I posted this on my blog (at www.Plainlyquaker.wordpress.com) this morning and then it occurred to me that it would be of interest to the Plainness and Simplicity Group here on QQ. However, I can not figure out how to post on that group now (Martin, has something changed?). Following the post is an excellent comment by a reader that I thought Friends would also appreciate. Here is the original post:

It is fascinating to me that as the “outside” world becomes more complicated and as the number of details we are supposed to care about and be paying attention to spirals out of control, there is simultaneously an increasing craving for simplicity and meaning in our lives. On Quakerquaker the Plainness and Simplicity group has new members joining every week. As I roam around the web I see many people drawn to reading about Plain dress and simple lifestyles even if they never would consider adopting any of these for themselves. I also follow simple living/wilderness living/bushcraft boards and millions of people on those boards are seeking to make their lives more meaningful through letting go of the consumer culture to even a small degree by doing for themselves.

Are we tired yet of being passive consumers whose only reason for existence is to earn enough money to hand it back to those who make the “stuff” we supposedly have always needed and wanted? Did we ever ask for 100 brands of soda, for an entire aisle of potato chips, for cell phones that come in every shade of the rainbow? How many hours a day do we WANT to spend choosing between things that we never cared that much about until they told us that we DID care? Do we WANT to spend hours each week looking for new clothes to replace a bedroom bursting with so many clothes they don’t fit in our closets? When is enough enough?

As I get older and face the fact that my life is time-limited the answers to these questions become much more obvious. I have no longer any patience with anything I am forced to do that does not feel meaningful. I will not waste what little time I have left on meaninglessness. I believe that millions of people today feel the same and the number is growing in proportion to the insanity of the consumerism that is mushrooming around us! Younger people may not realize that it is indeed mushrooming out of control. Today I was telling my teenage daughters about the garbage dumps where we used to take our household garbage when I was a child. All garbage was burned at the dump. You could also pick up furniture etc. (even pets sometimes) at the dump. It may sound terribly toxic today, but I realized as I said it that most of the garbage actually WAS burnable! There was very little plastic, all containers that groceries, or toys, etc. came in were cardboard (or tin, for cans). Lots of food was unpackaged. Bags were all paper. Diapers were cloth. Stores were small and the goods were limited. And I am describing the 1960s – not that long ago. The mountains of garbage being landfilled in our county as we speak are totally avoidable!

I diverged into that tirade just to show how we have complicated our lives (buying tons and tons of convenience stuff) and are now drowning under garbage mountains. To me it feels like smothering. I am being smothered by stuff! Everywhere I look there is stuff to keep track of, to clean, to organize, to care for. I even dream of stuff! But there is a trend pushing back the other way and it is growing. Even the very local carpenter we hired to do some work for us said he is excited about a master composting class he is taking! And, of course, as money and jobs etc. become more limited, doing for yourself will become not only meaningful but necessary! We have been raising our own food for about 18 years now. I only buy grains, peanut butter, tea, dried beans and condiments. But even that can become overwhelming and obsessive and take over our lives. Where does God want us to find the balance?

This Spring we are fixing up an old travel trailer (sleeps 8) we have parked at the top of our 80 acres. It has a million dollar view all the way up Seneca Lake to Geneva. But blasting winter winds have ruined the roof and it is in seriously deteriorating condition. I am tearing out the rotten wood and we will re-roof it (hopefully in the next few weeks) and build a covered deck in front of it.  I plan to “move” up there for the summer. I am collecting a large box of books I have wanted to read for a long time. I am taking a camera, binoculars, field guides, wild edibles and medicinal wild plants guides,  sketching materials, journals, my Bible, my knitting. I plan to come down to the house once a week to do laundry, check email, replenish food supplies (oh, I have to do a massive shopping trip before hand to stock up the house on staples first), say hi to the cats. I will build fires, cook over fires, stare into fires, think, listen, meditate, pray, sleep, be with my family (or whoever wants to join me – that is unclear at the moment).

It is always hard for me to justify such selfishness. I have raised 9 children, even homeschooled them, and have been a partner on our small dairy farm, making cheese, growing all that food etc. for 20 years (the children go back to 34 years). I am ready to “retire”, I guess. At least to take a long break before my 93 year old mother moves here in the fall.  Yesterday it came to me that this is not in the LEAST selfish!! God is leading me, no, FORCING me, to take a much needed breather and find Him again and His peace. A retreat, homegrown style, is what he is pushing me into. And now that I can see it as His plan, and not escapism, I am all for it!! In this driven and hyperactive world today we all need to turn to Him for direction and see where He is showing us how we can slow down, take it slow, make time to think, time to hear Him. It will look different for each of us but it may be the difference between our sanity and our losing our sanity. God only knows.

