Early on in the planning for this issue, we sent out a call to friends and readers to submit short statements about their own relationship with consumption, money, simplicity, meaningful work, and enoughness. We were surprised at the number and the quality of the responses – they could have easily filled most of an issue by themselves. We present a sampling here.
by Margaret Lazier
How does one define for oneself what is truly essential? I have no final answer for this question – but it is something with which I feel everyone needs to struggle. It is not a question that calls for defining a new moralism; it calls forth instead an articulation of one’s relationship with the creative powers of the universe, and all that those powers have entrusted to your care.
I have been entrusted with many skills, a fullness of life experience, children, relationships and much more. With what have you been entrusted? If you list it out, you may be astounded. The natural next question is: What am I doing to facilitate the release of the positive, creative energy, the essence, of that with which I have been entrusted? If I have power over more than is essential, can I release its essence?
These questions arise from a time in my life when the basics were most simple. I was living with my family in the bush of south central Africa, working with a village on its struggle for self-sufficiency. The intent was noble enough that voluntary simplicity was easy – for the most part – for a while.
Difficulties arose in living without sugar, salt and soap. The quantity of natural sugar available through fruits was insufficient to energize people, and the fruits often carried parasites (as did the water you could wash them in) that would rob you of energy in much greater quantity than the natural sugar could provide. Without sufficient salt the body loses its capacity to self- regulate its fluids; it cannot balance retention and such functions as perspiration. No soap means no soap – no laundry detergent, no agents for disinfecting. The unavailability of this resource was psychologically devastating.
Sugar, salt and soap take quite a beating in this society. Sugar is "bad" for you. Detergents are destroying our environment. Salt raises your blood pressure. These observations may often be true, but I suggest they are not necessarily true.
My father, semi-retired, was also working for an international voluntary organization and the opportunity to travel through Zambia presented itself. He wired to ask what he might bring us. I wired back: SOAP!! He wired again and asked what he might bring that would have no logical purpose. It took a long time to think of anything. Having lived in the slums of several of our major cities and numerous other development situations, I had finally begun to learn about poverty. One of the marks, for me, of true poverty was not even being able to think beyond survival.
When he arrived to visit, the opening of the spare suitcase was Christmas itself. He had canvassed churches in his area and collected hotel and motel soaps by the dozens. But there was also a Bingo game. We staged a county fair with singing and popcorn (also imported) and Bingo. Every Bingo won a bar of soap. The soap was so marvelous in the moment. Over time, however, it was the game that was most miraculous. The adults of the village had never done something like that "just for fun." To play, to laugh, to gather for the sake of "nothing more than" playing and laughing catalyzed transformation. It broke down ancient barriers. It fomented hope.
When we left Zambia the Bingo game was safely in the care of the village business manager. If in all of history since the creation of Bingo had only that one evening of games been played, I would be so brazen as to claim that the energetic essence of Bingo had been released.
I am not sure this is true for the half-dozen games currently in my living room cupboard. Even though they have been entrusted to me, they may represent my having taken on more responsibility than I can fulfill. Seeking to continuously unleash essence is a challenging life work. But struggling to maintain this one perspective as a constant often unclutters the horizon. I hope you can find joy in it.
Margaret Lazier works for Knowledge Systems, Inc. in Indianapolis, IN.
by Arnie Anfinson
My family’s life of "poverty" was perhaps not typical of poverty in the Great Depression of the early 1930’s. We lived on farms or in small mid-West towns during this period, so we always had food on the table, albeit of the simple kind. Fruit and vegetables were in short supply, especially in the winter, and we suffered from constant colds due, I suspect, to a lack of vitamin C and other nutrients.
I was aware that we were among the poorer people, especially when I compared my family to that of the doctor, the postmaster and the ministers. But poverty was relative then, as it is now. I do not remember envying those whom I thought of as being "well to do." I believed that my father was content with his need for frugality. And my mother gave me the message that it was not only okay to be poor but even "holy." After all, didn’t the Bible say that it was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? With this way of thinking emanating from those who were significant in my life, it shouldn’t be surprising that our lack of material goods was not a big thing to me.
