Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Simplicity facilitates change

Everybody knows how hard it is to change habits.  Eating habits are terribly difficult to change.

A while ago my mother remarked to me about something akin to the frog-in-a-pot-of-water syndrome.  She had been looking for out-of-season peaches at the supermarket (peaches don’t grow in the UK much anyway, even in summer), and suddenly recalled her (and my) childhood when people ate peaches, but canned ones.  She reflected on how much cheaper that worked out, because the logistics of transport, protection of easily bruised fruit and keeping produce fresh simply vanished.  This caused her to see for a moment very clearly how our lives have changed by tiny increments, each gradual small change increasing our expectations until we reached the ‘consumer society’ of today with its midwinter lettuce and strawberries and green beans from Kenya in January.  This in turn caused her to ask herself whether we had not made ourselves increasingly vulnerable to the effects of economic recession because we had a long way back to travel from the expectations we’d reached to the simplicity needed to weather times of austerity.

One way and another I have been thinking about simplicity since I came across Francis of Assisi when I was 15.  But my journey towards simplicity has been like a yo-yo dieter trying to get thin, and that’s primarily because of the difficulty of swimming against the current of habits entrenched in myself and the wider society that is my context.

But recently I have noticed that if I can achieve a certain level of plain-ness/de-clutter/simplicity in my environment and daily schedule, something happens: I can think.  With enough space and emptiness built into my life I begin to be able to notice things, I can make more intentional choices, I can hold in mind principles that I meant to remember – fair-trade, social justice, compassion in farming, environmental sustainability etc etc – that get easily lost in the muddle of things to be attended to if I take on too much or simply have too much stuff around me in my visual field.

Things that seem like too much effort – walking or bussing down to the wholefood co-op for bread, going to the fishermen’s huts for fish, remembering to heat water for the thermos while the woodstove is burning instead of turning on the gas furnace in the morning – start to feel possible when I have space to think.  Once they feel possible, I do them.  Once I do them, I create a new habit (fragile at first but strengthening with repetition).  It is the energy of a habit that forms the forcefield safeguarding a conscious choice.  Conscious choice is assisted by simplicity.

Thinking these things over early this morning just before dawn, I checked out my email to find in my inbox two messages that reinforced these thoughts very clearly.

At Zen Habits (blacked out today because of the SOPA protest, but hopefully a live link soon) Leo Babauta is writing about the discipline of sitting in silence in an empty room, to allow ourselves to calm down, to be content with stillness.  At Pilgrim’s Moon Tess is talking about positive passivity, the receptivity that comes with responding to the need to make a decision by sitting quietly, waiting, allowing the right choice to emerge within the stilled soul.

And at Innermost House, as always, is inspiration for life measured by heartbeats and human voices, lived according to the turning of the earth in the light of the sun and moon, comforted by the sighing of great trees and the song of birds.  These are signposts on the way of wisdom.


365 Day 18 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

A coin of the realm – a “crown” commemorating the Queen’s silver jubilee as our sovereign in 1977.  My sister was born in 1952, the year of the coronation, and I was married in 1977, the year of the Jubilee – I lived in York at the time, in a terraced house in St Martin’s Lane off Micklegate, overlooking St Martin’s churchyard.  The Queen passed through in a car one summer day and, though not very tuned into civic dignitaries and events of national importance in those days, I did manage to get myself along to the end of the lane to stand with the crowds and see her drive by.


Amy Danielle said...

I am very much looking forward to the next book in The Hawk and the Dove series, coming out this summer. I'm all caught up now. :) I recently checked out a cookbook from my library, and wondered if you had ever looked at it? Twelve Months of Monastery Soups- I thought you might like it. Simple and nourishing, and divided into months so that the produce that would be in season is included in that month's recipes.

In any case, I just finished reading The Clear Light of Day, and I wondered, are you still planning to write a sequel?

Sending love your way,
~amy danielle

Anonymous said...

There is so much in this post, that I need to print it out and meditate about it some more.

Sitting in stillness and allowing the Spirit to so foreign to so many.

My simplicity journey has been a bit like yours Ember. Up and downs happened and I seemed to constantly loose my path.

Giving myself the OK to say no to things that used to be so important to me...saying yes to just sitting at my chair with some sewing in my lap...this is simplicity to me.

I thank you for the words and for your honesty.


Ember said...

Hi Amy :0) The next Hawk and Dove book (The Hour Before Dawn) will be out at the end of this month, so not very long to wait!
Yes that monastery soups book looks good; I followed the link from your blog and I see from the Amazon page that Br Victoire-Antoine has written several others - the look delightful :0)
I did rough out a sequel to The Clear Light of Day, and would have enjoyed writing it, but sadly, though some people very much enjoyed it, that novel has not sold well in either the UK or the US edition, so the publisher was not looking for a second volume.
Good to hear from you today x

Ember said...

Aagh! Maria, I nearly deleted you! You got tangled up in a comment thread and I didn't spot you! Hello dear! xx

Amy Danielle said...

I've already read The Hour Before Dawn- it was available on kindle.. I'm waiting for Remember Me. :) Sorry to hear The Clear Light of Day didn't sell well. I found it very enjoyable. :(

Yes, Br Victoire-Antoine has one on salads as well that I am browsing through. Some really neat ideas that I am planning to get a whirl this summer, as I live in the Southern United States where it is very hot and humid- cooler meals are a huge blessing during the hot seasons.

I wonder, do you relate to the character Ember in TCLOD? I see you have taken on that handle...

Ember said...

Oh yes - I remember now, you said you were looking for In Celebration of Simplicity for your Kindle :0) Glad you liked The Hour Before Dawn.
Ember was the other way round really. I gave myself that name at a time my life had fallen to bits so I felt I'd ceased to exist to the extent I needed a new name. I hoped that beneath the ashes there might be a glow of life, so I gave myself the name 'Ember'.
My grandson calls me 'Mumble' and I think he sees me as pretty much like the character Ember in TCLOD :0)

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

Ah, I love to sit quietly in a quiet room and reflect or simply zone out and relax. I got to liking doing this when I started having migranes and I think it helps them to ease.

Ember said...

Hi Michelle x An example of someone's trials being the earth in which her strengths can grow.

Amy Danielle said...

Actually, I found I didn't want to wait on the Simplicity book either... I ordered it today. {sheepish grin} I have a chronic illness that has caused me to be in bed quite a bit the last couple of weeks, and reading has provided some much needed brain food and pleasant distraction...

Mumble- that's charming! And really, I quite appreciate the name Ember, for all the reasons you stated both here and in your book. :)

Linda said...

I have been thinking about things that take effort. I have been looking at it another way, so very pleased to hear your take on it. I find even facebooking in the evenings is very hard for me because I can't think. It is a busy time, while for others it is probably the opposite. It shows that I am struggling and they aren't. I have come to view my thinking time as lazy when I have always needed it before. I will try to think of it as the other way around. It served me well for a very long time raising my five children.

Ember said...

:0) Hi Linda! Waving! x