I would love to hear how others find the peace amid the increasing meaninglessness of daily modern life. What brings joy and peace to your life? What have you let go of and what do you do to stay connected to Life.

Barb

Then a Friend commented:

It occurred to me recently that most people used to spend most of the day nurturing other living things (livestock, orchards, crops, family, etc.). Now, most people spend most of the day nurturing other people’s corporations. I am all for sucessful businesses, but the current situaiton can’t be anything but a loss.

I’m not saying anything new to complain that modern life bombards us with incessant, and frequently inescapable “chatter” – referring to everything from random car alarms, endless beeping from backing up trucks, other’s cell phone conversations, other people’s loud music (esp.. base), other people’s tv, etc. I feel like I suffer from chronically jacked-up defensive adrenaline (or something). I suspect it badly messes with our brain waves. I don’t think such anxiety inducing stresses were common before fifty years ago.

Furthermore, people used to do more repetative medative tasks (and they did them with hand tools, not machines). Hoeing gardens, chopping wood, laundry, spinning, knitting sewing, weaving,grinding grain, making bread, walking rather than driving, etc. Obviously, humans can be lazy, and we mostly choose the machines today, but I don’t think it is at all good for us. Again, brain waves – I think those manual tasks put us in a different, and regenerative, state of mind.

I envy you your retreat. Enjoy!

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Anna Lee - Exactly! I am more and more interested in how we can do that in small ways, not big changes necessarily, to bring us peace and a sense of meaning. I recall reading of a Quaker who started just talking a bit more slowly. Not even enough that anyone else noticed, but he noticed and it cause him to slow down just enough to be able to open a crack for God's presence to enter. Made a bit difference to him. Save with walking or driving just a bit slower I think - I have found this to be true.

You might also like the post I put up yesterday called What is Simplicity, if you haven't already checked out my blog (www.plainlyquaker.com)

Have a good day,

Barb

Barb said: "I would love to hear how others find the peace amid the increasing meaninglessness of daily modern life. What brings joy and peace to your life? What have you let go of and what do you do to stay connected to Life."

I have been fascinated by simplicity all my adult life, trying (and often failing) to find my way into a sustainable and realistic practice of simplicity. I've found plenty that are neither, and wasted a lot of time and money on them too.  Here are my findings so far: 

1) As they say, "blossom where you're planted"; I believe realistic and sustainable simplicity involves learning to live lightly within one's actual context, rather than complicating life by creating an alternative reality and oscillating between the two.

2) Authenticity - truthfulness - creates simplicity. Restless aspirations, trying to fulfil the expectations of others, and wanting to be someone different complicate life badly.

3) Wholegrains and vegetables promote simplicity because they diminish internal pendulum swings (which are exacerbated by meat and sugar).  Simplicity is strongly linked to interior peace, and so are whole grains and vegetables.

4) It takes a while to process assimilated information. Sometimes, in my search for simplicity, I get so much of information/ideas/opinions on board, so forceful, that it backs up and makes my mind sick - mental over-production. It occurs to me to limit information, but act on it.

5) Of all the things that promote realistic and sustainable, honest simplicity, the best and most beautiful is sharing. The more we share the less we end up with. The less we have, the easier it becomes to share. Sharing is the most practical route into simplicity, and it generates joy. Simplicity is the only doorway into spirituality, sharing is the simplest route into simplicity. Sharing also helps safeguard against grabbing back - because others are now holding firm to what once was all your own.

Pen - Thanks so much for your thoughtful input! One thought apparently leads to another. It is interesting that your first two thought were my next post on my blog. I wrote about investing in my current life, and overcoming the restlessness that causes me to always want to be somewhere else, living a "simpler" life! Here is the post if you are interested: http://plainlyquaker.com/2014/04/18/investing-in-my-present-life/

Anyway, I am finding that true simplicity is doing what is presented to us to be done one very small step at a time, and not wasting time dreaming, fretting, pining, battling, and so on. As I say in the post God gives us a very simple path if we choose to take him up on his offer: Follow me. Learn of me. I take that to mean daily guidance in the small things. This reliance on guidance also enables me to limit the information overload and more easily lay it aside to be looked at later.

Sharing and community is also very important and one we as affluent moderns have almost completely lost. I like your statement "simplicity is the only doorway into spirituality." I would say because it allows the time for peace and quiet which is a prerequisite for contact with the Divine.

Thanks, Barb

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