When I occasionally received a gift, as at Christmas, it was especially appreciated. My parents always seemed to know exactly what I had been longing for. Perhaps my desires had been expressed, although at that time in my life I was so fearful of being rejected that I do not think I would have mentioned what I wanted. Perhaps my dad just knew what a boy of that time wanted – a red coaster wagon, a pocket knife, a BB gun (later a .22 rifle), adventure books, a dog, a pony!
Some of these things were given before the Depression arrived. When tough times came I had to earn money for my material pleasures by saving bottles and selling them; cutting lawns and washing cars (the local doctor paid me 40 cents for mowing his large lawn and 25 cents for washing his Cadillac); working in the harvest fields in my early teen years ($2 for a ten hour day – we were unaware of child labor laws in those days!); delivering milk door to door; growing and selling watermelons during the peak of the big drought.
I also learned to make things for myself from materials on hand. We "recycled" most things then – clothes, toys, lumber, scrap metals, string, wire, bottles – even though the word "recycling" was not in vogue. Some of the things that gave me much satisfaction in the making and using were an arrow whittled out of an old shingle, thrown high into the sky by using a stick and a string; wooden paddle-steamer "boats" propelled by rubber bands; and skis, first from barrel staves, later from birch boards planed down and hand grooved in the high school manual training shop during the evening.
I had a feeling of satisfaction in creating these things. It was an individual satisfaction, not one that depended upon praise from a parent or anyone else. They were definitely not works of art, but they brought great enjoyment since I had made them myself!
Could it be that people who learn to create things for themselves are less easily hooked on collecting the products of industrial society? Does the feeling of power associated with being creative and self-reliant fulfill an inner need that cannot be satisfied through the acquisition of products of our industrial era? Has the ready availability of finished manufactured items numbed us to the joys of creating simple things for ourselves? Has the increasing emphasis on competition and a striving for appearances dulled our sense of the pleasures of simple creativity and self-reliance? Perhaps.
But does an early life of living simply with little material wealth create, in and of itself, an attitude of satisfaction with unadorned living? I doubt it. I’ve known many who were poor during the Depression who decided that their children would not "suffer" as they had, and consequently their children became materialists to a greater or lesser degree. But there were also those from affluent homes who became "hippies," often because they felt a dissatisfaction – an emptiness – with their lack of a positive purpose. I have also met young people who could not have been influenced by the hippie generation who have an amazing awareness of the barrenness associated with constant striving for more and more material goods.
It is becoming imperative that we rediscover the pleasures that come from learning to live with the products of a simpler life. We can perhaps still rescue the planet by simplifying – uncluttering – our lives. The time and energy we thus uncover will free us up to the real satisfaction of providing service and reestablishing community. The mind liberated from concern over unneeded possessions is truly free.
Arnie Anfinson spent 45 years living and working around the Pacific Rim before settling into a simple lifestyle in Seattle, WA.
by Lila Forest
In the summer of 1987 I embarked on a program of fasting, meditation, and journal-writing, all aimed at clarifying and refining my vision of the future I desired for myself and for the Earth. What emerged was a desire to simplify my life radically and travel around as a "planetary gypsy," to be a midwife to personal and planetary healing, awakening, and transformation toward the One. As the idea became clearer and I could actually see myself doing this, the sense of its rightness for me grew. I felt transformed by the vision, even before I began to make it a reality.
And now my dream has become my life. I am delighted and awed by how completely I have been able to make it a living reality, blessed as I have been by the grace and generosity of friends, family, and the Universe.
In June of 1989, I found a 1978 Toyota motor home in my price range but with only 24,000 miles on it; plenty of life left in it! It has now been christened the Shuttle, as in a weaver’s shuttle, taking threads of many colors from here to there, weaving something beautiful and useful.
One of the great initiations for this ministry was Letting Go. I had a houseful of possessions, but room for just the essentials in my little 19-foot Shuttle. It was easy, in fact joyous and liberating – until I got to the books. How to condense my entire library down to less than 15 feet of shelf space? Three cartons of books – and a favorite antique trunk containing a few precious items – are all I have left behind in the care of loved ones.
