The Christmas season tends to stir themes of materialism and simplicity for me. I am reading the book Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict and the little section I came across this morning was on nonattachment. It refers to the monastic tradition but in my life, I find many of the teachings and practices helpful in my non-monastic life. Both Benedictine and Buddhist communities teach about ownership and the risk that too much stuff will compromise one’s spiritual growth. Yet the two communities differ in their teachings. Joseph Goldstein, one of the contributors to the book, explains the difference as he sees it. “A Buddhist wouldn’t echo Jesus’ judgment that ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19:24). I don’t think there is a bias against wealth. The Buddha had wealthy supporters who were living householder lives. It’s more a question of generosity or stinginess.”
I have grappled with attachment to things over the years. In fact, that struggle is history for me. At my age most possessions are an annoyance. Possessions mean dusting and storing and reorganizing ad nauseam. I don’t necessarily think that makes me more spiritual than others. More likely it means I am lazy. I admire it when people take delight in what they have. They have an appreciation for the beauty of things that I sometimes lack. Gratitude, after all, is also a spiritual attribute and to complain about or diminish one’s possessions seems not very grateful.
Most people my age are down-sizing and getting rid of stuff. “If the kids and grandkids don’t want it, out it goes,” they say. I anticipate having to face a move some day to smaller quarters. A retirement home, assisted living, a little space with a child or grandchild…who knows? Then I will have to get rid of stuff. I have sometimes looked about my house and asked myself, “What would I take with me? What is meaningful? What is important to me?” The list is getting shorter.
Does this tendency to detach indicate more spiritual maturity? I don’t know. I think it may have something to do with getting tired of caring for the stuff as the old body deteriorates. Nothing much spiritual in that. It is also about awareness of what makes one really happy. During these weeks of recovering from knee replacement surgery, I was stuck at home a lot. I can tell you that the stuff on my walls or on my shelves didn’t do a thing to lift my spirits. Now, able to get out, I find that being with people I find interesting and those I care about is what does it.
That is enough on this! I don’t want to work myself into a frenzy of guilt like that young woman years ago. I need to foster gratitude for what I have rather than contempt. The Buddha suggests generosity. Maybe if I pay attention generosity will unclutter my house of stuff. .
I’ve been noticing that a some Christians complain about the fact that public schools can’t have Christmas symbols in them. I want to say to people: “Go to church! There are a lot of Christmas symbols for your children to see there, and put them in your home so they know what you believe.”
I’ve also heard some Christians bemoan about the fact that stores and malls are posting signs that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. They even consider this some form of discrimination against Christians. In the best light, I’d consider it a way to be more inclusive. But, let’s face it, for retailers, it is all about sales. I want to say to these complainers, “Do you really want retailers that promote all that Jesus was against to be broadcasting Jesus all over the place? Broadcast the birthday of the Lord in the church, keep in your homes, and in your hearts. And it is okay for you to wish anyone you like, ‘Merry Christmas.’ “
I’ve read in several places that as things fall apart around us due to bad management at all levels, we humans will be depending more and more on one another in our local settings. I remember the book that Barbara Kingsolver wrote Animal Vegetable Miracle in which she told of her family’s year of living off the land, season by season. They had knowledge of native plants as well as those they could produce in their garden, so foods that grew in the forest and ditches around them was part of their survival. There was also the use of the produce of their local farmer neighbors, emphasis on local. This book makes me imagine the life the doomsday naysayers are predicting but reading it in a book penned by Kingsolver makes it seem sweetly appealing.
Kingsolver and her family decided at the start of their adventure that each person in the family could select one luxury food item that they just could not do without. Barbara chose coffee, which would be my choice, too. As they went along, they became masters at preserving and preparing the food that they bought locally and harvested. In the end, they realized that living locally is survivable; assuming that your local region hasn’t turned into a desert, though the Zunis might have something to teach us about that. The Kingsolver experiment is what I imagine could be the experience of the world one day as systems such as transportation fail us. It sounds adventurous to me until I think about energy systems failing and going back to reading by candlelight and using outhouses. The thought of going to an outhouse three times during the night in middle winter in Minnesota is really upsetting to me. Oh yes! I remember the chamber pot my Great Aunt Mary had!
I am too old to learn all the stuff people would have to know. I guess I will be one of those dependent on the brawn and brains of those around me. I really should get to know my neighbors better
I made a list of things to do today, hopeful of accomplishment. But I realize as I read yesterday’s blog that I never got around to putting up the apples yesterday. So my list gets longer. I suppose more will be added as I go.
I plan to go to Ruby’s Pantry in Little Falls this afternoon. This is a program that gets food out to folks that would have to be trashed if it were not distributed. I don’t know exactly where it all comes from or how it is collected, but I’ve noted that expiration dates for packaged foods are near and fruits and vegetables are such that they need to be used promptly. Frozen meats are always great to get. I never take the pop and bottled water. Twice I got 12-packs of Greek yogurt. One doesn’t have to take everything that is offered, but you can’t take more of one thing to compensate for another that you take a pass on. The cost is $15 and if you take all that is offered, you get well over that amount in value.
Ruby’s Pantry is a win-win situation. It isn’t like the food shelf where only people in need participate. They encourage everyone to come so that the food gets used rather than discarded. The lines are long extending outside the church that hosts the program. In the winter, it means you have to bundle up. You have to bring your own containers. Those who frequent the program are creative in what they bring… something with wheels is best. I bring laundry baskets. There are many people who help check people in, distribute the food, and help people get the food to their cars. I play my old lady card so I get someone else to carry my stuff. The helpers are the same folks one sees doing service in the community all the time, especially in programs that serve those in need. God bless them.
