“Live simply so that others may simply live.” – Mahatmu Gandhi
The essays on this Web site relate to the five keys to voluntary simplicity, first put into words by Doris Jantzen Longacre:
1- Do Justice
2- Learn from the World Community
3- Nurture People (Relationships over Stuff)
4- Cherish the Natural Order (Nurture a Connection with Nature)
5- Non-Conform Freely (Disconnect from the consumerist lifestyle and practice authenticity)
When COVID-19 forced the world to a standstill in March I had already left the United States and was living in Costa Rica. This fact struck me with the force of a Tsunami: I chose to retire early because my intuition was telling me that something was about to happen, and it happened.
Wendell Berry’s essays have influenced me for most of my adult life. In reading the December 17, 2014 issue of Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova, I was reminded of something in Berry’s book of essays, What Are People For. Reading this sparked an idea that started a fire in my soul. Berry describes two circles: of nature and its creatures, in which we are just one of many; and the circle of human civilization, man-made and self-destructive:
“In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.”
That was how I had come to feel, constantly; the constant striving, even on weekends when I didn’t have to go to work. I began taking weekly Sabbaths in which I said no to every outside activity and gave myself permission to rest, to recognize that my small human efforts could never save me no matter how hard I tried. Ceasing from strife for one day a week made me aware of another way of being, another way of seeing the world.
Creating that intention to pause and reflect brought me to an awareness of that pervasive atmosphere of striving; our “normal” way of life that is nothing more than an enslavement to the machine of progress.
The relentless thrust of “the economy” rules our lives until we refuse to let it; and we DO let it unless we become aware that it is actually something outside and separate from our own existence. It is not the real me, just an idea imposed upon me – a driving force that holds us all in thrall, “enthralled.”
Materialism, consumerism, competition – the entire grammar of the dominant narrative bullies us into believing it is the only reality. Well, it isn’t. And that’s what I want my essays to make clear – at least I hope so.
“What are people for?” asks Berry. They are not for being cash cows to every type of insurance that threatens us with the choice of our lives or our money. Life is not for buying whatever the advertisements tell us we need. Maybe, just maybe, if we stopped listening to that voice of striving and began to listen to our inner voice – and to connect with nature, all of creation – we would know what we are for.
New purpose. Re-purpose. What would that be? In searching for information about sustainable lifestyle, I stumbled across the Web site, Simple Living Works, where I was introduced to Doris Janzten Longacre’s Five Keys to Voluntary Simplicity. I had read her book, Living More with Less back in the 1980’s and it changed my life.
Other writers promote more radical solutions to climate change than the personal choice to live simply, claiming that it is necessary to stop economic growth. This proposal at first sounds impossible, terrifying; we all need jobs, don’t we? If you think this is impossible, look what has just happened!
This idea of slowing economic growth is not at all radical; it is simply not the dominant narrative (and look where that has gotten us). Wendell Berry wrote about the need to slow economic growth nearly twenty years ago. Orion magazine has recently re-published something Berry wrote in response to 9/11, “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear” –newly relevant as of March 2020. The last of these 27 thoughts directly relates to what I mean by re-purposing:
“XXVII. The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a “new economy”, but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.”
And so I choose the title, Re Purpose, because it holds a two-fold meaning. The first is obviously linked to the Four Rs of environmental practices; as much as is possible, it is better to re-purpose something than to recycle it; unfortunately we cannot depend on others to recycle for us.
But another meaning is a little more subtle. Turning away from a life of consumerism to a life of environmental stewardship is a first step in the intangible quest for personal life purpose, a return to an original life intention before the demands and temptations of the typical working life pull us away from that path. If my life is not all about being a consumer, then what is it about?
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…” If I choose to convert my primary role in life from consumer of material goods to producer – producer of art, producer of home-based life skills, producer of community – perhaps this will, in my own small way, contribute to a new, peaceable economy. If more of us choose to turn from our roles as consumers to those of producers of peace, maybe we cannot save our world, but certainly we can make a difference.
Welcome to this space for reflection and discussion!