Thursday, October 29, 2009

Simplifly for a Better Life, Better World

by Joy Wallace

For the past six weeks, I have been meeting with a class on Voluntary Simplicity and want to share some thoughts based on that experience. We used an excellent publication with the same title from the Northwest Earth Institute, which is full of thought-provoking articles.

Each chapter in Voluntary Simplicity deals with something in our lives where deliberate thoughtfulness and consideration can reduce stress and complexity. The key to all voluntary simplicity is mindfulness . . . actually making a conscious choice to change some behavior. As we read and discussed over the six weeks, we also came up with action plans to implement in our lives.

One area of discussion was to develop more awareness of the effect on our lives of our consumer-oriented culture. We considered how material abundance relates to actual quality of life and happiness. We discussed how many commercials wash over us as we listen to the radio, use the Internet and watch television, and how they influence our lives. We all considered cutting back on our spending, reducing waste, focusing more on personal values and getting rid of “stuff."

Another topic was “making a living.” In this chapter our discussions revolved around the long-range effects of working for a living . . . use of time and energy, relationships, and finding our passions. Too many times “we aren’t making a living, we are making a dying” because we expend our energy doing things that do not renew and nurture ourselves and end up with little energy left for relationships and things we value. Because of this, “life outside the workplace has lost vitality and meaning” and leisure time often leads to loneliness and boredom. We agreed that “making money is such hard work that it changes you” and that we want to develop new attitudes about our work lives and find more joy in leisure time.

The third topic was time -– how we use time and how nurtured we feel about the choices we make to “spend” time. One article states, “Be sure you tithe your time to something that genuinely moves you, and say no without guilt to anything that doesn’t. This way it will be easy to remember that you’re giving a gift, not serving a sentence.” Everyone in the group decided to be more deliberate about how time is spent and to increase peace in our lives.

Finally we discussed how to live more lightly on the Earth. Basically, we agreed that each individual must do something to decrease our impact on the earth. That something might be conserving water daily, composting, growing more food, turning off electric switches, recycling more, considering where food comes from and how it’s produced, or to simplify ones needs. Each person doing one thing, as well as increasing the awareness of others so they too will do one thing, can create changes.

We concluded some sessions with the following reading:
From Singing in the Living Tradition by William Henry Channing
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, to babes and sages with an open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry, never.
To let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

I look forward to future conversations with this group of people to see how we are all doing with our attempts to live more simply. I’m hoping to re-attend the same class at the next session.


  1. Sounds like a really worthwhile program. I love the final quote from Channing!

  2. We " make a dying" do...I do. I have recently taken some mindfullness steps to try to live work and away. I want to see and hear and feel what is around me. I want to know my life, my children, my husband. I want to be sure I don't miss the extreme joy and blessing there. Too often, I work "for them" ...for all the things I want them to have or for things for them to become. How odd...they "are" now and really celebrating them and our current life...I believe may "give them" everything they need. Thank you for your good. I am placing myself in this path. It requires me to let go of common securities. This is my challenge. How I long to govern my time with my passions...real quesiton: How well do moms do at this?
    ( I am commenting as anonymous because I am unsure of what the other options mean. )