Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’

Some thoughts on revisiting Voluntary Simplicity

July 1, 2009

My husband and I have been reading Duane Elgin’s “Voluntary Simplicity” together.  We have been bouncing ideas off each other as  we read, and what our life together has become.

Part of the attraction before marriage was  we  had some of the same interests:  ecology, small farming, intensive gardening, permaculture, pioneering, green technology like solar and wind, and the general issue of  ‘living in harmony with Nature’.

Not at all different from many of the people of our age, generation.  However, these are mostly ‘external’ issues….things you do or embrace.

We got caught up in the usual ‘prosperity’ issues over the years: as you make more money, or at least a ‘comfortable’ income, you apply to the consumer ideal and ‘growth’  can be measured in gadgets, convenience and clutter.  Case in point, my husband has built houses, and this house has been the recipient of his abilities.  We now have 12 rooms and some of them are rarely used, except to pass through and some are just storage for clutter.  What happened?  Well, this was an outwardly expression of some inward detours, but not the worse of the whole issue.

“Growth” is one thing; “Inner Growth” is something else.  And that is what we are struggling with right now.

These inner growth issues are the engine that drives this approach to VS for us:  we have to reconnect to those aspects of inner growth that will allow the fuller blooming of VS.  Right now we are discussing issues of faith, spirituality, seeking, family, relationships with others, and in particular, friends.  How do we nourish our family and our friends, in particular attend to the needs of others and at the same time attend to our family?

Time is an element that we can rearrange to have ‘enough’ only by shifting the things we already do now.  It’s an issue of what IS important in light of a particular philosophy, and what isn’t.  It takes some effort and a lot of mental change.  Fred and I have to consider  our son who is supportive of some of these philosophical concepts, but also has his own interests.  He’s into most forms of technology, and a big part of it seems to be around computers.  But again, the most important issues are internal, not external.

Perhaps an important issue  outside our ‘inner growth’ considerations, is that we have little  (so far) support for VS in our community.  Well, perhaps I am speaking before further research because  this was the condition before this recent economic situation.  But VS is not poverty by any means.  It’s very much bound up with an appreciation of beauty and things of real value.  Perhaps having time to pursue interests that were beyond possibilities because you were chasing a standard that encompassed all your time and energies and resources, well, with a change in perspective, other things become possible.  And perhaps these things are definitely of more ‘value’.

We struggle to come out of the hypnosis of the culture of affluence.  We struggle to discern those things of personal value and worth keeping and those which are really clutter or of little future value. But these only address material possessions.  We are looking deeper:  we are testing those things that insulated us from discomforts while maximizing our personal pleasures.  Life has been lived by most of us as a constant process of pushing away discomfort and grabbing at those things (or acquiring them) that give usually immediate pleasure.  This seems shallow and shortsighted, in fact, there are great lessons in some discomforts, and we already understand the transitory nature of some immediate pleasures.  They glitter and don’t last.

So, we are struggling towards a better understanding as to the inners of VS for us, and it’s not a ‘one size fits all’.   It’s a very personal balance for us, and will look very different from others approach to similar issues.

We really are excited right now, because though the issues are enormous,  a bit overwhelming, we see this as something we can work on together, build and sculpt together, for a new and in part, different life.  Lighter, cleaner, more focused, more balanced, and with more time freed up ….ultimately, to serve others.

Best, we are doing it together, and this has the greatest value, even in the short term.

I’ll write more down the road on what we are finding and what we are applying through VS and other issues.

Lady Nyo

Voluntary Simplicity, ecology and changing the patterns of our lives.

June 27, 2009

I have been thinking of a lot of issues, some not new, some dropped for other things, and some that will not stay down.  We can get detoured in life by personal issues, and we can lose the bigger picture.

Sometimes aging helps as we try to refocus our eyes, energies towards something that means more than what we see around us and what we are doing.  We live in the West surrounded with material abundance and a lot of spiritual confusion.  We can hide our behavior within the confines of Orthodox or Liberal religions, but that is a shell.  The true mark of a person is our relationship to the rest of the world, perhaps where we step out of the comfort or the boundaries of what we know and open ourselves to things alien and unknown.  Our experiences and influences should be challenged and growth is only possible when we do so.

