Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Odd and unsettling how easy it is to become distracted from purpose.  The number of times I have come home from buying groceries and thought, “But why did I get this?  Why have I bought these greens wrapped in a plastic bag from the supermarket?  We said we’d only get things like cat food and soya milk from the supermarket – the greens were meant to come from the little greengrocer, in a paper bag that doesn’t sit in landfill till kingdom come.  Why did I get them?”

And the reason always is that I just forgot.

There are so many principles to bear in mind.  The greens are healthy, vegan, inexpensive – just the thing.  I forgot to add in about small, local businesses, and about packaging.

Or we go to the farm shop, and I think, “But this is wonderful!  This is exactly and precisely what every shop should be like!  A family business, so friendly and informal, vegetables all fresh and tasty and looking like they actually grew in the ground not in some hydroponic system in a vegetable factory – I must have those carrots, those potatoes that have come from our own county instead of being trucked from far away, those strawberries on special offer that were grown right here on the farm! And those perfect radishes!”

And that’s all fine, and they are packed in paper bags not plastic – but I forget that I’m on a very tight budget right now with very little to spare, and extra purchases like these land me in a serious mess.  So at the end of the week when I do my accounts, I look back on these things that seemed so reasonable, almost self-evident, at the time, and think, “Why did I do that?”

I forget.  I just forget.

What I need is little mnemonics (why do they put that ‘n’ in that word?  What’s the point of it?) to help me remnember.

So I have come up with this definitive, concise, irreducible summary of the path I want:

And here are its enemies:

I don’t mind telling you it took a long time before that third one, ‘Self-consciousness’ presented itself to my interior vision.  I was looking for a third (or sixth, depending on how you look at it) thing to make my mnemonic list.  I could see that spending fouls things up big-time, and I know that socialising drains the very life out of me like the podlings in The Dark Crystal being tapped to keep the skeksis alive.  But I wanted a third thing to make up the set.  A third thing beginning with ‘s’, I mean.

And then it came into my head.  Self-consciousness.  If it were not for that I’d have been happy wearing saris (which I love) for the rest of my life, and not felt so wretched about attracting attention wherever I went.  If it were not for self-consciousness I’d have been happy with the Plain dress I then moved onto, and not felt so eaten up with looking odd and out of place and horribly visible.  So think of all the money I’d have saved if I didn’t have this urge to slink about in an invisibility cloak.  If it were not for self-consciousness I’d be happy to wear my ginormous and beautiful straw hat out and about instead of just in the garden, and wouldn’t have spent the money on a smaller, less obtrusive one for going out. 

So I think self-consciousness is one of the enemies, and is linked by barbs and hooks and tangles to socialising and spending.  They are a set.

And now I will be able to remember that the characteristics of my path are simplicity, solitude and silence, because that’s easy and small and all begins with one letter.  I don’t mean something extreme – not ascetic nakedness and isolation and never speaking to anyone again – it’s just those (simplicity, solitude, silence) are the things I need to function well, and are necessary ingredients of my life vision dream.

And I will be able to remember to look out warily for spending, socialising and self-consciousness, knowing that they are stingers flung across the path.

By the way, I don’t mean socialising and spending are bad for you.  Maybe you are a sociable person with loads of dosh.  I mean bad for me, because of who I am.  But self-consciousness is probably a wrecker in anybody’s life.

And simplicity, solitude and silence may sound like a prison sentence to you – but to me they are the three graces, the path of peace.


365 366 Day 187 – Thursday July 5th  

This was a Useful Thing I had for ages.  It was one of a heap of wooden drawers of different sizes I found stacked outside a junk-shop one evening.  They used to put out things they couldn’t sell, for anyone to help themselves, and leave them there overnight.  If they hadn’t gone in the morning they’d take them to the dump in their van.  We brought them home and we have several tucked around the place doing good service.  This one became the container for one of the craft kits I made for Freecycle.  I guess in an earlier incarnation it had been a drawer in one of those fitted Gentlemen’s Wardrobes.  Or maybe from an old shop fitting.  And before that it was a tree.

365 366 Day 186 – Wednesday July 4th 

 A sari top.  Gosh, I do love saris.  They are the best clothes ever.


Monastic Housewife said...

Well Pen, we might list our "mnemonics" in a different order, but you and I are in agreement!
The self-consciousness thing is very sneaky and I often have trouble with that as well.
Especially as I'm not very far along the simple path as yet.
Perhaps it's something that remains a constant to deal with - regardless of how long one practises the other virtues?!

I've re-read your post on The Quiet Way, The Open Road a number of times over the past two weeks.
It provokes me to look further.
There is still something there the Lord is trying to show me.. about my "place".

Trish xx

Wimmera said...

I like a fine things in life,luxury and spending but I am aiming for ascetic life.
So far I am fine to only use cold water to wash my self.It does get cold here 1C sometime.
I do go out ,when I like. i do tai-chi,yoga or chi kung(only gold coin donation $1 or $2)every day if
I dont have to work early(I work for my self)

Julie B. said...

