Voluntary Simplicity

the-essence-of-voluntary-simplicity-is-living-in-a-way-what-is-outwardly-simple-and-inwardly-rich-quote-12017 is going to be the year where hopefully the words “voluntary simplicity” will be embraced by a wider range of people. I know that I have been incorporating voluntary simplicity in my own life for many years now, and that there is still many more ways in which I can follow a simpler, more efficient and ecologically sustainable way of being in the world. To do so, I am constantly informing myself, being conscious and mindful, trying to look at the bigger picture and taking personal responsibility for the world that I am leaving to our ancestors of the future. Now more than ever, we are at the crucial tipping point where we have to look beyond our own self-interest and look to the whole, to be more holistic in everything that we do.

I have incorporated Zen and Buddhism into my life for many years. For me, this brings a wisdom from both Eastern and Western philosophies that can blend together to form a holistic worldview and way of life. I feel that East and West need each other in order to understand the whole. Only when we understand the material as well as the spiritual can we bring them together to live fully in the here and now.

It’s important that simplicity, in terms of reducing consumerism, resources and living a better, cleaner more sustainable life, is voluntarily chosen. When it is not, we come across such suffering as poverty. Many people in the world do not have a choice to reduce, reuse, to choose. Here in the West, many of us can make choices, however small, in our daily lives that strive towards a more sustainable future for everyone. Where we can, we should voluntarily make that choice, in order to preserve a future for humanity. In doing so, we will also achieve a higher quality of life, and be able to truly flourish as a species. We are at that balance point, if we haven’t already gone too far, to either evolve into a higher consciousness and have that reflected in our actions, to come together as we realise that there is more to bind us together than tear us apart, or we can fall into divisiveness, fighting each other over the few differences and destroying not only ourselves, but a large portion of life on this planet in our downfall.

But what is simplicity? It is living in harmony with the world. Druidry is all about relationship, and this is also at the heart of simplicity. It is egalitarian. It sees through the illusions created by modern-day culture and society, the need to consume, the distractions of the media. It is about seeing what is really important in life: your family, your friends, your local environment. It is about living sustainably, so that our children and their children, as well as all the planet’s children, both human and non-human, have a good quality of life. It is about learning what is enough, rather than striving for more.

It is important to understand that simplicity is something that is for many of us a voluntary lifestyle. As stated above, many people lead lives in poverty and suffering because they do not have enough. We who do should learn just what is enough, and work towards achieving that understanding by informing and educating ourselves of our wants versus our needs. We must do this willingly, with an open heart. In doing so, we are also leading lives filled with compassion for all beings. It is not sacrifice, for we are only giving up the things that are unnecessary. Sacrifice is giving up the essentials. Many of thing things we consume or the activities we undertake are unnecessary. Many of them are distractions. Many of them only cause us to distance ourselves further from reality, each other and our place in the ecosystem. We are sacrificing ourselves by not following a simpler way of life.

We have to regard simplicity as a creative way of being in the world. Consumerism is not very creative. If we learn to live a simpler life, we rid ourselves of many distractions, thus enabling our own innate creativity to flourish. No longer are we kept under the pacifying drugs such a television, the media, advertising, and so on. We will embrace all that life has to offer, savouring each and every moment, willingly.

Gandhi said that we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live”. This is where we find compassion in a simpler life. This is where we see that we are a single thread among many in the tapestry or web of life. As human beings, homo sapien sapiens, the “beings who are aware that we are aware”, we understand the concept of a greater good for our species, and for the world as whole. Let’s use that knowledge wisely. Let’s create a world that we actually want to live in.

The concept of voluntary simplicity was begun by Richard Gregg, who was a student of Gandhi’s teachings. In 1936, he wrote about voluntary simplicity, stating that the purpose of life was to create a life of purpose. Let these words inspire you in your path towards voluntary simplicity. They can be a guiding beacon of light in a world of many illusory struggles and distractions. Create a life of purpose and meaning for yourself, using voluntary simplicity. It is the best way forward not only for your own life, but for the planet as a whole. Be creative. Druidry has a large focus on awen, on inspiration. Let us use that inspiration to live simpler lives filled with our creative potential to create a truly harmonious and sustainable way of life.

