I had this philosophy professor who used to quote William James. He said that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who live in one story houses, and those who live in two story houses. The people with only one story, they live in their house, on their one floor, and they are happy. Life flows for them. But the people who live in the two story houses, they also live in one story. They live on the first floor and go about their lives, just as the people in the one story houses do, but they live with angst. Mostly they do all the same conventional things the one story people do, but they always suspect that maybe there is a second story.
I combed William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, and I never came across that quote, so I actually attribute it to my philosophy professor. That quote has stuck with me because, all along, I’ve had some angst. And when I heard that from him, that was the first time that I knew that I wasn’t alone. He used to say that, you can’t change it. You either live in a one story house, or a two story house, and that’s that! But he also said that the people who live in two story houses are in good company as Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, and Plato’s Socrates lived in two story houses. Those who live in two story houses search for some depth and meaning in their lives.
When I was planning to move into the van, i had hoped that somehow I would find meaning. At the very least, I was ridding myself of trappings that people in our society value, so I could stop thinking that those things would bring meaning to my life. I don’t know that I have necessarily found meaning living in a van, but what it has done, is freed up my mind.
I used to suffer from depression. I would drive in commute traffic to work each day, and drive in very slow, stop and go, commute traffic back home every day, only to go to sleep and do it all again the next day. And I used to fret over managing my money so I could pay the rent and the power. Living in the van has lifted that depression. It’s been two and a half months now, and I’m not saying that the depression won’t return, but I am leaning toward thinking it was situational and not chemical. Commuting only to sleep and make decisions about what bills to pay was not how I wanted to live my life.
But I think it’s more than that. When I was in graduate school I had a professor who believed that we have templates that are set by our upbringing, and our culture and social conventions, and that template determines how we view the world. That template can’t be changed, but it can be expanded. Expanding the template requires us to step outside of it. What living in the van has done was allow me to step outside that template and to force a paradigm shift that has changed the values and meaning in my life.