And the Letting Go process continues. Living in the Shuttle is a microcosm of living on Spaceship Earth; I am constantly reminded of the economic and ecological realities of energy and water consumption and waste management. It’s impossible for me to be unconscious of the flow of matter and energy through my life and my vehicle, as I am involved in every transaction.
The messages I carry are basically this: that body, mind, and spirit are one, with the implications of that truth for healing, balanced living, and joy in being inhabitants of the Earth; and that as we become mature spiritual beings, we must reach out in love, commitment, and service to our wider family, our whole human family, and our whole Earth family. I carry the good news of our common healing, growing, and creating, so that good seed ideas take root in many places, and the network of caring is woven with more and more strands.
Between the times spent in communities, with churches and other groups, I spend time with the Earth – in isolated valleys, mountain passes, hot springs, deserts, forests, grasslands – in all the astonishing variety of beautiful, powerful places that teach, humble, renew, and inspire.
All in all, I find this way of life deeply satisfying and exciting, and it pushes my limits. I expect to follow this course for four or five years more. As I travel, I keep one eye out for that special place where I might want to put down roots again when the wandering life has lost its charm. I know that I want to establish a retreat center, and that it will probably be in a high desert setting. But above all, as I see more and more of the majesty and beauty of this land we share, I feel at home almost everywhere.
Rev. Lila Forest is a mobile Unitarian Universalist minister. She can be contacted at 1537A Fourth St. #76, San Rafael, CA 94901.
by Deena Metzger
The changes in my life have been modest, but serious. And each day, I look for something small that I can do in my environment. I live at the end of a dirt road in one of the only remaining rural canyons near Los Angeles. I once lived in a four bedroom house, but this cottage has four small rooms. They are sufficient. I work in my home. My office – I am a psychotherapist as well as a writer – is also the living room and kitchen. I think most of the healing occurs when my clients come up and walk on the land before or after their appointments. It is exceedingly important for the spirit when one sees a bobcat or listens to the yip of coyotes. Any encounter with life heals.
I don’t have a television. After my fourth car radio was stolen in one year, I gave up car radios. I order the air edition of the New York Times because it has the least advertising and is the thinnest of the decent papers. I don’t get a Sunday paper. I feel passionate about the compost pile and about recycling. I like buying used clothes – it also limits the number of stores I visit when shopping. This year I’m installing solar power for heating water, and putting the gray water into the garden. I use a wood-burning stove for most heat and plant at least two trees a year for each one I’ve burned. (Watching a fire is far more engaging than television.) In these days of drought, I make certain the wild creatures have water. The fruit trees are also for the birds.
Recently, I read an article which said that sun flares interfered with psychics’ ability to see. The clutter of modern life interferes in the same way with our ability to see, to be connected to the spirit. Though I know this, I don’t always have time to meditate or to walk. Those days I feel as if I’ve forgotten everything, have lost myself, have fallen into density. Everything I don’t buy is a gift to myself. Every unessential task which I avoid is an offering to my life and the lives of others.
Last year, I married a couple, was present at a birth, led a client through her death. I saw a shift in my work from psychotherapist to minister. My work was coming closer to being essential. Of course, in order to be with these people in this way, I had to give up much professional posturing; something simpler is required. I go toward it eagerly. Simplicity and being present are twin stars.
I do not pretend to live a life yet of integrity, but I do aspire in that direction. A life in which each gesture cuts through all the layers of existence cleanly, in which heart, politics, spirit, and land are attended in the economy of a single movement. I find that business and affluence are terrible shackles; I cut each link in those chains with relief.
Deena Metzger lives, works and writes in Southern California. Her most recent book is What Dinah Thought.
by Katie & Andy Lipkis
We have the chance … to be the first to live in final accord with our Spaceship Earth – and hence in final harmony with each other. The Ancient Greeks, the Renaissance communities, the founders of America, the Victorians enjoyed no such challenge as this. What a time to be alive!
