By Taiga Guterres
Originally posted on Ignatian Solidarity Network’s #JVReflects blog.
Kicking off my shoes after a long day of work, I drop my bag down in my room. I pull out my phone to check the time. There’s no internet or television in the house, so I climb onto the hammock and try to practice simple living and being present. I pull out my latest spiritual read, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.
This is what many of my friends assume is my life when I mention simple living and being a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize. On some days it isn’t too far off. My reality is that simple living is more complex than moving away from internet or technology or using less water and electricity.
Of the four values of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (spirituality, simple living, community, and social justice), it is the one that I thought about most externally. Should I bring my laptop to Belize? How about all my Harry Potter movies? Is that simple living?
Too often, I get caught up in the external ‘stuff’ that can mean simplicity. And if I’m honest, most of the time I categorize technology or expensive things as ‘not simple living.’ In doing so, I forget to internalize the beauty of simplicity.
“How do the people greet one another in the rural communities?” A man once asked me.
In the Q’eqchi’ Mayan language, you would say “Ma sa’laach’ool.” It translates to ‘is your heart content?’
Ah, that’s beautiful! But I was actually asking about their being! What do they physically do to greet one another?
I stopped to think about that. To me, they usually gave a handshake. After about two years, I can’t always tell if it’s because I’m a guest in these rural communities. I tried to recall different moments, different encounters of being in people’s presence. I couldn’t pick out anything else that was consistent about their greetings—it wasn’t common to see people greeting each other with hugs or kisses on the cheek. There was just…presence. They simply greet each other with their presence.
Simple—easily understood, undecorated, candid, frank, honest, sincere, unadorned. The internal journey of simple living is one where I am brought back to myself. Simple living is about more than minimizing the amount of things I use. It is about leaning into this life with understanding, with honesty, with humility, and with authenticity. As a result, I can live into my most genuine self, to become a better lover and to move with spiritual clarity. Simple living asks me to look at my inner emotions and desires with sincerity. To use a lens of understanding and love that does not judge.
Yes, sometimes that has meant minimizing the use of technology, but I realize now that it’s never been about that. It has always been about kinship. It has been about us belonging to one another. It has been about looking inward, instead of outward. On some days that will mean turning off my computer, and other days, it will mean putting my book away too. All this to fully receive the simple, raw presence of another, but on some days I fail. I fail to encounter another with open hands and an open heart. I get caught up in the busyness of living and working. I get caught up in doing instead of being.
This journey, and challenge, to live simply is to become more in tune with my humanity. It is to listen to the pregnant pauses, to welcome the raw grace upon grace, and to feel the divine pulse beating within you and me.
Taiga Guterres is a second-year Jesuit Volunteer who serves as a Retreat Minister in Punta Gorda, Belize. He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Health and Human Science and is from San Marino, CA.