Thursday, April 14, 2005

Simplicity and Living an Extraordinary Life

I have been reading Jim Merkel's book, "Radical Simplicity" (New Society, 2003. ISBN 0-86571-473-8), because our family wants to begin bringing our living and daily actions much more into line with our values. We are also hoping for a spin-off of less work time and more "us" time while our children are still young.

Reading the book has made me think more about what makes me really happy. I love making things with my hands--sewing my own clothes, making jewellery, crafts, decorating with natural and found objects, painting, fixing stuff, landscaping--and these are exactly the things I am starting to pay other people to do--because I don't have time anymore. This also made me think of Kelee Katillac and her book "House of Belief" (Kelee's Site seems to be down for reno's, but I've include the link anyway.). In the book, she promotes the idea of a "hand-made life" and encourages her readers and clients to not only include their own values and beliefs in the design and decoration of their homes, but to also make as many of the items as possible. Her philosophy grows from the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800/early 1900's. A quote from William Henry Channing, 1898, sums it up:

"To live content with small means. To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion. To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. To listen to stars and birds and babes and sages with an open heart. To study hard, think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions. Never hurry.In a word, to let the spiritual, the unbidden and the unconscious rise up through the common. This is my symphony."

And I guess this links back to my chat with K. Louise and the necessity of balancing mind, spirit and body--grounding theory in practices of wholeness, connection, and simplicity. The concept of practice has been ghosting around with me for the past two months. I am looking at everything through the lens of practice--for if we do not have the skills, the ways/means/competencies for living the way we long to, how can we achieve it? Simply defining problems or even approaches is now inadequate. We need practitioners. And we need to create cultures of practice that support, teach, and promote the skills for living peacefully and sanely on a finite earth. I guess it's what Buddhists call the sangha--the community of practice...

A quote from Deena Metzger has been repeating itself in my head for the past couple of weeks:

"The world is on fire.
We are in danger.
There is only time to move slowly.
There is only time to love."

I think this may capture the essence of our current challenge. All our conditioning tells us we must move faster, more efficiently, work harder, do more with less. But that is the way of war is an inner violence...the internalized oppressor. The way of peace is about slowing, deepening, opening. We need to support each other in learning to release our addictions to scarcity, fear, consumption, defendedness...even support each other in healing and recovery from war culture--in the transformation to nonviolent/peace culture.

For those who don't have the good fortune to have access to K. Louise's book, (Transforming Abuse, contact me if you would like access to the author's secret stash of last available copies.), I want to excerpt a small section:

"...I know there is a way of seeing, speaking and acting too long held in check. For myself, its recovery is a process of regaining a politic that does not refuse the poetic--seometimes defined as soul; sometimes as many systems working together, or synergy; sometimea as a celebration of diversity, pluralism or our interconnectedness; and sometimes, simply as harmless love.

"Binary or dualistic logic sees the world in either/or terms: good or bad, strong or weak. Especially through the development of machanized and scientific approaches to life, it has distilled human experience and voice into separate, compartmentalized units. Qualities that are considered male or female (such as assertiveness vs. co-operation) are polarized, the male given higher rank. When binary thinking places the differences between people within a paradigm for human relations of supremacy and subordination, the result is alienation and violence. Most of all I see this causes the human heart to harden or become machine-like--making it difficult for the heart to open and respond to suffering, unable to see and respect self as a changeable, exploratory and vulnerable being. Such a heart resists healing. We have been taught instead to guard our hearts and voices with an inner police state, an internal government based on dictatorship, strategy and tyranny. We live with a rigid, ungiving heart, a false democracy of self and language. We have been given life-depleting defence systems of many kinds to guard our lives, all sorts of arsenals to reproduce on an emotional level of existence a consciousness of warfare.

"A non-binary logic is one that refuses to follow that which splits our body from our soul. ...It is the logic of the open heart--not the way of opposition or alienation...but the way of interdependence. It is what Buddhist thought describes in the doctrine of paticca samuppada as dependent co-arising or deep relationship with the world through awareness of mutual causality. It os about love that is not born out of commerce or control but of relatedness, responsibility and respect.

"Descartes and all the other great colonizers of land, psyche, the cosmos, of race and women have shown us their fear of the unknown, out of which has developed conquests of catastrophic destruction including an insane attempt to conquer time and life itself. The sickness of conquest is a patriarchal mindset that shows us, terribly, where we need to go. We need to build an ethic of living that is decolonized, which refuses exploitative ownership and control of any kind. We need to approach the unknown places, the foreign places in ourselves and our culture with a willingness to bring safety, understanding and healing. We need to find a way of seeing and hearing and speaking that does not dispossess a person of their reality, feelings, words or dreams."

Does this resonate with you? I know in my life I keep spiralling into this understanding of the legacy of war culture--of how it alters my internal landscape without my permission. This spiral has taken me deeper than than before...I am still shaken by how deep the cult of colonialism is sunk into my psyche. I have not found the bottom yet--but at least I am swimming into it with determination, power and some good tools this time. And with a hope I have not had before--at the same time I am seeking a positive core--beginning the project of creating a culture and practice of nonviolence for myself, my family, my community--that feels equal to the task of replacing the old.

I have been thinking--because I encounter a lot of resistance and censure when I talk about my newly radicalized state--no big surprize I suppose--that if we want to live an exceptional or extraordinary life, we must make exceptional and extraordinary choices and act on them. Ordinary choices, ordinary risks, ordinary actions--just produce more of the same...nothing new or...extraordinary...

So, for the few brave souls interested in the extraordinay, the radical, the simple...

I guess this post has also spiralled around I'll circle it back to the beginning again by ending with some links to a few good resources from Radical Simplicity...

The Global Living Project
Redefining Progress

Anybody interested in joining in the simplicity challenge, the intentional community design, or the culture creation projects?

"There is a place
between dreaming and living,
a third way.
Guess it."

Antonio Machado


Keira said...

Thanks for the links and the thoughts. Here's a link I wanted to share with you for a while and keep forgetting. My friend Laural is a crafter extraordinaire and her wonderful blog about her creations is

wendy farmer-o'neil said...

Thanks for the link Keira. She makes me want to wind some bobbins!