Monday, 21 July 2014

"Not in my name" ~ Simplicity Testimony

This morning I shared on Facebook a link to a new Avaaz petition.  It is for pressurizing the big companies that benefit financially from arms trading, to stop arming Israel, and thereby begin to calm down the bloody situation in Gaza.

My Facebook post hadn’t long been up when a friend commented: “Sadly, the arms dealers (namely the USA, UK and Saudi Arabia) have too much to gain in lucrative contracts to end the violence.”

I had to acknowledge in my heart – yes, friend; I think you’re right.

Here in England we profit considerably from arms trading. It seems to me that governments everywhere are now in the pocket of corporations, and the political process has corrupted into a commercial activity.

How to respond? How to live responsibly in such a global human network – everything stitched up into a consumer process that will in the end eat itself.

There’s a limit to what any individual has the reach and might to achieve, but I do think there’s something to consider about the way of littleness.

This coming Sunday the reading at Mass is to be Jesus’s parable of the mustard seed – about the seed so small out of which grows a plant so big that the birds can come and find shelter in its branches. The Kingdom of Heaven, he said, is like this.

There is, I suspect, scant mileage for most of us – even when we band together – in attempting to confront and halt the machineries of big business. I think our best chance of change, miracles, hope, lies in humming a different tune.

It’s no good arguing with big business and governments, ordering them to cease supporting the arms trade; they won’t listen. Even if they appear to, they will lie and hide and find wily ways around. The slime mould of Mammon has overtaken them.

I think our best hope is in finding our way out of the paths of Mammon and into the ways of Sacred Economy – gift economy, holy poverty, voluntary simplicity. The less money changes hands, the less there is to divert into arms trading. The less we earn, the less tax we pay, the less can be syphoned off to finance war. The more simply we live and the less we own, the less money we need to earn so the less tax we will pay.

We won’t suffer by doing this: we’ll be enriched, discover greater freedom, deeper peace, stronger connections with each other and with nature. The smaller we become, the more birds we will be able to shelter in our branches.

The Quaker Testimonies – Truth, Peace, Equality and Simplicity – are all connected. But my perception is that every time Simplicity is the threshold, the door, the way in.

I think it’s worth a try. Affluence grows the seeds of war and simplicity the seeds of peace. We can try to duck under what we cannot overcome.

Friday, 18 July 2014


Okay, I know my family is neurologically unusual, though we are past masters at finding coping strategies to disguise same.

A weirdism of my own is the struggle I have over identity. Specifically, I have trouble knowing:
a) where I end and someone else begins
b) what I look like (I don't get much help with this - people often fail to recognise me)
c) who I am

With regard to ‘c’, the particular difficulty is that I have to keep all my belongings together in one place where I can see them, and then I know who I am. If they are dispersed or muddled in with other people’s things, I lose my sense of self.

In addition to this, if I own a lot of things my identity becomes dispersed among them and diluted by them. I find my energetic juice drawn down into them to hold them together in being, maintaining a sense of self.

This means that to hold onto my sense of identity and not feel lost and confused, I need to stay where my things are; at home.

 Other people can feel threatening and alarming because of not knowing where I begin and they end; I easily feel drained and invaded.

But I have made a discovery.

If I own very few things, I can hold them in mind and don’t need to be where they are; I can retain a sense of myself and so move more easily through the world. Because I can hold on to my identity, other people don’t seem so threatening or alarming. I can establish a boundary.

If I have a sense of identity I don’t feel so lost and full of grief as I am otherwise prone to.

So I have worked on reducing my possessions to an irreducible minimum, and this has engendered a sense of lightness and ease, of travelling through the world in peace.

I’m not quite sure why.

My objective is to reach a place where I can live out of a suitcase; where everything I have packs comfortably into one portable container.  I haven’t yet achieved this, but I’m getting there.  Certainly I could easily get everything I have into two suitcases, plus my sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

Something happens to my mind when I reduce my belongings right down. It becomes alert, available, and also calm. I have better equanimity.

