One of the most positive and life-changing decisions I made in my early 20s was to let go of my car and to move to downtown Annapolis where I rented a room in a rooming house. A friend of mine lived there and had for quite a while. The woman who owned the house rented it out week by week with no lease so that, if she decided she did not like you, she could ask you to leave with a few day’s notice. She lived on the main floor with her cats and rented out the rooms in the upper two floors. Mine was a small room with no air conditioning and my possessions totaled a dresser’s worth of clothes, a box of books, a Sony walkman, and a few cassettes.
I worked at the coffee shop around the corner and, if I wanted to get anywhere, I either walked, took the bus, or got a ride with someone. Most often, however, I walked. The whole point of living downtown was to live downtown, after all. I took public transportation mainly to get to the mall to see a movie or to go to the hapkido dojang (Korean martial art training hall). Occasionally, I would ask someone for a ride somewhere further or I would borrow a friend’s car to go visit my mom. Most of my time was spent at coffee shops or sitting by the docks listening to music and writing poetry, something I have not even thought about in years.
The really special thing I found by limiting my options like this was that it truly allowed me to know a place and myself in relation to that place. I got to know every street, alley, and sidewalk downtown. There are hidden gardens and mini public parks down small streets where cars cannot go. I met amazing people and had even better conversations or peaceful moments of silence with them. I found my passion and my voice at an open mic night that I helped to start and I found my solitude in the corner of a coffee shop with a cup of hot coffee and a good book. On a shoestring budget, I ate wonderful food and learned how to savor every bite. I wandered the streets in the daytime with newly made acquaintances and alone at night in the light of the moon. All of this was mine for a few hundred dollars a month and forty hours a week making lattes.
The abundance in our lives has made it so that, at a moment’s notice, we can go anywhere we want, with whom we want, and and we can do whatever we want to while we are there. We do not really need to make the most of our resources or our relationships because our options are seemingly limitless. Modern convenience offers us a wide breadth of choices, but our experiences often lack depth and meaning. Having limited resources or options, whether intentionally or unintentionally, forces us to be creative and it also forces us to get to know who we are, where we are, and who we are with. Limitations are the path to self discovery and transcendence.
– Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu