The journey to simplicity, unfortunately, it not like tattooing. It is one major decision, carved out into little pieces of decisions day after day after day. Sometimes you stop on the journey, sometimes you actually lose ground, and other times you're full speed ahead. But it's a journey, nonetheless, and demands the mental and emotional focus of a journey. We may take a "break" but we cannot afford to "wander off" into the woods and forget about the trip altogether.
It's actually difficult to blog about the journey, because, using the sacramental words of the liturgy, it is an "outward and visible sign of a inward and spiritual [change]." Some of the changes are easy to write about, and some are still percolating on the stove like one of Ed's pots of delicious soups. "Is it ready?" I ask him impatiently, not being a cook myself and not knowing the signs that something is finished. Ah, it may be edible but not necessarily ready.
Which brings me to toenails. Yesterday I spent a few precious hours with 2-year-old Caroline, who was her usual precocious self. Our daughter, whose new house has no grass in the yard yet, requests that guests remove their shoes inside, so on this particular day I was walking around barefoot, following little Caroline, who was trying to show me where her "arts and cafts" box was so we could do some painting. At one point, Caroline turned to me, looked down at my feet (she always seems to have an obsession with feet!) and her eyes widened. "Gammy!" she said in awe. "YOU HAVE TOES!"
Now I want to assure the reader that I am anatomically similar to all other human beings in that yes, I have toes, I have always had toes, and Lord willing I will have toes the rest of my life. Her excited observation startled me for a minute. Caroline has seen my toes, hasn't she? Haven't I taken naps with her? Haven't I worn sandals in front of her? It took me the rest of the day to realize what had happened. She had seen my toes before, but my toenails were now painted with nail polish. I had done that this month to "spruce up" for Matt's wedding, and I realized she had never seen them colored before. She knew in her mind that I had always had toes, but something was different, and with her advanced but still limited vocabulary, the only way she could express her newly found insight was "YOU HAVE TOES!"
The journey to simplicity has been full of these "aha" experiences, hard to blog about but important nonetheless. Sometimes the words just can't convey the depth of things we are discovering about ourselves, our lifestyle, our wants, our needs, the lessons we are handing down to the next generation, and the attitude we are presenting to the world as a society. But these experiences, like the soup, can percolate for awhile. And every once in awhile, I can lift the top of the pot and breathe in a most heavenly smell, and exclaim in awe, like Caroline, "WOW!"
Or, you could just have a lightning storm hit your local electricity supplier for a few hours.
Yes, we got a crash course in living simply this week. Basically, life without electricity will bring home what living simply really means. Candles provide nice ambience when you want to have a romantic dinner - but they are quite useless for reading a magazine. There is an eerie quiet about the house when suddenly the lights go out, the fans go off, the refrigerator stops working, the TV turns itself off, and all you can hear are the wall clocks which run on batteries ticking in the silence. Motions you are used to doing automatically - turning on the light switch when you enter a room, for instance - are fruitless. Trying to find something to eat for dinner is a challenge in itself. (We ended up with cheese and bread and a little deli turkey.) Pity the poor soul in this situation who only has electric can openers. Fortunately, an old-fashioned hand cranked can opener is a staple in our kitchen; we could have least opened a can of beans or something. I don't want to confess how many times I was so bored I almost ran upstairs to check my e-mail before I realized I had no working computer. Even my piano is digital.
So after I played my harp (which is not digital), we spent the evening in total quiet, just talking to each other without the usual distractions.
Living truly simply is not for wimps. And without electricity, I couldn't even be writing this journal, nor could you be reading it. But it's nice every once in awhile to be reminded of what it could be like if we scaled our hectic lives back a little.
And the harp never sounded better!
So it is, we come out of our escapes and retreats from a misguided, foolishly empowered personal experience and into the daily affairs of experience and THERE think from, act from, and rejoice from the Identity as Sufficiency, not as lack; from the Identity as Sufficiency, neither as poverty nor wealth; from Sufficiency instead of the agony of poverty and fear. We walk through the same garden, but this time we walk without the grind in the belly.
A Guide to Awareness and Tranquillity
To live with a sense of sufficiency rather than insufficiency. This is our goal. "Neither poverty nor wealth." The idea is not to be poor, the idea is not to be rich. The idea is to be able to say, "The time I have been allotted is sufficient for my life. I have been given the same amount of time as anyone else on earth, as far as a day goes - 24 hours - and what I choose to do with that amount of time is directly responsible for what kind of life I will make." "The resources I have been given in my life are sufficient for me to live my life in a responsible, compassionate, creative, content, and joyful manner."
It truly is an amazing attitude change when you accept the word sufficiency and go from there.
I have heard it said that a good definition of "hell on earth" is the inability to be content with what one has and always wanting more, because there's always more. Even for Bill Gates, there's always more.
I came across this "sermonette" from the New Covenant Church of God in Sweden.
Philip Parham tells the story of a rich industrialist who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. "Why aren't you out there fishing?" he asked.
"Because I've caught enough fish for today," said the fisherman.