– Norman Myers, 1984
The publicity surrounding our organization [TreePeople in Los Angeles] is often focused on our "heroic" work. Although the attention is flattering, it misses the point. This work is wonderful and miraculous, but it is available to everyone. This is profoundly local and personal work, and everyone who embarks on this journey is a hero – or none of us are.
Our work feeds us. Planting and caring for trees, taking on challenges bigger than ourselves, building bridges of cooperation, solving problems creatively, seeing communities grow and get stronger, watching people come into their power, having a purpose, knowing that we have made a difference in the lives of others – all this produces a satisfaction so deep and fulfilling we feel like millionaires. In a sense we are. Instead of dollars earned, millions of trees are planted and nurtured, lives are touched, kids are turned on and caring.
I started the work that became TreePeople in 1970 when I was fifteen years old. Although the vehicle was trees, my motivation was the search for a life of meaning in a world that appeared self-serving.
In high school, I was starting to feel my power, while the world was broadcasting the message that I couldn’t really do anything to affect anything. It was frustrating and painful.
In the midst of this, I learned that the forest where I spent my summers was being killed by the drifting smog from Los Angeles. I spent three weeks with two dozen summer camp peers, working like crazy to repair a piece of the dying forest by planting smog-tolerant trees. Instead of sitting around figuring out what to do for entertainment, we swung picks at rock-hard ground and shoveled cow manure. When it was done, we watched birds, squirrels, grass, flowers and trees return to what had been a dead parking lot. Caring friendships developed while we were having what amounted to one of the highest times of our lives.
The experience filled me with ideas for repairing what I saw as an environmentally and socially damaged world.
What followed was three years of repeatedly trying – and failing – before my project started to take shape. There were many barriers to confront. People who cared about the environment were portrayed on television as weird outcasts, and people who expressed concern were do-gooders. I didn’t want to look like a freak. Although I was drawn to the work, I resisted it. If it worked, would I get stuck doing this for life?
I was definitely not a do-gooder. In fact, I was a pretty average sort of ignorant person who rode a motorcycle and jumped out of airplanes.
When I met Andy, I’d never even planted a tree. I’d had a lot of fun working my way up the advertising ladder, grabbing a Clio award on the way, and had reached the rung called "Is that all there is?" But the trappings of corporate power literally had me trapped. How could I survive without a huge salary? What could I do to earn money? Copywriting was so easy! Ironically, I felt powerless. There was so much on Earth to be done, and my 9-5 felt like marking time. I was happiest volunteering, giving something back, using my powers of persuasion for things that could make the world a better place and relieve suffering. I wanted to find a way to share and nurture the blossoming of real power in others.
In a moment of rare objectivity, while standing in my air-conditioned office next to my ficus that I didn’t even know was a ficus, I was able to say, "When you’ve given this up, and the money starts looking attractive, remember this instant; the money’s not worth it!"
A conference came to Melbourne, Australia, where I was living, and one of the speakers was a young man whose dream was to see a million trees planted in Los Angeles. "What do you do?" he asked. "I write," I replied. "Boy oh boy, could TreePeople use a writer!" he exclaimed. We were married and are living happily ever after….
From their upcoming book, The Simple Act of Planting a Tree, J.P. Tarcher publishers. Contact Katie and Andy Lipkis (and TreePeople) at 12601 Mulholland Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
by Susan Meeker-Lowry
There is a small, blue sign near my desk in the Catalyst office that says, "We don’t believe in miracles. We rely upon them." It epitomizes the absolute reality of my life. What we often forget when thinking of miracles is that although they seem like magic at the time, they are the result, always, of hard work, solid commitment and unshakeable faith.
Giving myself the gift of doing what I truly love – being a writer and working for social change – has been the most rewarding (and most difficult) miracle I have ever been involved in. Doing work of my own creation, not relying on a "regular" job for my income, presents many challenges, not the least of which is facing my own fears and insecurities. My deepest personal fear is of becoming homeless – I’m afraid I’ll wake up one day and be forced to close the office, pack my bags, and live on the streets with my three boys.