Sun is ready to come up. I will go out and say good morning…then get on with the rest of the duties on my list.
I have been wanting to use the paddle boat to go out on the lake alone in the morning with the loon. This morning I dared it. I donned a life preserver that Bernie later told me was for a child, cleared the spider’s hard work away, unleashed the boat from the dock and launched. I won’t go out very far this first time, I decided. I thought to find a spot more risky than the end of the dock where I could surrender more properly in my morning meditation.
I found as I went that I couldn’t get the darned thing to go forward in the direction of my choice and I thought perhaps paddle boat driving takes a special skill that only ten year olds can achieve. As I fuddled, I found that when I reversed the circle my feet were making, I was able to go backward at a little faster clip and in the direction I chose. But then the handle that controlled the rudder stuck. I called Bernie on my cell phone though he had left me on the dock only ten minutes ago. He said that he and Jerry would be there soon to rescue me.
As I waited, I tried to coordinate my backward pedaling with the direction of the current that the breeze was making on the surface of the water. Gratefully, it was pushing me toward the shore rather than away. By the time my knights arrived, I was almost back to the dock. Jerry told me to give the handle a good hard pull and when I did it became unstuck. Then he instructed me to pull up to the dock where he could grab the mooring rope and get me situated along the on the edge of the dock.
I told him how the rudder refused to perform for me when I paddled forward and he explained that the rudder is broken and only half is there. It works, he said, but needs repairing to do the job well. I think I will wait until the paddle boat has a full rudder before venturing out again.
I guess that is the story of my life – launching out with half a rudder. Someone will have to come to rescue me…humiliating.
Yesterday was a surprise day. I had just finished my list of things to do when my daughter showed up at our camper door and said, “I am going to town. Do you want to go with me?” I threw the list aside and went. I am operating without a car while I am here, so any errands I need to run have to be timed with someone else’s errands. But what a nice time to spend with Kate.
It is rainy. My list today has on it some of the things I did not get done yesterday. Sun would be nice. Here at the resort, being in all day isn’t really an option. I am always moving from cabin to cabin, camper to Kate’s house, maintenance room to lodge. If I don’t get my walk in, I get walking in. The other day, Jerry said the cart is mine to use if I like, but I chose to walk just to get the exercise and enjoy the warm air.
My morning is getting away from me. I have spent a considerable amount of time on the phone…good stuff. But I will move on now.
Have a good and adventurous day. My mother, whenever she had to do something that she hadn’t planned such as my surprise day yesterday, would say, “We are having an adventure.” Here’s to you, Mom.
Author Tim Jackson, in Prosperity Without Growth, has a chapter on the challenge of living simply. I am referring here to an actual movement. Several years ago, I read several books on simplicity. Some focused on living simply as a way to achieve financial freedom, freedom from debt, for example. It was timely for me as I was letting go of a full time job to care for my mother. Some focused on the freedom from addiction to stuff, others on caring for the earth. I loved reading these books and felt good when I was able to apply their principles and practices.
Jackson names some of these in his chapter, “Flourishing – within Limits”. He quotes Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply that others may simply live”. Duane Elgin is mentioned. His book, Voluntary Simplicity is in my personal library and I read his on-line newsletter for years. But what is really helpful is that Jackson lists some of the social impediments to those who choose simple living as way of life. I already mentioned in previous blogs the idea that if we all chose voluntary simplicity, our economy would collapse. Jackson mentioned London Mayor Boris Johnson who told the citizens to go out and spend their money in spite of the credit crunch and President George W. Bush who infamously told citizens to “go out shopping” after the 9/11 attacks. We can’t continue to risk our own financial well-being to support the country’s well-being. At least I don’t want to do that nor do I want my children and their children to do that.
Below is a list of blocks, besides national economy, that Jackson offers for people who may want to go the route of simple living:
- Generally prosperity is associated with material wealth and there is a point where lack of material wealth carries a sense of shame. Too much limiting of goods can position one as being in a lower status.
- Proponents of simple living figured out early on the need for community. I (Judy) remember when our family was young realizing how difficult it would be to reduce the level of Christmas giving, especially for our children, to be able to live among friends who were lavishly gifted. It isn’t surprising why the Amish and Mennonites form communities that are separatist. Other communities have formed over the years that are not religiously based. I know of one in Sauk Center here in Minnesota. This is why Circles of Simplicity were formed.
- “Equally important are the subtle but damaging signals sent by government, regulatory frameworks, financial institutions, the media and our education systems,” Jackson says. Examples he gives: business salaries are higher than those in caring professions, children are brought up as a “shopping generation”, and success is determined according to a person’s material posessions (house size, number of cars, etc.)
- Some aspects of affluence are difficult to surrender in living simply. These contribute to quality of life. One that comes to my mind is our owning a second car and being able to travel. There is a certain level at which we choose to participate in the system of consumption. It is interesting that Jackson names the choice for individual transportation rather than mass transit as one of the barriers to the choice for simplicity. The choice for public transportation involved a cooperation between citizens and the business sector and/or government.
I am delighted that so many people are thinking about these things. For me, it means that as we consider simple living, there is a chance that we won’t be acting in isolation. We can go forward with a community to accompany us.