Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Extreme minimalism's chemical interaction with religion

Extreme Minimalism as an idea, a concept and even a force, has been shifting around in my life, touching upon different areas, making me look more deeply into my daily practice.

When I say ‘daily practice’, I am talking about life lived on purpose. The endeavor is to make of my whole life a reverential space; a temple, really. I can visualize it. When I think of that holy space, what I see is not a man-made structure with arches, pillars, windows, seats – but a naturally formed golden sandstone cave, luminous with flooding light from a source I cannot see, simple and bare, with a smooth but naturally shaped flattish rock as an altar in the middle. The temple at the heart of me.

Human beings, as I understand it, are multi-layered – the physical body, the subtle bodies (emotional, psychological, mind, soul, intuitional, instinctual) for thinking and loving and strategizing and worshipping. But not held one within another like the layers of an onion or a Russian nesting doll. Rather, co-existent – a dynamic, primarily non-physical, entity; with boundaries varying according to well-being and circumstance. I know I can draw in my boundaries like a sea anemone closing, and so pass retiredly through a situation – unobtrusive and even, if I do it well, functionally invisible, as though I were not there.

Because a human being (as I understand it; you may see things differently) is thus made up of these different bodies co-existing in the same space, their boundaries enlarging and shrinking, interrelating in a constant active and responsive dynamic life, the temple at the heart of me is at the heart of each of these bodies at the same time – it doesn’t radiate its light out from one to another, its light is central to each one. The temple at the heart of me is my physical body’s light – my earthlight, as well as my soul-light and the light of my heart and mind. It illumines my instincts and intuition, my practical strategizing, my contemplation – the whole lot.

The temple at the heart of me does not belong to me though, because when I was fifteen I gave it away. At that time I gave my life to Jesus, so the temple that illuminates me is his, and the light that illumines it is his; Christlight.

Sorry for long-winded explanation. I realize I do not always think like everyone else, nor operate on the same assumptions, so I thought it best to make clear the basis of my understanding.

The idea of extreme minimalism has been moving through areas of my life, touching upon them, influencing them, and moving on to the next. In relating to it I have tried this and that – got rid of things in response to its force, but then adjusting back and accumulating things (though observing strict limits), according to what seemed practical and workable for my circumstances and personality. Extreme minimalism, moving like an intelligent investigative fog or fragrance, infiltrated my wardrobe and my bookshelf, my electronic gadgetry, my possessions in general, my toiletries and  . . . er . . . I don’t think I’ve got anything else. Then extreme minimalism fogged into my schedule and relationships, bringing me to consider how to prune and clear out, how to diminish and distil; reminiscent of Jesus waking up in the boat and saying ‘Peace – be still,’ to the storm. Calming, quieting, lessening, diminishing; creating space to see, breathe, think, imagine, experience, get well and pray. When I say ‘fogged’, I mean that the force of minimalism has moved through my life like a subtle intelligent entity, infiltrating; but I don’t mean ‘obscuring’ – on the contrary, it has clarified and illuminated.  Extreme minimalism infiltrated into my eating habits, removing (for a while, anyway) processed and concentrated foods (‘refined’ is a very inaccurate description of white sugar and white flour).  

Everything it has touched it has thinned out – including my physical body. Then, as it moved on to the next area, I stopped paying attention and the muddle and clutter of non-minimalism crept in again, bringing its accumulations (and – Toinette Lippe, priceless quote, ‘Problems arise where things accumulate). My beautiful mama observes that the key to success is managing to both maintain and progress, and she really put her finger on it there. Well, I’m not good at that. I progress, then let slip. Sigh. But my next Life Endeavour is to learn how to maintain and progress in the field of Extreme Minimalism. Because my experience suggests that extreme minimalism is conducive to the non-obscuring of the light in the temple at the heart of me, and the non-messing-up of that temple as a simple peaceful beautiful holy space.

Note: this is not me telling you what to do. Life has commonalities but also individuality. For some of you, what I am saying will resonate and speak; for others it may be no use at all. That doesn’t diminish the validity of my way or yours; it’s just the suchness of it – the way we separately and individually are. For many, extreme minimalism appears as a weird, unsustainable fad; for me, it is a key to transformation.

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get to what I wanted to say. It’s not that the force of extreme minimalism hasn’t penetrated to the fount of words in me; on the contrary, it has. I find that in the regular course of my days I need more and more time in silence and solitude, and I have less and less to say about more and more. Why I don’t blog so much. Why the book I’m writing just now is so slow and dry and tricksy to bring into view. The thread of words in me in breaking. But I appreciate it may not look like it reading this long post.

But what I’m getting to is this: the latest thing the force of extreme minimalism has fogged into in my life has been religion.

Since childhood, religion has held for me great fascination. Particularly I have been drawn to the monastic world and the Plain people; the Observant Life. Temples, cathedrals, candles, saints, robes, incense, holy Rules, special speech forms, ways of walking, observant dress – these have been my love affair and delight over every decade past the first. And now they’re not. Extreme minimalism has misted through my religiousness and dissolved it. Doctrines and dogma, the definition and separation created by creeds and affiliations, liturgies and rituals of every kind (whether Plain or fancy), no longer do it for me.

