A while ago my mother remarked to me about something akin to the frog-in-a-pot-of-water syndrome. She had been looking for out-of-season peaches at the supermarket (peaches don’t grow in the UK much anyway, even in summer), and suddenly recalled her (and my) childhood when people ate peaches, but canned ones. She reflected on how much cheaper that worked out, because the logistics of transport, protection of easily bruised fruit and keeping produce fresh simply vanished. This caused her to see for a moment very clearly how our lives have changed by tiny increments, each gradual small change increasing our expectations until we reached the ‘consumer society’ of today with its midwinter lettuce and strawberries and green beans from Kenya in January. This in turn caused her to ask herself whether we had not made ourselves increasingly vulnerable to the effects of economic recession because we had a long way back to travel from the expectations we’d reached to the simplicity needed to weather times of austerity.
One way and another I have been thinking about simplicity since I came across Francis of Assisi when I was 15. But my journey towards simplicity has been like a yo-yo dieter trying to get thin, and that’s primarily because of the difficulty of swimming against the current of habits entrenched in myself and the wider society that is my context.
But recently I have noticed that if I can achieve a certain level of plain-ness/de-clutter/simplicity in my environment and daily schedule, something happens: I can think. With enough space and emptiness built into my life I begin to be able to notice things, I can make more intentional choices, I can hold in mind principles that I meant to remember – fair-trade, social justice, compassion in farming, environmental sustainability etc etc – that get easily lost in the muddle of things to be attended to if I take on too much or simply have too much stuff around me in my visual field.
Things that seem like too much effort – walking or bussing down to the wholefood co-op for bread, going to the fishermen’s huts for fish, remembering to heat water for the thermos while the woodstove is burning instead of turning on the gas furnace in the morning – start to feel possible when I have space to think. Once they feel possible, I do them. Once I do them, I create a new habit (fragile at first but strengthening with repetition). It is the energy of a habit that forms the forcefield safeguarding a conscious choice. Conscious choice is assisted by simplicity.
Thinking these things over early this morning just before dawn, I checked out my email to find in my inbox two messages that reinforced these thoughts very clearly.
At Zen Habits (blacked out today because of the SOPA protest, but hopefully a live link soon) Leo Babauta is writing about the discipline of sitting in silence in an empty room, to allow ourselves to calm down, to be content with stillness. At Pilgrim’s Moon Tess is talking about positive passivity, the receptivity that comes with responding to the need to make a decision by sitting quietly, waiting, allowing the right choice to emerge within the stilled soul.
And at Innermost House, as always, is inspiration for life measured by heartbeats and human voices, lived according to the turning of the earth in the light of the sun and moon, comforted by the sighing of great trees and the song of birds. These are signposts on the way of wisdom.
365 Day 18 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)
A coin of the realm – a “crown” commemorating the Queen’s silver jubilee as our sovereign in 1977. My sister was born in 1952, the year of the coronation, and I was married in 1977, the year of the Jubilee – I lived in York at the time, in a terraced house in St Martin’s Lane off Micklegate, overlooking St Martin’s churchyard. The Queen passed through in a car one summer day and, though not very tuned into civic dignitaries and events of national importance in those days, I did manage to get myself along to the end of the lane to stand with the crowds and see her drive by.