Recently these things have come home to me as I find myself dissatisfied with what I see around me and with a yearning to do something ‘more’.  Perhaps all of us are influenced, affected by the current world economic situation. We should be.  Even if we suffer only a small fraction of what is happening, we can not stand aside and continue to ignore or to dismiss that events are world changing and earth shaking.

I believe we stand at a critical juncture.  For a while, it was a time of withdrawal, a time of research, a time exploration into those things of interest, but perhaps ultimately shallow and not supportive of life.  The dualism of our thinking (which pits materialism against spiritualism) must be transcended if we are to be generators of a new world; and there can be no doubt that we need to resolve and reform many things in this world.

It’s not only myself that has been pushed to this realization, but friends from some unexpected places.  Mac the Knife, a writer and practitioner of shibari  (  is turning some acreage into biofuel, a three year plan of organics that takes him far afield from what I know of him.  Jimi Tatu of  shibari fame and teaching is also presently working hard on their (his and Sumi’s) little farm.  Other friends are working in intensive organic gardens and turning their efforts to these things because they believe these things are the ‘stuff’ of a better life, a deeper committment to the Earth for better reasons.

Recently I found my old copy of “Voluntary Simplicity” by Duane Elgin.  I sat down to read this book, printed in 1981, and realized how much I didn’t understand when I first read it, (20 years ago), yet it did have a fundamental influence on me and propelled me into Quakerism, (which lasted for 12 years) and ecological issues which lasted longer.  I wrote for major publications on permaculture up until 2005, urban pioneering and intensive gardening, lectured locally a bit, but then put these issues on a back burner of life when other things became of interest.  Still, these issues were deeper and broader than what I was recently experiencing and they never stopped nagging at the edges of my consciousness.

Recently I received a lovely letter from Duane Elgin, encouraging me, thanking me for my passionate poetry in a compassionate life.  I was amazed.  And I thought a bit more about that ‘compassionate life’.  Really, what did my life account for?  And I wondered just how much compassion I really exhibited.

I had to think more on what I was doing.  Some recent influences helped, and a letter from Dr. RK Singh helped lay some of these issues bare.  When we think we are alone in our dismay and confusion, we can get overwhelmed.  When we realize that we are part of the bigger picture of it all, we can take comfort and ask for ideas and glean guidance.

I wrote to RK about my anger concerning religions….all religions, and I received this answer:

“I agree with you, Jane, that no religion is diseased beyond redemption. And it is the followers of religions, and their gurus, that corrupt and debase humanity to the lowest level. We see all around us in India the naked game of what you call “prejudiced rationalization for hatred and contempt” by the right wing political parties and groups, but the silent majority only suffers. I have been UNCOMFORTABLE with institutionalization of faith/religion/ideology as it ultimately corrupts and degrades humanity. Politicalisation of all such groups, without excluding fundamentalists,  in the  name of democracy has ruined the prospect  of living in the environment of  tolerance  and peaceful coexistence. Sometimes I wonder what will happen if the current trends continue for another five to ten years.
I have always thought I am a misfit in this world and have been living a life of helplessness. As I composed the following haiku this morning:

Not a day without
begging gods to solve problems–
faith in helplessness

We like it or not, the game of convenience has been  taking its toll, and willy-nilly, we all have been participants in it.


RK is writing about religions, he is also hitting at broader issues.  The web and fabric of all of our lives that ideology, religion, politics have impacted.  We can not avoid any of this. He is acutely aware of this.

I hope in future blog entries to write more about the fundamentals of Voluntary Simplicity because that is where I am starting. Well, my husband Fred and I are starting.  We know that we have gone far afield in this issue…and we need to regroup, rethink our lives and go forth with a plan.  With our friends above, and the understanding that we are not alone, at all, that others with consciousness are feeling these same Discomforts,  we can choose to make a difference in our lives and impact the environment around us.

It all is a matter of a further evolution, after all.

Energy of hope

expresses the dynamics,

We roll up our sleeves.

Lady Nyo

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