"Why don't you catch more fish than you need?" the rich man asked.
"What would I do with them?"
"You could earn more money," came the impatient reply, "and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you'd have a fleet of boats and be rich like me."
The fisherman asked, "Then what would I do?"
"You could sit down and enjoy life," said the industrialist.
"What do you think I'm doing now?" the fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea.
My first father-in-law was a rich industrialist and his philosophy was to work as hard as one could and earn as much money as possible. He spent almost his whole life at his job and had little time for anything else. He expected me to have the same philosophy of life. And I dare say this is the belief of the majority of people in the secular world.
But what the world does not for some reason understand is that if we live only to accumulate wealth, we'll never get enough. We'll work more and more frantically until we collapse.
Happiness does not come in the abundance of possessions. We should work to sufficiently provide for the needs of our family and to generate some surplus for the benefit of the poor. But we should not go overboard. Our first and greatest priority is seeking for the Kingdom of God. Let us not, moreover, be so busy preparing for a rainy day that we miss the sunshine! Let the Kingdom be your career and your job the means to provide the necessities of life.
The author of Don't Eat This Book is Morgan Spurlock, the creator and star of the movie Supersize Me, which, as most of you know, was a documentary of his experiment of eating nothing but McDonald's food for a month, detailing the destruction it wreaked on his health. His new book reminds me in a way of The Jungle, which my son and I read together when he was in high school. After reading The Jungle, Matt gave up hot dogs completely and cut down tremendously on his meat consumption. Don't Eat This Book is affecting me in the same way about fast food. I did see Supersize Me a few months ago, and the book just confirms the facts used in the movie.
What impressed me most in this book is his take on the advertising industry. I have touched in this blog at one time or another on how the indisiousness of advertising in our culture can undermine a journey to simplicity. Spurlock brings the case home even more. He explains how the fast food industry as well as the processed food/junk food/cereal industry has taken great pains to market their products effectively, especially to children. Then came the cross-promotion with the toy companies, synergy, which made kids want to eat fast food/junk food even more. He even mentions a marketing study from 1998 called The Nag Factor. It was:
...done to help advertisers and marketers learn how to target kids better, to get them to nag...The press release that went out to advertisers to announce the publication of this study was called - I'm not kidding - "The Fine Art of Whining: Why Nagging Is a Kid's Best Friend." Another industry nickname for it is "pester power."....The different tactics kids use to nag: the whine, the threat, the guilt trip, the suck-up. How marketing and ads can be designed to trigger these different tactics.
I'm 50 years old. If you are around my age, are you thinking what I am thinking? We have been conditioned for decades by these marketing strategists who tell us what we want, what we need, and why we must buy it. How many hours of TV commercials have we sat through in our lives? How many billboards have we seen? How many magazine advertisements? How many ads at the movie theater? On the radio? It would be a very interesting experiment to go through one day and write down how many ads you see or hear. They say that even in movies and TV shows the ads are incorporated into the shows themselves. If you see a character drinking a Coke, the Coca-Cola company paid for their name to be seen on that can.
I used the term insidious because that's exactly what it is. From Dictionary.com:
in·sid·i·ous () Pronunciation Key (n-sd-s)
- Working or spreading harmfully in a subtle or stealthy manner: insidious rumors; an insidious disease.
- Intended to entrap; treacherous: insidious misinformation.
- Beguiling but harmful; alluring: insidious pleasures.
The first step in fixing a problem is identifying some of the sources of the problem. Our corporate culture of pervasive advertising is a definite contributor to our society's excessive consumption and captivation with acquisition, regardless of the consequences to our health or peace of mind. May we have the ability to recognize it for what it is - years and years of mind control - and for our sake and for our kids' sakes, summon up enough power to defeat it!
Those TV shows about selling your house follow the same basic line. They start with a house for sale, give you an overview, then bring in an expert who tells them basically that they have a snowball's chance in hell of even giving their house away until they clean up the filfth, buy some new furniture, update the decor, get rid of the clutter, slap on some paint, and bring in some curb appeal. Then the show's carpenters, decorators, contractors, painters, and landscapers get to work on preparing the house not only to sell, but to get what they call "top dollar" and "multiple offers," neither of which have made themselves known in our personal house-selling situation. The show usually ends with the grateful homeowner receiving multiple offers, all way above the asking price, and being put in the enviable position of having to decide exactly how much extra profit they want to accept.
How does one make a house look inviting yet look as if nobody lived in it? Well, it takes practice, practice, and more practice. We have had enough house showings that we could do this in our sleep. I'll bet we have shaved a good half hour off our preparation time since we started showing the house a few months ago. First, we have to put away all personal hygiene products. That means the potential buyer should see no toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, hair spray, razors, hair brushes, etc. Second, we have to pretend we have no dog. That means making sure all the doggy toys and snacks and bed are removed from sight. Third, we have to pretend we don't read. That means all newspapers, magazines, paper clutter of any kind must be stacked neatly and relatively hidden. Fourth, we have to pretend we don't do laundry. Yes, we have top-of-the-line washer and dryer, but if we're smart, we pretend we don't use them. This means hiding all the dirty clothes and towels. Fifth, we have to give the impression we are perfectly healthy. This means hiding all the prescription bottles, the Gas-X, the Tylenol, the Benadryl, and especially the laxatives, which apparently don't convey a good impression.
