A young man, aspiring to become enlightened, was climbing a steep mountain path one day when he came across an old monk carrying a heavy sack. With nothing more than a glance, the young man could tell that this old monk had achieved enlightenment, his awareness, his presence, his inner peace emanated from below the woven sack.

“Sir … I can see from the look on your face that you possess the inner peace I seek … please, can you tell me, what does it feel like to achieve enlightenment?” He asked the old Monk once he was within earshot. The monk nodded his head with a smile, but didn’t say a word. Instead, he simply lowered the heavy sack to the ground and slowly stood up straight, stretching and smiling, joyful to be free from the burden.

“I see … but … what comes after enlightenment?” The young man asked next. The monk smiled and nodded again, before hunkering back down and hoisting the heavy sack back onto his back and continuing on his way.  

Two years ago this month, my wife and I piled what was left of our belongings into a “Pod,” locked the doors of the house we called home in Massachusetts, and set out for Georgia. Our plan was simple: to find a simpler life we could enjoy.

Months earlier, she had moved to upstate New York, some five hours away, to care for her terminally ill mother. I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree a few months prior, and through a bit of excellent luck, had secured a comfortable corner office gig as the regional HR manager for a aerospace defense contractor. I hated the job, but the pay kept us afloat, helped out with bills up North, and filled my tank to make the five hour drive each Friday night to see my wife and spend time with her family, who over the years, had become mine as well.

It was a trying time for both of us, and when her mother passed away, comfortably in her own living room as she’d always hoped, Jamie, her step-father, and I sat there in the room alongside her for hours, waiting for the one ambulance in the area to arrive. When it did, one man (clearly not a paramedic) emerged and with a bit of trepidation, asked if one of us could help move Jan’s body. This was not a job for a daughter, nor was it a job for a husband. Before any discussion could begin, I stood and asked them both to leave the room for this part. It wasn’t the first time I’d helped move a body, and I knew all too well how strange it can be to see the shell of a person you once knew in that state.

Jan’s passing was tragic, but as she left this world, she granted my wife and I one more parting gift: perspective. Two weeks later, with most of our belongings in a dumpster, we set out for Georgia, where the cost of living was lower, and I had a brother that had opened his guest room to us. Once settled, I’d take my shot at writing for a living, and Jamie, who had previously been a high-paid technology recruiter for companies like Raytheon, would take over nanny duties for my nephew. At the time, we were under the impression that we might not be able to have kids of our own, and in her mind, it was a great opportunity to play a positive role in another child’s life.

But most important of all, it was to be a less stressful lifestyle. We weren’t going to let how much money we made dictate our happiness anymore: we were going to live within our means, and find joy in the simplicity of life.