposed to be doing that doesn’t focus on writing about minimalism. Standing in a hotel parking lot at 3:30am asking who we are qualifies as a good example here. Frequently you may hear of practitioners of meditation, yoga, tai chi or other martial arts experience similar transformations as they work with their practices. Other significant life changes (e.g. divorce, major illness, etc) fall into this category.
Running out of material. More objectively, it’s possible that after a while one can run out of things to contribute. Once people are on the minimalist path, eventually they realize that there is an asymptotic limit to the extent of minimalism. The extreme limiting case is asceticism: minimal possessions, friends, and everything else. Most people hit a sweet spot well before that happens unless a forced change occurred (e.g. a fire destroys everything you own). Ev may be hinting about this when he states all that is needed to become a minimalist is to rent a dumpster*.
Ev’s leadership bodymind structure. It’s possible Ev is not meant to be a leader of large numbers of people. Transforming an entire community or city of people takes work, and it requires a different skill set than being on the sharp end of a small movement. As movements and organizations get bigger, more infrastructure is required to maintain the momentum. As a consequence its leaders tend to move away from the smaller details and towards a high-level view. That’s why C-level executives appear not to care about small logistical issues and challenges. My example is simple: I formed a Toastmasters group at work and was its first President. Leading 35 people in an executive role is much different than either being a technically oriented leader of eight co-workers or being the CEO of Google. Ev’s insistence on working with small numbers of people through his letter may indicate this may be true, but I can’t confirm it myself except through his basic philosophy.
Market mechanics. Ev admits this one, though I think there’s a better article out there. Even though he admits FBTS was his first business, he may turn out to be a shrewd businessman. Back in 2008 when he started writing Far Beyond The Stars, there was a demand for someone to write about minimalism. As he became one of the Great Internet Success Stories, more and more people started writing about minimalism in their own way. While this is certainly desirable – each of us has our own way of communicating that can inspire and move others – the minimalism market in late 2010 or early 2011 may have reached a saturation point even though he was one of the market leaders. The book Blue Ocean Strategy details this well from a business perspective. It’s better to swim in clear blue water where there is little competition instead of “red” water tainted by the blood-letting of market mechanics at their finest (their words, not mine).
Putting it Together
What do the transformation triggers mean? My sense is that most if not all of the reasons for moving from minimalism detailed above are linked with each other. One possible story that we can put together about Ev is that by doing market research and writing, he found that there wasn’t much to write about due to a lot of people writing about minimalism. Once that became apparent, he sat with it and contemplated the deeper meaning of it all. Then he realized that there is a deeper meaning to his minimalist path and integrated it all in, leading to his next great adventure. This is one possible storyline, and it may not be the correct one (I doubt it is). What is important is that while it can appear one event caused a shift, it is very unlikely that only one trigger caused a leap in a case like this.
For my minimalism practice, the specific trigger point occurred a couple of days before Ev released his video. The specific transformation trigger for me was the realization that I was going to run out of material to write. I had seen the path for what it was earlier – something that is always available and a practice instead of a movement – but that does not mean that I have infinite material to put on a blog. Sitting with the realization of generating material led me to understand that being on the minimalist path was necessary and that it is a part of the bigger picture of my purpose. I don’t feel the need to be a professional organizer, but I can sense that minimalism is part of an overall body of work that I’m called to teach. Everett may or may not have the same feelings, but I gather that he had a similar conversation with himself.
For you, the reader, there are a couple of things to take away from this analysis. First, the awareness of transformation triggers can serve as solace that something is happening and that you’re not certifiably crazy. It is very stressful and confusing to be in situations where your family and friends cannot relate to what is going on within you. From this awareness the clarity can develop on the next actions and the people you must seek to assist you in your transformation. Second, note that transformation can get confusing and messy. Transformation implies a rewriting of one’s bodymind structures. The proverbial cart is being upset; this can lead to some highly charged and stressful times. One important consideration is that the knowledge gained will always remain once the transformation is complete. For example, you can choose to stop being a minimalist after time while retaining the lessons and knowledge from being on the path. Ev and I are still minimalists, and we still keep our lessons in mind, but it’s now unconsciously a part of our bodymind structure. Finally, resisting transformation is detrimental to your bodymind structures. Refusing to acknowledge that a trigger has arrived indicates that you can be struggling or stagnating with change, which doesn’t serve you or anyone else on the planet. Ev could have resisted the transformation away from minimalism by keeping FBTS alive, but he intuitively knew he would have been miserable if he kept things going the way they were. I could have continued to write about minimalism, but the post rate would have dried up and the blog would have died.
Minimalists and bloggers alike, Everett Bogue and I have not quit minimalism. We’re not running around in Hummers and owning five-bedroom houses. Instead we realize and honor its experiences on the path and will use them in our future endeavors. I hope that our experiences can help you in your endeavors to transform.
* While the dumpster path is very shocking and transformative, it’s not earth- or community-friendly. Consider donating, recycling, or paying it forward whenever possible.
image credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center