Let me show you what I have now. There are things in the big house that I share with others, but those are held in common and are not mine. For example, when we make a curry for us all to have together, we use the big pot in the house and the house plates. But I don’t regard those as mine – either to keep or dispose of. They belong to the house and if the household dispersed I would keep none of them.  What among them was once mine I have handed on. And if I lived alone, I would not have a refrigerator or a cooker (I think you don’t say cooker in the States. Stove? Oven?)
I’m just showing you the things that are actually mine.

So, here we go in the evening light down the path to Komorebi.

Komorebi is a fixture that belongs to this place. So I have a sense of it as a location rather than a belonging. Everything stuck to it like the shelves and the woodstove is its own, not a possession of mine. It’s just where I am for now.

Inside it is my four seasons sleeping bag (warm and cosy) on my Vango self-inflating sleeping mat (7.5cm, very comfy). I have the cushion Alice made me and a soft fluffy blanket Grace (Buzzfloyd) gave me; I use them as pillows.

When I first came into Komorebi I had trouble with my things. Some things went mouldy and one of my sets of shelves was too near the woodstove and the side of them got alarmingly hot. I realized I had too many things. A sleeping mat and sleeping bag won’t go mouldy because they are synthetic and less bulky; I can sleep on a different bit of floor from night to night, which helps. And I reduced my belongings and got rid of the set of shelves by the stove.

So now I just have one set of shelves behind the curtain here.

On one shelf I have the water for making tea and everything else you need water for, along with the big thermos that stores Komorebi’s hot water in the winter, and the bucket with an inner bucket and a bowl that together form Komorebi’s bathroom.

On the shelves above I have my clothes, the beautiful prayer shawl my friend Rebecca made me, my box of toiletries (essential oils, shampoo, toothpaste etc), my various bits of books and stationery (including Macbook and Kindle), my bags (a day bag and a flight bag),  my small thermos for out and about, and my cooking things – tins of bio-ethanol and my woodgas stove (packed down into a small red bag. The woodgas stove will take a bio-ethanol tin, which means I can cook in a tent (or in Komorebi without having to light the woodstove in this hot weather) or outdoors or absolutely anywhere. Bio-ethanol burns clean so I don’t have to scour soot off the saucepan when I’m done.

Wherever I go, I have with me a bumbag (UK term – US fannypack) containing my keys, purse (US wallet), 2 pairs of specs, a hanky, a notepad and pen, my comb, a nylon shopper that folds down to tiny, and my iPhone – which gives me my torch, camera, internet access, diary, phone, radio, music, and talking books.

On the lowest shelf are my shoes. Under that is the woodbox with fuel for the little woodstove.
In my mind, some of the things are categorized as belong to Komorebi, not to me, partly because I divide my time between living by myself in Komorebi while the Badger is away in Oxford midweek and living with him in his garret at weekends, and partly because I have a sense that I am preparing myself for a more nomadic or peripatetic lifestyle – I’m not sure why, that’s just what my soul is murmuring.

So these are the things that belong to Komorebi:
  • Firewood baskets hanging under the porch eaves keeping fuel dry/aired.
  • Folding fishing chair (it shouldn’t go mouldy as it’s nylon, metal and plastic)
  • Washbowl bucket
  • Big green pottery mug
  • Pictures on the walls
  • Woodbox
  • Candles (on the lower of the two shelves under the window) and candlestick
  • Floor brush, stove black and brilliant fire-lighter paper (you can’t see these, they’re stored on the very top of the shelves
  • Kettle
  • Toasting fork
  • Probably the cushion and the soft furry blanket as they were given for Komorebi and will be nice for those who visit in times when I'm not there - my grandson loves the blanket. Travelling, I use my clothes as a pillow at night. It would be emotionally quite hard to part from these two soft, snuggly things, though.
  • The box containing ashes from the hearth at Innermost House

The beanbag might go mouldy if left untended, so if I left Komorebi for any length of time, I would send it away.
Moulds evolved to break down dead organic matter so, though it’s hard to make wool go mouldy, leather and plant fibres will rot. Hence wood must be treated with fungicide. So I would not leave my sheepskins in Komorebi either. They are useful for warmth, so I’d keep them with me.