Extreme minimalism has dissolved and melted away all the beautiful accretions of the religious life.

What it’s left behind is these things:

  • The all-pervasive presence of God.
  • The illumining and sustaining of the Holy Spirit.
  • The beautiful beloved – warm rugged brave – companionship of Jesus.
  • Certain injunctions from the Bible.
  • A remark made by the Dalai Lama.

The words of the Dalai Lama I am left with are these:
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.’

The words from the Bible I am left with – to practice with for the time being – are these words from Ephesians:

I … beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ch.4:1-3)

There is . . . one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ch 4:6-7)

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ch4:14-16)

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. (Ch 4:23-27)

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
(Ch 4:29-32)

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
(Ch 5:1-2)

For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth)
(Ch 5:8-9)

Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
(Ch 5:14-17)

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
(Ch 5:19-21)

The Bible has, for me, many other teachings to practice with, but the quotation above is what has presently come to the fore.

Now, that’s a long quotation. It’s the expanded version of what I’m practicing with. It’s what the sea anemone looks like when it’s open.

The minimalist version of it looks like this:

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.’ (Dalai Lama)

And be ye kind one to another (Ephesians 4:32)

The extreme minimalist version looks like this:
And be ye kind one to another

As a footnote – in the expanded version (if you could be bothered to read all that great long quotation from Ephesians!) there’s an injunction about Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.
‘Speaking to yourselves’ – what an interesting phrase! ‘You’ of course is the plural – it means the whole community (singular, an individual would be ‘speaking to thyself’). But it imports the idea of the community as an entity, a body – like ‘talking to yourself’ – a sort of internal community feedback loop, an infra-structure, a continual edification, a loop of strengthening and nourishment, achieved by singing. How beautiful! A mycelium of melodic reinforcement.

And there’s a song I am practicing with, an old chorus that helps us memorize the long list of the fruit of the Spirit, that St Paul writes in Galatians 5:22-23 –
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control – for such there is no law.

This is exciting, because ‘for such there is no law’ means it’s the minimalist form of Christianity – what’s left when the religion has been soaked away and allowed to dissolve. The extreme minimalist version is and be ye kind to one another – but the slightly expanded version is The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control – for such there is no law.

And the reinforcement of it comes in – well, doing it obviously, but staying with it by the application of song.

In parenthesis - kindness, I find, is a plant that has to have space around it. Kindness withers and dies PDQ in a life that is pressured and harassed on every side. Even if one doesn’t lose patience, it does take time, being kind. So even though kindness is essentially interactive, it has to be manured with loads of silence, space, solitude, reflection etc.

Thank you for your patience (if you read all this)!!!

And I have no idea why some bits of writing have come out black and others grey



rebecca said...

Much of what you said resonates and speaks to me. And Ephesians! Be still my heart. (One time - several years ago - speaking at a women's retreat, I ha the ladies stand and read - yes READ - aloud the entire book of it! The first chapter is such a high and lofty explanation of my position in Christ! Foundational for the kind of simple and kind living called for in chapter 5..... ♥

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Judy Olson said...

The minimalist comment is yes, yes, and yes. The extreme minimalist comment is amen!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Nearly Martha said...

There's a lovely phrase in this The beautiful beloved – warm rugged brave – companionship of Jesus. It reminds me of the Yeshua chapter in Francis Spufford's "Unapologetic". there's lots of the book that I struggle with but the chapter on Jesus is, for me, one of the best things I have ever read on him.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) interesting - I've been thinking a lot about Jesus this morning. Been up early working on my novel, but meaning to write a blog post about Jesus. xx

DaisyAnon said...

Very interesting and thank you. I read this while on holiday and couldn't manage any real thoughts to respond with. Now I am jetlagged and still can't manage any thoughts, but I have thought about it a lot.

I think references to holidays and jetlag probably mean my life is not as simple or minimal as it could or should be.

But I was practising as best I could the evidencing of the fruits of the spirit in my behaviours. Not an easy thing for me!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) I think this is where the minimalism comes in. For myself, I find if kindness is the *only* thing I'm trying to do - if I practise minimalism in my religion in that way - then I have half a chance of succeeding at it sometimes. As soon as it is relegated to one of a number of bristling and complex obligations, it gets forgotten.


Joy Warner said...

I love this post. I too have come to centre my prayer around the fruits of the Holy Spirit.I often pray the beautiful words. "Create in me a pure heart O Lord and set a steadfast, faithful, gentle, joyful,kind,loving,modest,patient peaceful and willing spirit within me."

(Have to add the fruits alphabetically as my memory is not what it was.)

I am drawn also to the Perennial Tradition of Frithjof Schuon which is not so much minimalist as all encompassing.

Peace from Canada

Pen Wilcock said...

Frithjof Schuon - went and looked him up. Arresting face! I'll go and read about him tomorrow - new to me - thank you! xx