Mindfulness is a huge buzz word these past few years, and is a great tool in voluntary simplicity. We are living with intention, choosing our own path. We are conscious. We are aware that we are aware. Living an intentional life, as opposed to a reactive life, is one where we find a life of purpose. It really is that simple, yet is a challenging way to live. Being deliberate in everything requires us to evaluate and asses everything that we do, all our relationships: with other people, people we like and people we don’t like, with ourselves, with human and non-human animals, with the plant and mineral kingdoms. Like practicing Tai Chi, everything we do becomes a deliberate action, wholly understood and executed in a mindful manner, thus creating a beautiful flow.

Right now, we live in a world of crisis. Soon, the oil will become much more expensive, sea levels will rise, air quality will fall and the divide between those that have and those that have not will reach unprecedented proportions. We are currently living lives that sacrifice ourselves, each other and the planet. It can be utterly depressing when we view the world as such. Towards the end of 2016, an unusual pall of heaviness and depression hit me, as the weight of the suffering in the world fell all around me. I saw no hope for the future. However, voluntary simplicity has encouraged me that all is not lost. At this crisis point, we just might find profound opportunities to be creative, to be nourishing, to really change the way that we have been going the last few hundred years. This could be the unprecedented change necessary for our own survival. As the make or break point, this is where we could truly flourish as a species, to understand what has gone wrong, and to make amends right here, right now.

This requires personal responsibility. We cannot wait for governments to legislate for us. We cannot say that we will not undertake a simpler way of life until everyone else does. If we wait until everyone else decides to do this, or for it to be legislated, we could well be beyond the point of no return, where any action we undertake will already be too late. We must do this right now in our own lives, and let our lives be the example. We will not suffer because we are doing this, while others still live lives of disposable consumerism. We will not fall behind in the rat race. We will be living more intentionally, walking with a lighter footstep upon the planet, and knowing what really matters. Those who are not awakening to the benefit of voluntary simplicity are the ones who will suffer. Responsibility and duty have become dirty words in our society, and we must reclaim them for the very powerful values that they posses. We can change the world through everyday small actions. Like drops in a bucket, when we do so, even at tiny levels, it all adds up. We may not see the results straight away on a global scale, but we will see them in our own lives. We cannot wait any longer. We must take action now, in any way we can. No one will do this for us.

It’s also important to lay aside blame for the moment. If we participate in the world of consumerism, then we have only ourselves to blame. If we step outside of those bounds as much as possible, we will begin to understand the reasons why people do the things that they do, and in that understanding compassion will arise. For example, I know people whose kitchen cupboards are filled to overflowing. They don’t know what is in the back of those cupboards. There is food going to waste. But I also understand that there were many years where food was hard to come by for them, where every cent went to putting food on the table for their children. Full cupboards mean security. Though they might not be aware of this, I can certainly understand the behaviour, even if I don’t personally agree with it. I don’t blame them for creating the world that I live in, because I can change my own world in small and in large ways. If I lay all the blame for the world we live in on those who don’t share my own values, I can fall into an apathy and sense of separation from the rest of my fellow human beings that has absolutely no purpose or benefit in saving this planet or creating a new sustainable way of living. Instead, I will only live with anger and contempt, instead of working with compassion and integrity.

Every decision matters. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the jobs we undertake and more. We are not powerless. We must remember this. It is essential to living a more simple way of life. We cannot change society until we change ourselves. Our biggest and often most important vote that we have in our consumerist society is how we spend our money. Tell the companies that you don’t want their latest product induced by media to increase low self-esteem by not participating in what they are trying to create. Instead, live a life of meaning, of intentional and mindful experience. The quality of life will increase, as opposed to the quantity of material goods. You will find creative ways of living. It is possible.

When we discover the things that really matter in life, life really matters. This is my understanding of voluntary simplicity.

 

Review: Zen for Druids

Here is a review by Maria Ede-Weaving on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog for my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World (due out this October, and now available for pre-order). Thank you, Maria, for your lovely words!

Zen for Druids front coverI am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice.

The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy.

The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each.

Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life.

In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects.

Joanna van der Hoeven

The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey.

I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem!

