During the 1830s, an American idiom “To see the elephant” entered the American vernacular. A fable revolved around a farmer who heard that the circus was coming to town. He had never seen an elephant and headed to town with his produce to see the elephant. Thus, a new metaphor was born referring to overcoming the adversities and hardships in one’s life, or to gain knowledge with actual experience.
I should’ve known that the Universe was telling me to “see the elephant” too when I lost a high-paying and stressful job a decade ago. Before that, my life was beginning to get off the rails due to the pressures of the job. I opiated it with lavish spending and luxuries. I took my significant earnings for granted, and the pink slip didn’t stop the abuse either. My lifestyle was gilt to the max. It was disgusting, to say the least, and describing it as exuberant is an understatement. Still, I continued with the pace of spending, which made me dependent on credit, making it worse. Indeed, I needed a massive intervention to make me really change.
Enter the thieves. These vagabonds broke into my place and stole like grand larceny while I was on a Vegas trip. Yes, I am not kidding, and the irony did not escape me, either. When I returned from the trip to discover this violation, I found that a lot of stuff I had worked hard for was gone. While I wasn’t too concerned about most of it, I was more saddened about losing my climbing gear. Those things were not cheap, and they meant a lot to me. Their haul included my first and only ice ax that I named “Esper” (short for “Esperanza”) which means “hope” in Spanish. She took me to my first mountain summit, saving my life during the process. Little did I know then that losing “Esper” was her last lifeline to me.
In retrospect, the theft was the exclamation point I needed to get me on to the right path of mercy and grace. It came in the form of simplicity. Ironically, the only disappointing thing about the theft is the annoying fact that they still left a lot of stuff behind. If they didn’t, that would’ve shortened my journey and saved me time and money to purge many of the things I didn’t need anyway. In the end, however, it all worked out since the decluttering process made Minimalism a truly satisfying catharsis and an ever-learning journey of self-discovery and growth.
I have always been “all in” about things and causes I am passionate about. Naturally, Minimalism ended up being a cause that I had dived into. Aside from the usual influencers of the movement featured in this journal, my family also played a role. They include my father, who has been a minimalist for as long as I can remember growing up, but I never really understood it until now. The other is my mother. She happens to be the complete opposite and continues to keep more things than she should.
So, there you go. My journey to Minimalism started with a crime. It was the catalyst for my detox from consumerism, which wasn’t too bad now that I look at it. Since then, I’ve been getting rid of more things, including luxury items. Half of the proceeds from the consignment went to many charities, and the rest paid off my debts. It felt good. I felt at peace. I learned to do without, and I was grateful for it. I also discovered that adopting essentialism, minimalism, and simplicity allows me to thrive in clarity, discipline, intention, mindfulness, and purpose to seek important causes beyond myself. It made my view on life much simpler.
With the clarity I gained from shedding my scarcity mentality, I found a new mission that could utilize my education. I stumbled on the global issue of wildlife trafficking and immersed myself in the cause to end it. As I grew my expertise and work on the subject, I coined the terms “Wildlife Terrorism” and “Extinction Economy” on the violence and commerce that kills wildlife species and the people who live among them. Then I engineered an NGO to abolish this commerce, resulting in meaningful collaborations with many partners and organizations in nearly every major wildlife conservation victory worldwide. As for those new terms I coined, they are now used by pundits today.
In his book War and Peace, written in 1869, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “the higher the human intellect goes in discovering more and more purposes, the more obvious it becomes that the ultimate purpose is beyond comprehension.” Indeed, my new purpose and curiosity brought me much needed intellectual and moral fulfillment. Minimalism is not only a lifestyle change but it also led me to become a better human being living among the other species on our fragile planet. The principles of living a life with intention made me a more committed self-trained naturalist in defending the planet’s wildlife species.
My work also took me to places and met people I could never have imagined. I found myself in city centers, conferences, corporate boardrooms, executive offices, government committees, lecture halls, legislative chambers, public plazas, social clubs, supper clubs, and on-field operations worldwide. In saving the wild, Minimalism made me realize that I must also adopt a plant-based lifestyle so that all species may simply live while treading lightly and ethically on all my endeavors and travels. I can’t, after all, save elephants if I cannot eat like one, so it made a lot of sense.
Looking back now, I can’t help but laugh at the simple irony that I traded my wild lifestyle for wildlife, which has made the difference I needed to live better. As I celebrate my ten years of applying simplicity and Minimalism into my life, I am forever grateful for those thieves who saved my life and, in doing so, also saved the lives of countless others in the wild. I can never thank them enough for stealing my things.
By choosing to be a Minimalist, it reconciles with my values of being an environmentalist. I realized that I couldn’t be an authentic environmentalist if I continued to live as a maximalist. Indeed, one of the values of living a minimalist life is to be my true authentic self, within and without. I sought to “save the elephant” but the proverbial elephant ended up saving me.