2017 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.