The fear of being homeless is common these days, especially among single mothers. It is not unfounded – many of us do end up on the streets. Of course, intellectually I know that my sons and I would be able to go to family and friends; but when this fear hits, I feel alone and vulnerable.
Obviously, my fear does not immobilize me. I won’t go so far as to say that it is a positive energy in my life, but it does keep me on my toes. It forces me to reaffirm the choices I’ve made about my life. I know these choices are different from what many people would make because of the risks involved. But I no longer get desperate enough to read through the want ads looking for a "real" job. (I confess that a couple of years ago I did, but I never went so far as to apply for one.)
I believe we all have a special gift. Our purpose as human beings is to recognize this gift and offer it in service to life. Even as a child, I knew I had a unique purpose. I didn’t always know what it was, but I had faith that I would know it when I found it – or more accurately, when it found me. Whether we find it or it finds us, once that happens it will not let us rest until we acknowledge it, nurture it and begin expressing it in the world.
Unhappiness, restlessness, a dissatisfaction with our lives are often clues that the process is happening. My advice is not to fight it. Open to it. Give yourself the time and space to hear what is going on inside. Listen. Don’t force it. One day (and it could take plenty of time) you will know. It may not be a "Eureka!" experience (though it might). More likely it will be a gradual awakening. You may even discover something that you are already involved in is It. Or leads directly to It. There are no simple "how-to" directions for discovering your gift. But it’s there. Just waiting.
My "It" came to me over eight years ago when I created my sustainable economics newsletter, Catalyst. In very short order I knew I was on the right path. Though there have been rough times, I have never questioned it since.
When doubts creep in, I remind myself of the gift I have been given. I believe the Earth is alive. Not just a living system – alive. Wise, conscious – and we are a part of Earth. Mountains, rivers, oceans, rocks, all species share this life – are all alive. Life is the expression of consciousness. Each one of us, all species, are individual expressions of this consciousness. This belief is the source of my strength. The knowledge that the life force sustaining trees, rivers, birds, lynx, bear, insects is the very same life force sustaining me is the most powerful thing I can imagine. It is, for lack of a better word, magic. I revel in this, rejoice in this and it keeps me going in hard times. I can’t explain why – it just does.
Back at the office, the phone rings. It is a young woman who wants to work for the Earth. She wants to know how I make it. I explain there are no guarantees. It is a month by month thing. She groans. Giving up security (as we commonly think of it) is not easy. She’s not ready yet. I tell her, "Sometimes it’s hard not being able to count on a regular paycheck. Still, when you called, and the phone rang here, I answered it." Just proof that miracles happen every day!
Susan Meeker-Lowry is also the author of Economics As If The Earth Really Mattered (New Society Publishers, 1988). Contact her, and Catalyst, at 64 Main St., Montpelier, VT 05602.
by Patrice Berns
At 24 I left my job as an executive in the American branch of the family company. My father had been killed in a car accident. I did not realize it at that point, but I no longer needed to work for money.
The only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to work in business anymore. But what could I do? Was I worth anything now that I didn’t have a job? Was volunteering – my ideal – a decent activity for an ambitious young woman?
After working with the sisters of Mother Teresa in India, I realized that my international business training was not helping in my new orientation – service, on a one-to-one basis, with people. So I took training in massage and acupressure and started working at a shelter for battered women. As a bodyworker, I offered these women a service no one else could provide on a paid basis. I was accepted right away. I discovered the power of volunteering: if people are not going to pay for it, they will always consider giving it a chance!
My volunteer activities trained me in life situations I had never encountered before: massaging and counseling battered women and abused children, sitting with people who were dying of cancer or AIDS, assisting women in labor as a labor coach and acupressurist, staffing the Red Cross after the San Francisco earthquake, learning Spanish to communicate with the immigrants I worked with, and meeting wonderful people dedicated to making this world a better one.
What other job could have given me the opportunity to learn so much in only four years?