Zen For Druids is now available on Moon Books for pre-order. 

Sitting still – the joy, the suffering, transformation and impermanence

Working on my online course for Zen Druidry and putting into words a deeper exploration of Zen Buddhist concepts with Druid philosophy and way of life has opened my eyes even more to the wonder that is life, the suffering and the joy that we create and the freedom in distinguishing between the functional ego and the representational ego that causes so much unnecessary difficulty in our lives.

I think meditation is the key to unlocking these concepts, for by stilling the body we can still the mind enough to see clearly, to ponder concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path in a Druid context with a deeper insight as a result of simply being quiet and mindful. I sit in meditation for 30 – 40 minutes a day, with a large chunk of that time being spent simply being present in the moment, in all its pain and glory, up and downs, its successes and difficulties. It’s a simple thing to do, but can be quite difficult to do when we begin to realise just how our minds work, and how hard it is to let them be, to not get attached to thoughts and feelings and simply be the observer of the mind’s functioning. We love to judge, we love to recreate scenarios, we love to think, think, think about everything to the point where we leave our bodies behind. At the other extreme we run our bodies into the ground and by doing so, without stilling them for any amount of time our minds become as frazzled as our nerves and we cannot find any sense of peace.

Sitting in silence, we can feel extreme joy even as we can feel extreme pain. Our attachment to either is what causes us suffering. When we attach to joy, we want to feel it over and over again, and crave it, striving for it with all our being, sometimes living lost in the future anticipation of that joy, or lost in the past of when we had it in our lives. Our attachment to pain causes us to suffer further, again becoming lost in the future with thoughts of “when will this pain every end?” or lost in the past “this is the cause of my pain, if only…”; when we drop our attachment and simply be in the present moment, we can take care of our thoughts and our emotions with great skill, thereby being compassionate to ourselves.

When we sit with either joyful or painful feelings, when we observe them without judging them or anyone else, when we simply see them as a part of life, as an emotion, we can also begin to understand their impermanence. Buddhism talks a lot about the impermanence of everything, and this is reflected in the Druid tradition of honouring the ever-changing cycles of life. We look at a river and see that it is never the same river twice, but constantly flowing, moving downwards to the sea, being filled with rain and experiencing a cycle of existence that has no single, unchangeable part. When we see concepts of birth and death both within a Druid and Buddhist perspective, we realise that there is no such thing as a beginning or ending that is so often tied to these concepts. They are simply events in our lives that all things experience. My view is that we are all a part of nature’s soul, that everything that exists is nature undergoes changes in form through transformation, energy being patterned by conditions and environment in an endless cycle. When we see life in such a context, we see that joy and suffering are also impermanent, and we are able to sit and be with them, to take them by the hand and allow ourselves to experience them without getting caught up in their form, for we know that they are transitory, as are we.

In the quiet and stillness we are able to gain a greater perspective of the whole, rather than the chattering monologue that runs through our minds for the majority of our lives. To step outside of our minds is a great liberation. To see the interconnectedness of all things dissolves the separate ego, instead allowing us a deep realisation of the weave of each form in the tapestry of life. We understand and acknowledge the functional ego that allows us to be in this world, while letting go of the representational ego that strives for and causes separation through the illusion of an Us and Them mindset. We’re all in this together.

In the Ten Ox-herding Pictures (or The Ten Bulls)  we see the final part as being able to work in the world without that separate sense of self. I think this is very important for Druidry and for all Paganism, for if we stop at the realisation of self we are at risk of self-importance. It is necessary to find out who we are, and then to work on letting that go as we realise that self is part of another system, which is part of another system, and so on throughout the universe. Rafting the currents of human emotion become so much easier when we lose the idea of a separate self, for not only are we not hurt by others as much and are able to feel compassion to create a more harmonious and peaceful existence, but we also become a part of the flow of that current. We find that with time our meditation and contemplation allows us to let go of the raft and simply become the river, thereby not having to fight it anymore, or fight to keep our seat as we hurtle through obstacles on our journey to the sea.

It’s our choice, however, to do the work necessary in order to achieve this sense of wholeness and peace, for no one can do it for us.

For a look into how Druidry can be related to the Ten Ox-herding pictures, see my post HERE.