I love the 3 S's too. Simplicity and solitude and silence look ever more inviting the older I get. Probably not at the same levels as you, Ember, but they are real needs for us. When I hit my fifties and surveyed what I could imagine about the rest of my life, I also began to want to spend less. We recently voluntarily reduced our income by almost 40%, and the thought never once made me pause, because we had already started giving things away rather than buying things. Having great chunks of time by myself sounds like heaven, so I revel in them when they come, but I also am nourished by time with good friends, so socializing doesn't drain me as it does you. I think I'm 40% extrovert and 60% introvert, so I need a little people time and a lot of alone time. And silence? I could go days without ever needing to hear a human voice, but if I couldn't hear the wind in the trees or the waves on the shore, or some morning birdsong, or some Celtic music, that would seem very sad to me. I hope your path to ever deeper simplicity, solitude and silence brings His peace AND some joy to you. Sending love and hugs today....

Suze said...

Saris are beautiful and I imagine they would be terrific in my climate. I like to dress fairly conservatively. This afternoon Miss 15 wanted to buy a very short skirt and I flatly refused!

I struggle with spending. I am on a very low income and should be far more careful. I find myself indulging way too often. So I think I understand.

Ember said...

Hi Trish - are you familiar with the Innermost House Facebook page, or the Innermost House website? I ask because Diana Lorence, who lives at Innermost House, is a wonderful inspiration to those of us who fret about place, wondering what is right, what is holy, what is permissible. Diana has a fine and wise, very visceral, sense of discernment, and just feels her way to what is good without being blown about by the strong winds of religious opinion. She is good medicine.

Hi Wimmera - cold water feels fresh and good, and has the added benefit of turning hot water into a luxury instead of something to take for granted :0) x

Hey Julie B :0)
May God bless to you your new path and situation. May your downsizing be the beginning of a path of decreasing worry and increasing peace. May playfulness and childlike happiness become the keynote of the new phase of your life. xxx

Suze - may the Lord bless you and prosper you. May you have all the luxury and indulgence your spirit needs. I hate to think of you struggling, and you are a child of the King. Simplicity is, for me, the ultimate luxury. If I had chosen it because I thought I ought to, and it felt like a deprivation, I'd be miserable. May the Lord send you everything you need, and may you be happy, may you be content xxx

Anonymous said...

Through you, I found the Innermost House and embraced its words fully.

Self-consciousness has been with me, my whole life my friend. I am Hispanic in a non-Hispanic place. I speak with an accent and dress differently than most.

I attract attention daily, just by going around my small town. I know all about seeing yourself through the eyes of others.

I am learning to smile at the onlookers and go about my business.

Living in solitude is a life that I am embracing fully...even to stay home more and more, because in it I find myself.

I don't want to write too much here...but thank you for the three S's...


Ember said...

:0) God bless you Maria xx

Michelle said...

"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reconsider." : ) Reconsidering purchases is the frequent failing isn't it? I've found that if I stand in the shop aisle with my cart or basket for a minute or two before heading to the check out to pay and really look at each item I've selected and ask myself "Do I really need this?" I will put back at least one or two things. I've found that practicing a certain mindfulness about purchases, pausing and reconsidering, means far less cringing disappointment upon returning home having spent more than I intended with more stuff than I wanted.

Patricia said...

Yes, I do know of Diana Lorence and visit her websites.
She is inspiring and challenging.
I love her perfect ash-pit..mine looks nothing like it!
Her small home reminds me of a Poustinia.
Something I've wanted for a long time and am still working towards :-)
bless you..Trish

Ember said...

Hi Michelle - reconsider is an excellent one to add to the list! x

Hi Trish - Poustina - oh, yes please! Me too! Something I find strengthening about the Lorences is their courage to live life without labels. I have wasted too much time hanging around the church system wishing it had a niche in it for someone like me. Learning to live without a label is something I don;t find easy. It would be nice to be able to say "I am a poustinik", or "I am a hermit", or I am anything that would allow people to say "Oh, I see" and give me a pigeonhole to roost in. All the great spiritual teachers advise that a pilgrim needs a faith community to belong to, or the flame will die. I take them seriously but where . . . who . . ?

Patricia said...

I have the same questions as you, Pen.
I find some 'community' via the internet and I go to church here and there to fellowship..but there is always a sense of being alone in the midst of the crowd.
Most of my protestant/charismatic friends are simply not interested in the spiritual teachers who nourish my soul.
I think God is calling some folk to a new type of 'lay- monastic lifestyle' that is to be lived out in the plain days of our normal homelife and which doesn't need church labels or denominational approval.
I think of myself as a "monastic housewife" because I have a regular home and family to care for, as well as the daily pull to contemplative prayer, silence and simplicity.
It's not that I'm trying to "give myself labels" - it just describes that fact that I keep house every day and I pray alone :-)

Ember said...