My mother has asked several times, "So when are you going back to work?" I am already working full time, sometimes longer, and I fully enjoy it. Am I worth less because I am a volunteer? Only I can answer that: it depends on the quality of work I do. I can be as professional as a paid person. And because my work depends on my will and not my needs, my level of interaction with people is based more on integrity. What is there to fear in saying something others can’t say? I can’t be fired – I can only be asked to leave.
I don’t feel any guilt now about the money I inherited, but rather a deep appreciation for my family, who quite involuntarily gave me the gift of life – my whole life, the way I choose it to be. And I have chosen service as my path.
Professional volunteer and bodyworker Patrice Berns currently lives in San Francisco, CA.
by David Spero
Trying to live sustainably in an urban setting has been rewarding and maddening. It takes the patience and wisdom of a Zen master to unravel the puzzles that confront the would-be ecological citizen. Take, for example the ancient supermarket koan, "Paper or Plastic?" Hmmm… should I kill the trees or use up the oil?
Of course, I know the Zen answer to that one is to "unask the question" by bringing my own bags. But sometimes it’s not so easy to unask. I used to be torn by the question, "how many recyclables do I need to have to justify using the gas to transport them to the recycling center?" My back hallway used to be filled with junk mail and bottles – I’d take them in when it was no longer possible to open the door. It looked awful, but I felt morally justified. Recently, the city instituted curbside recycling, so I need to find another excuse for keeping the place such a mess.
The first question a sustainable liver has to face is, "What about the car?" Now, we all know the private automobile is not a sustainable technology. So, okay, I got a bus pass and a bicycle (actually three bicycles, the first two were stolen.) Now my life is simpler, slower, and cheaper. No auto insurance, no parking tickets, no repairs. Plenty of time to see the neighborhood as I cycle to work or to the store, or the basketball court. I can’t go anywhere else. I’m risking my life just to ride that much, the way people drive in this town. My mother, who lives in the next town and is not accessible by public transportation, has to come see me – it takes me hours to get to her place.
Speaking of mothers, I have found they pose the greatest obstacle to simplifying one’s life. Every time you give something away, they buy two more things to take its place, especially where the children are involved. As you may know, kids never want to give up any of their toys, even those they haven’t touched in five years. But with grandmothers buying new ones, it becomes necessary to sneak the old ones out under cover of night and give them to some family shelter or other. A constant ebb and flow.
Kids, in fact, are the ultimate contradiction in the quest for a sustainable way of life. The big point of ecological living is to leave the children a habitable world, but having children increases the population, which is helping render the world uninhabitable. And feeding them brings up whole new issues. I know I have to eat "lower on the food chain." Have you ever tried to maintain a vegetarian diet when your spouse is stir-frying some pork with Szechuan sauce, and you haven’t eaten in eight hours? Is it better to throw your kids’ scraps away, or to eat them so they don’t go to waste? It’s hard to compost meat, anyway.
In fact, I sometimes wonder if you can compost at all. My first efforts were nixed by the landlord as "too smelly." So I tried composting in a covered plastic garbage can, with holes drilled in the side. I came out with the worst-smelling sludge I have ever experienced (and I once spent a summer servicing Port-O-Sans). The worms I sent in never reported back, and are presumed reincarnated, apparently as snails. I finally buried the whole anaerobic mess and started over.
Of course, composting only makes sense if you have a garden. Organic gardening solves a lot of sustainability puzzles, such as, "Is it better to buy organic produce imported from Mexico (thereby benefiting from the exploitation of poor peasants), or to buy commercial produce from the US (supporting petrochemical farming)?" I refuse to buy bananas or chocolate because I don’t want to support the plantation system that starves Third World people and leads to desertification. What do I do when someone offers me a banana split? I won’t lie – it depends on how hungry I am, and if I feel like being obnoxious. The whole question of maintaining your sustainable lifestyle without offending everyone you know is beyond the scope of this article.
I ran into another puzzle around lighting. I wanted to replace some incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, but the only ones I could find were made by General Electric. Aren’t I boycotting GE? Oh, yes, their nuclear weapons work. We’re still looking for another manufacturer.
