Living Below The Line ~ a week on $10

As I wake to the gentle sounds of the rain falling outside, I contemplate boiling water to make a cup of tea or coffee I do not just walk to the kettle on autopilot out of habit. My body tells me “not yet” – so I will wait.

I reflect upon the last five days and do so watching a perfectly timed show of ‘Masters of Chocolate’.

I will not be cliché and say the challenge changed my life.  It didn’t. Im not leaving my job to head to Cambodia and set up a school (not tomorrow anyway). I’m not going to become a vegetarian (for the hundredth attempt). And I’m not going to give up coffee now that I am past the headaches and realise how much money it costs (that challenge is not tempting even in the slightest).

I will be cliché and tell you how it changed my perspectives. This challenge made me realise:

1. That basic food is very nourishing;
2. The food itself can be delicious without adding many things;
3. Food, drinks and meals are our connection between one another;
4. We are a nation pre occupied with talking about food and watching things about food;
4. We live in a nation consumed with wasteful eating habits;
5. Between 8am and 11am virtually everyone in the city is walking and holding a cup of coffee (a few times I would walk uncomfortably close to people just to smell their coffee – I concede it’s creepy);
6. Food is sometimes no more than a comfort and sometimes very hard to resist (I inadvertently made a comment to a senior person at work that I wanted to lick the icing on the cake as he cut through it in the kitchen, virtually whilst drooling – he wasn’t impressed);
7. I should be generally making more conscious decisions about what I consume and how much is really needed; and
8. People are generous, thoughtful and willing to assist (particularly on the day I forgot my lunch and had to wait until dinner to eat – my dinner of pasta and tomato sauce tasted amazing that night!)

The challenges were honestly minimal.
Once I had made my purchases the Sunday before, the wheels were set in motion. The habit of popping into the local breakfast spot on the way to work required readjustment of my autopilot morning routine. But overall the biggest challenges were:

1. Everyone asks ‘how hungry are you’ while you spent all morning not counting the hours, minutes and seconds to lunch;
2. After you have reasoned that your meal is great and will fill you right up, everyone asks ‘what did you eat’ followed with ‘you must be starving’… only a subtle reminder that your stomach will start rumbling in 20 minutes;
3. Staying focused. When you are limiting your range of food (ie no meat or fruit – my budget didn’t allow for them), my body was crying in terms of headaches and fatigue. I substituted long food lunches for walks to occupy my mind and tummy to assist to refocus;
4. Having to reschedule or deflect all coffee / drinks / lunch and dinner invitations;
5. You grieve – for the loss of food choice; for the loss of freedom of just grabbing a coffee or chocolate; for missing the tastes of flavours that dance upon your palate; for the comfort of enjoy a well made coffee slide down your throat like silk, warming your insides.

On the positive:
1. Your awareness to intake is heightened. You become mindful of what you need and not simply what you want;
2. Your sense of smell is heightened and you appreciate the aroma of coffee and cooking in a different way;
3. Your body learns to crave food only when it’s actually hungry and not because ‘i’m feeling stressed so I need a coffee’…
4. You become aware of different challenges people face. Not just those who cannot eat but it opens your eyes generally to people around you and all sorts of challenges they face. It motivates you to want to simply be part of a solution.

On that note, I will end this piece by telling you about the interactions I had with a homeless man on days 4 and 5 on my challenge.
It was a ridiculously cold morning and there was a man sitting outside my work. He had all the hallmarks of being homeless. I saw him sitting there – silently and with his head down. I was aware of the feelings of hunger on a much more minimal scale but I knew where my next meal was coming. Scooping out two $1 coins, I approached him and said “good morning sir” and handing the money to his hand. “Wow” he responds, “thank you so much! I can get something warm this morning. It was so cold last night.” I agree that it is very cold and not a pleasant morning. He then looks at my feet – out of habit to and from work I wear thongs. He exclaims “they aren’t shoes! You should wear proper shoes! You are going to get sick!” I thank him for his kind shoe advice and wish him a warmer day. The following day he is there, in the same spot and in the same state. I again approach him and give him another $2 after our good morning banter. He looks at my feet and recognises me – “Still in thongs?! Wear sandals at least – you will really get sick!” His thoughtful observations touch me.

I am fortunate. I will continue to do what I can, when I can to try and make a difference in another’s lives. One very important lesson I keep in my pocket is that I never underestimate the impact we all have one the lives of another – lets aim to make those impacts, regardless of how small, a positive one!

~ F.P

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