God bless your journey! x

Daisyanon said...

'Learning to live without a label' Yes, this has been a great struggle for me. Not just in church either, career and jobs give one a label and status and a place as well. Like you I couldn't find a box with my name on in the institutional church. Or not one the church agreed with!! And I wanted so much to have a good label and its associated status, both in church and in my working life. Chasing false gods. LOL.

But things go more smoothly and I am more peaceful if I go with my grain.

If you try to say you are a hermit or a solitary people will argue because they think that this means being single or friendless or without family. Or they disapprove.

Now I am retired and also outside the church temporal I am trying to be me without a label. I am finding that people have a real need to pin a label on me though. Even without a job they want to put me in a box that says 'does good works here' or 'a member of this or that'.

Unfortunately the institutional faith communities are largely made up of people not like us.

Extroverts who derive their energy from people and activity. So over the centuries as society has developed more in their image so has the church.

Even the self styled 'New Monastics' seem to be busy creating structures and organisations, just within and like the existing churches, with a bit more silence and Celtic style trimmings. Which is missing the point afaiac.

Like the Celts of old we are pushed to the margins.

That's OK, the problem is finding the courage to continue on our own path.

So best to just Carry on and Keep Quiet.

My faith community is increasingly a small group of friends both in real life and on the internet. My Julian Meeting and other silent prayer group and a Methodist Prayer Shawl Knitting group.

Ember said...

Ah, Daisy! This friend speaks my mind!

I agree with Thich Nhat Hanh and others that a disciple must have a sangha to keep the flame alive: but clumping together with others who are manifestly not called to walk the same path in terms of daily reality can't really be anything worth calling a sangha.

Bean said...

Daisyanon, I just had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday that reflects some of what you are saying. Bill is in his early 60's, a devout christian, a little skinny man with long, long blonde hair, it is weird he has almost no gray hair, and a long, long, beard that is gray! Bill belongs to a baptist church and he was saying that people there didn't know what to make of him, they judged him by his appearance. Essentially they didn't know how to classify him so he was an oddity. I am in that box too, I wear skirts/dresses only, have long hair that I don't color, wear no makeup, my husband and I live a simple life and like to do for ourselves. Bill and I talked about how we simply like being ourselves, that we have not bought into the cultures image of how we should look/dress for our ages or how we should live. We decided that when you choose to live authentically being simply who you are and not disguising yourself to fit in you automatically make others uncomfortable because they don't know what to make of you and because you make them question their way of living.
It is nice to have a fellow oddy in my workplace, who is also a devout christian, we have some nice conversations at work from time to time.

Daisyanon said...

Exactly Ember! I did 16 years trying to fit myself into other people's moulds in the church. Trying to be what they wanted me to be and in the end it made me ill.

Healing arrived when I put it all down and handed the lot over to God.

God has graciously provided me with Sanghas in the shape of the 12 step Fellowships I belong to and my small Christian groups.

Ember said...

Interesting comment on appearance, Bean. On many occasions when I've sat down in the Hastings Quaker meeting, where I feel most comfortable and at home, I've thought, "These people look like Anglo-Saxons!" It's partly simplicity of style and dress, but also a directness in their eyes and manner, something very honest and uncompromising.

Asta Lander said...

I am with you on those 's' es. I need solitude especially so that I can function at my best. It isn't that I don't love being with people, it's just that I can't do that if I haven't been on my own enough. I have had a very busy people week and now the family will be home for the school holidays and I will have to be sure to get up early, when they are asleep, so that I can have some time to breathe in the solitude that I need to empower me to be the good people person that I am rumoured to be.

Asta Lander said...

I have just read the comments (I should have done that first, but I thought I was only dropping in quickly). Can I just say to Patricia that I belong to a community like what she speaks of - the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis, which is an Anglican order. It is a way that I can live a 'monastic' life within a family and regular society. - Asta x

Ember said...

Hi Asta - funnily enough I just turned the computer on to come online in search of you. This morning the postman brought the lovely edition of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's beautiful book "A Gift from the Sea" that you so kindly sent me. I've been reading it. Thank you so much! xx

Julie Graff said...

Thank you Pen. I have been following you over here since you left us at Innermost House. I only wanted to offer a "God Bless You!" Keep well.

Ember said...

Oh, hi Julie! I read all the Innermost House posts and comments, and have been really enjoying what you've been writing! x

Paula said...

Pen, you must post an illustration of these Anglo-Saxon Quakers for me!! I've met a couple of British Quakers, but they didn't look much different from many American Quakers. I guess I don't know what an Anglo-Saxon looks like.

~Paula (in Ohio)

Ember said...

:0) I'm not sure the quality I describe would come across in a photo! There's an intensity which is not primitive but kind of primaeval when they sit in meeting together.
Here's a link to the Hastings Quakers website, but sadly with no people in it.

Ah! Here's Sally, one of the Hastings Quakers.!image/230701923.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_595/230701923.jpg

And Pete.