One positive aspect of energy conservation is that turning off lights promotes family togetherness – everyone gathers in the room where the light is on. Unfortunately, this is usually the room with the television. We’re still fighting over what to do about that. My wife and I both agree on losing the TV, but with the children opposed, and with video rental about the only entertainment we can afford, it may never happen.
Clothes are an interesting question – washing machines use a lot of water (scarce in California), while dry cleaning involves toxic chemicals. To unask this question means either wearing clothes until they’re real dirty, or going without clothes entirely. The latter would probably have appealed to me when I was twenty, but now it seems almost as bad as the other alternative, hand-washing four people’s clothes every day.
Yes, sustainable living in today’s urban reality requires all one’s creativity and energy – that’s probably why our culture has so far rejected it. It’s like Nirvana: You can’t actually reach it, but it’s good for you to keep trying.
David Spero lives and parents in San Francisco.
by Peter Russell
Simplicity was not something I adopted as a conscious decision. I was attracted to it for other reasons, and the fact that it led me to live more lightly was an additional bonus – one that was in line with my own values.
In some respects, simplicity has always been a part of my life. I tended to buy used items whenever possible, or make things myself, partly because it seemed silly to spend money unnecessarily, and partly because it gave me greater satisfaction. Then, about 15 years ago, a shift occurred that brought simple living much more into the foreground.
Through a chain of synchronicities, I found myself living in a cottage in the middle of the forest, so far from roads and human habitation that it had not been connected to any 20th century supplies – apart from a telephone. In the outback of Canada this might not be so unusual, but to find such isolation from civilization here – within a hundred miles of London – is almost unheard of.
Living so far from the distractions of civilization, I have become much more conscious of the seasons and the cycle of day and night. In the winter I write in the room where the stove is; in the summer I prefer to be in the conservatory. The birds wake me up with their chorus, and I have gotten to know the order in which they go to sleep in the evening, and where they nest or roost. I have also come to learn much more about how plants and trees respond to the changes going on around them. Living in the midst of nature, one cannot help becoming a naturalist!
But my strongest fascination has been with the night sky. Astronomy was always an interest, but it used to be relatively book-bound. Now I am a naked-eye astronomer. I know many of the constellations, know which planets are around and when and where they will be, and know at what phase the moon is. It is not so much that I have made a conscious attempt to find these things out; it is simply that living without the background flood of city lights, these things are obvious.
However, lest this sound too idyllic, let me confess to the less simple sides of my life. I could not be without the telephone. Indeed, being able to talk with anyone, anywhere, anytime is very important for me. One of the most significant aspects of being human is that, unlike most other creatures, we do not have to learn mainly from our own experiences. Through language we can share our learnings and our feelings with each other. Although I may spend much of my time cut off from many physical aspects of civilization, the fact that I can communicate with other minds across the globe means that I still feel very much at the heart of civilization.
I don’t spend all my time at the cottage. Lectures and seminars take me around the world. And I now spend so much time in London that I have a small apartment and office there. But my heart and soul is always in the country. As soon as I return I feel myself being relieved of so much of the busy-ness that has accumulated. It is as if the cottage speaks, and says "It’s alright. Take it easy. Slow down, and remember Life."
Peter Russell works with corporations on self-management, creative problem solving and sustainable development programs. He is the author of The Global Brain, The Brain Book and The Creative Manager.
This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it, it is my privilege to do whatever I can. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of bright torch which I have got hold of for a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
– George Bernard Shaw
The simplification of life is one of the steps to inner peace. A persistent simplification will create an inner and outer well-being that places harmony in one’s life. For me this began with a discovery of the meaninglessness of possessions beyond my actual and immediate needs. As soon as I had brought myself down to need level, I began to feel a wonderful harmony in my life between inner and outer well-being, between spiritual and material well-being.
– Peace Pilgrim
The woman known as Peace Pilgrim walked throughout North America for 28 years carrying nothing but a few possessions and a message of peace. For more information about Peace Pilgrim’s extraordinary life and writings, write Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 43480 Cedar Ave., Hemet, CA 92344.