The American beauty effect

A couple of days ago I had an open-minded conversation with a friend of mine in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Mexico in the hostel where I’m working for.


I told my friend that I wanted to write about how reliving “giving up” can be. I mentioned an example from a Buddhist book.


Well, his answer let me think...

It reminded me about the more we have the more we fear to lose. I call it the “American Beauty” effect. Well, and  everyone who lived for a while in a shared apartment while studying or whatever will probably remember how it was to live simple and pragmatically :-).



Asteroids and robbed apartments

I sat with my Mexican friend on the roof top in my hostel in San Cristóbal de las Casas and we were waiting for an asteroid shower. Another lovely friend of mine told me about it.

The roof top was at this time more like a construction, but the view over the city was priceless. My friend and I took some cushions and a woolen blanket to make it comfortable for us. He took his phone and turned on music (Mexican band Santa Sabina). We laid on our backs, watched the stars and waited.

I told him I would like to write about my experience how reliving it can be to give up and told him the following example from a book I read and that I tried out this technique in some situations:

“Imagine that you come home one day after work to find your door smashed open, hanging in onto its hinges. You have been robbed. You go inside and find that everything you own has vanished. For a moment you are paralyzed with shock, and in despair you frantically go through the mental process of trying to recreates what is gone. It hits you: You have lost everything. Your restless, agitated mind is then stunned, and thoughts subside.

And there is a sudden, deep stillness, almost an experience of bliss. No more struggle, no more effort, because both are hopeless. 

Now you just have to give up; you have no choice. […] your mind is resting in a deep state of peace. When this kind of experience occurs, do not immediately rush to find solutions. Remain for a while in that state of peace. Allow it to be a gap. And if you really rest in that gap, looking into the mind you will catch a glimpse of the deathless nature of the enlightened mind.” 

–The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, page 129ff

When I first read this example I had to think about my apartment in Germany and how worse it would be if I come home and all my stuff would be gone. Honestly, I don’t miss it. Anyway, I sold the most of it. 

Simple and authentic

My friend said in Spanish:”Hmmm, for me the most important thing someone could rob from my apartment would be my bass guitar…” and he laughed. 


I have to mention that my friend lives very simple. He lives in a comfortable house with his three brothers. He is a musician and works also as actor together with his three brothers. All four have longer hair than I :-). When I visited my friend during my stay in San Cristóbal a fifth guy was temporarily there who slept on a mattress on the floor in front of my friend’s room. 

My friend had in his room a mattress on the floor, one small cupboard on the wall with some personal items, a small lamp beside his bed and a black pottery skull from Oaxaca.  In the skull he put always a burning incense stick when I visited him and on his phone he turned on music (mostly the band Santa Sabina).

In one corner leant his bass guitar against the wall. The most valuable material thing in his room like he said.


His room was simple and cosy. It felt authentic. The opposite of controlled and perfect. 


I liked the atmosphere in his room. It suited me very well during my stay in San Cristóbal which is honestly not my place to be. The post about it is coming soon.


Happiness with a sandwich maker and a balcony as fridge in the winter

My friend’s answer to the example about the robbed apartment reminded me about my own development when I moved from my shared apartment into my own one in Germany.

More needs more work...?

My first thing in my kitchen was a sandwich maker! I loved it and used it quite often. Later it became one of these things we buy and do not use it anymore, like a bread machine that is for the first three or four breads nice but after it just a magnet for dust and takes lots of space… But we buy it because we needed it so badly (?).

During the first two months I did not have a fridge in my apartment. Fortunately, I moved in during deep winter. Therefore I just put all my food in the snow on my huge balcony. A balcony I never used fully, by the way… My fridge substitute worked quite well, until one morning my milk was deep frozen because it was super cold… That annoyed me. A colleague of mine told me there would be an electronic shop close to my apartment. Ohh… I forgot about that. I went there and transported a new small fridge for little money on a hand truck to my apartment. I loved this pragmatically way. It was fun. I did not have my company car at that time. Anyway I did not miss a car at all. For other things to transport I had my bicycle anyway.