So these are my belongings that would travel with me from place to place.
  • Clothes (I won’t detail them here but will blog again about those at some point)
  • Shoes (ditto)
  • Prayer shawl
  • Laptop and charger
  • Kindle and charger
  • iPhone and charger
  • Thermos and cup
  • My DVD of Into Great Silence
  • A Book of Pages - because it's not on Kindle.
  • Stationery – I’m reducing that right down, aiming at one note-book
  • Box of toiletries
  • My altar things - on the window-corner (except the ashes from Innermost House - those live in Komorebi)
  • Yellow folder of Compline and morning prayer liturgies and chants
  • Man-drawer*
  • Box containing porridge oats, salt, a bag of nuts and dried fruit, and tea bags.
  • My bags – day bag and flight bag. You can’t see the bumbag because I wear it.
  • Sleeping bag, mat, sheepskins
  • Wood-gas stove - which packs down into its saucepan, so a saucepan too, then
  • My handful of cutlery, which is useful for traveling

*The man-drawer. This is a small box of Useful Things – pot hooks, stapler and staples, matches, a flint-and-steel, a screwdriver etc..

I find plates and bowls are not really necessary, because one can eat out of the packet or the saucepan - which is why it's important the saucepan doesn't get sooty!

Well, I just thought you’d like to see these things and share my musings on where my journey into simplicity has taken me as of the present time.

Monday, 7 July 2014


SHED ~ a small, slight, rough, or rude building of light construction.
Alteration of Middle English shadde, perhaps variant of shade; from Old English sced; probably variant of scead - shelter, shade.

SHED ~ To cast off naturally ~ to let fall, allow to drop away, let go, discard, dispose of, lay down~ to rid oneself of something not wanted or needed ~ to suddenly drop (a load) on the journey.

SHED LIGHT ~ To diffuse or radiate ~ to emit, send forth, impart, share.

SHED LIGHT ON ~ Make things clear

From the Old English sceadan, meaning to separate, part company, make up one’s mind; via the Middle English sheden (v.), to separate, shed.  

Friday, 4 July 2014

The sea

Such a glorious summer. Day after day of sun.

This morning early I sat by the ocean with a thermos of tea, delighting in the light and the air, the cry of the herring gulls. Nobody much about, no traffic yet.  I listened to the sound of the sea, and thought about why I love it so much.

I have very early memories. I can remember my sister (then five, lively and perky, impish grin, red curls, freckles), amusing me by peeping into my pram – it had the hood up. The pram went when I was six months old, so I was less than that then.

But I have an earlier memory, less specific and not visual. I remember being held, carried, in someone’s arms – whether my mother or father I do not know.

Then today, as I watched and listened to the sea, it occurred to me that the sound of the sea and the sounds a baby hears in utero must be very similar – the whooshing, the rhythmic beat.

And humanity came from the sea. Even still, the memory is in our bodies. A sea urchin’s gametes and zygotes are the same as the human. In child born early, the lanugo is whorled according to the patterns of water – having developed in its own mini-ocean – and a fetal whale also has lanugo. The Earth is our mother but the sea is her womb; life came from the sea.

As I thought about this, I could feel my way, trace the thread, back to the protectiveness and responsibility that characterized my mother, as an attitude towards me as a child, and as an environment when I grew in utero. Something entirely reliable, utterly dependable.

Though – like everybody – I have my weaknesses and vulnerabilities, I know my capacity for contentment and peace, the sense of security I have in being who I am, comes from the unconditional positive regard towards me from my mother in my years of early development both before and after birth. Basically, with my mother looking after you, you would be okay.

And when I sit by the sea, it takes me right back to that. I am once again an unborn child, lapped in the security of my mother’s body; safe.

Odd, when the sea is so dangerous, so capricious, so subject to weathers and storms. Elemental. One must respect the sea.