Now why someone interesting in buying our house would care if we were constipated, I just don't know.
There is one part of staging advice, though, where I had to compromise. You are supposed to get rid of all personal pictures. I managed to pack up most of our family photos, but I am leaving the ones on the wall in the hall upstairs. For one thing, it reminds the viewer that this house had a big part in raising a happy, functional, well-adjusted family - and maybe it will whisper something like, "....and you can too!" The second reason for leaving them is the fact that if I took them down I would have a great number of holes in the wall to deal with. I'll leave them up, thank you very much.
Ed, of course, hates the staging aspect. "Where in the heck is my......?" has been his mantra since day one. I just tell him I hid it for staging and he gives me "the look."
Where we and the TV house-selling shows part ways is this: Somehow their group of contractors, painters, decorators, carpenters and landscapers never made it to our door to offer their services. And on TV they work hard at one single, magnificent, perfect staging, have one big open house, get their multiple offers, and are through with it. We, on the other hand, are constantly staging for another showing.
And it does make me wonder, sometimes, if the potential buyers who scout out our house think, "What kind of people are living here? They don't even brush their teeth!"
I heard about the Slow Food movement a few years ago. It was begun as a statement against the proliferation of fast food in our society. A good history of the movement and its mission can be found at this web site. The idea of "slow food" goes hand in hand with a journey to simplicity. And fortunately, I have a live-in chef who is an expert at slow food! He detests processed foods and tries to make everything from scratch. He buys organic if possible. He can take some onions, some colorful peppers, some fresh garlic and other seasonings, a little meat, some fresh spinach - mmmm! He doesn't use recipes. Everything is in his head, which makes it hard to write his delicious concoctions down for the kids, who, now grown, want to cook like Daddy.
All I can say is - the fact that my husband has done all the cooking for the family for our 31 years of married life - including Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays - definitely helps make my life simple! Thanks, Ed!
I've thought about his ideas lately because in Maine at this time of year people try to get back to nature. Around here, the primary objective for tourists is, of course, Acadia National Park. Each summer the cars with out-of-state licenses are lined up for miles, aiming for those beautiful acres of forest and mountains on the ocean's edge.
Ed loves to hike. One day he hiked in Acadia, got lost, and ended up hiking for 8 hours on what was supposed to be a 2-hour walk. I once agreed to go on a "walk" with him at Acadia. I soon found out that a "walk" to me and a "walk" to him were two different things. He hikes for hours, and I like to walk as fast as I can for 15 minutes, then turn around and head back. Thirty minutes of exercise. Needless to say, after my complaining and his complaining about my complaining, we agreed that day that we would share other activities but never go "walking" together again.
I do love nature. I really do! At a distance. Through a window, or at least a screen. I realize now that any journey to simplicity must involve a truce between me and nature. I freely admit this will be difficult for me. So what do I have against nature? It's either too hot or too cold or too wet or too humid or too windy. I don't like dirt or mud either. Those "mud pies" we used to make in the backyard using little foil pot-pie cups have lost their allure.
I absolutely hate bugs, although they love me. The Maine blackfly effects some kind allergic reaction in me and I swell up at the site of its attack. Flowers are gorgeous, but where there are flowers there are bees. Yes, I know bees perform a valuable humanitarian service, one that is necessary for ecological purposes, but when I was a little girl I had a bee fly up my sleeve at recess on the playground at East Elementary School and since then bees have made me quite nervous. It didn't help matters when a couple of years ago I was taking a walk down a country road and a bee chased me for a good mile. I didn't know I could run that fast. See - even when I try to get back to nature, I am thwarted.
Ed used to preach that when God told Moses to take off his shoes, that he was on holy ground, it was not so much about the fact his shoes would desecrate the ground - it was that Moses needed his bare feet to be in direct contact with the ground so the "current of holiness" could go through his body. Now me, I never go barefoot outside. I am glad God has never asked me to do so. Our son-in-law is constantly amused at our insistence on wearing shoes. He's not a hillbilly - he's an educated teacher - but he was raised to run barefoot all summer. The idea just freaks me out. There are so many things that would be dangerous to step on, and eww...the dirt and mud!
Jesus said we must become like little children, and that's one thing kids do enjoy - the outdoors and nature in all her glory. And somewhere in my inner child I remember walking home from school, going by the Pink Palace museum and climbing up onto a low-lying branch of the deodar tree (I know it was a deodar tree because it had a plaque on it stating that fact) and just resting there, mulling over the events of the day, and - yes - talking to the tree. Since I have grown up, I am, like many other adults, a fan of the creature comforts in life: Heat, air conditioning, floors, walls, windows and screens. And comfy chairs to sit in so when you get up you won't have wet grass and dirt on your pants.
I think this is a good goal for Caroline to help me with.