The first 8 weeks I did not have a sofa due to I ordered one but missed to measure my entrance and when it arrived it did not fit through the small corridor to my apartment… Ehm, my mum said I should check out the furniture shop close to my apartment. I did it and with my dad’s help I put my beloved red sofa on a hand truck and brought it home… Maybe that is why I have this deep connection with my sofa :-).

My first TV table was the cheapest one from IKEA for 15 EUR with an unpronounceable name and my living room table was a small one for 25 EUR which I later used to put my different jackets on it (now I have two jackets with me and recently a hippie poncho…).

A couple of years later I replaced my cheap but functional TV table with a big white fancy lounge design one that costs ten times the price of my old one. I cleaned and polished it once a week and feared it could get scratches... So, more work and worries for more money. My TV was very old. I had it already since over 10 years but it worked well. I never was a couch potato and did not watch much TV. I had to replace my good old TV later because my house switched to digital TV and my TV was too old. I bought a flat screen that I polished often and it annoyed me when I saw fingerprints on it… I did not use it often. Just for watching movies in English to practice my English listening. The TV was by the way the first thing I sold on eBay…


My simple living room table I replaced for a white shinning hard plastic lounge table also more than ten times the price of my old on. I started to put coasters under my mugs on the fancy table because I feared it could be scratched… So, more work and worries…

I hoped for inner satisfaction when I replaced a simple thing against something with higher quality. For sure this satisfaction did not last long. Actually the more I had the more attachment I had…

The American Beauty effect - I never wanted to become like that

I call it the “American Beauty” effect due to the following scene in which Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening start to have sex on the couch but she did not want to spoil it and stopped.

I never wanted to become like that and I was already on my way… “When did we become like that…”

It was very relieving when I sold my stuff on eBay before I left Germany. Buddhism recommends living simple without attachment. During my journey I did not miss any of my stuff. And actually I took too much with me. In between I gave things away and still see it is too much. I met many people on my journey who are having a similar life like me and told me quite the same.

Great reminder in Guatemala

In Guatemala I dated a few times a Guatemalteco who belonged to the higher class. A nice, generous and respectful guy. He drove an expensive big BMW with beige leather seats. I compared how great it was to drive on a cross motorcycle through the streets of Oaxaca with my lovely Mexican friend. I felt so free! It was priceless.


By the way: The average Guatemalteco has a car that in Germany would not be allowed on the street anymore due to security reasons (broken windows, half of the front is missing etc). One day I saw an accident in Xela: two cars hit each other quite hefty. One lost parts of its front. Both drivers just drove further as if it was the most normal thing in the world... 


However, one afternoon I had a date with my Guatemalan friend in a café. He was very concerned that someone got hit his expensive car and checked nervously during our date if everything was ok and stood up to look around the corner to his car… So with more quality come more worries? Do not get me wrong. He is a good guy. I understand him very good...

I am thankful for that reminder that showed me my change so far and what is important for me,


More money less worries?! What an irony…

I was also very attached to material things in Germany. For me it was a development. I was actually happy with less when I remember my first years in my apartment. The more I had and the more money I spent for material things and I feared to lose them at the same time.


What an irony… Shouldn’t I have fewer worries with more money because I could just replace the things? 

Or why I did not stick with the functional things on which I put without any worries my mugs and glasses?  Where did the need come from? I did not have it before… And those things are just material. They are made for use and of course when you use something it will look used.

Eye opener on a half finished the roof top with an amazing view 

Anyway, I am very happy about the conversation with my lovely, simple and chaotic Mexican friend on the half finish roof top while we were waiting for an asteroid shower. It reminded me once again about how relieving simplicity is... Well, I don't want to say money is sucks and live without it. But maybe this post reminds you about your real needs and what you appreciate and it is even priceless. 

By the way:
We did not see any shooting stars that night. Actually after I heard him calmly snoring beside me, I also fell to sleep after a while, accompanied by the music of Santa Sabina… Beautiful simplicity....

Thank you very much for reading my story.

When all seats are taken in the car... there is still space in the trunk ;-)
When all seats are taken in the car... there is still space in the trunk ;-)

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