Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Many, the Less and the One

 The Innermost House Facebook page is a favourite haunt of mine, a wonderful place for discussions and meetings of minds.

Recently, someone had asked about Diana Lorence’s culinary habits (she has just one cast-iron pot in which all the hot meals for Michael and herself are cooked).

This gave rise to the following narrative by Diana’s friends who look after the Facebook page:
Diana says she can't cook. Never could. She couldn't stand recipes for meals or patterns for sewing or anything else like that when she was growing up, and she always got frustrated trying to do the step-by-step things that came easily to others. She did choose to prepare their meals through all the years before IH [Innermost House], but she says it always felt like an interruption.
She says when they first moved to IH her cooking got WORSE. I don't mean it didn't taste good or anything like that, I mean it FRUSTRATED her more. HAVING to simplify made it HARDER. 
So Michael just quietly took over, and replaced the FEW things she was trying to do in place of the MANY things she used to do, and just did ONE thing instead. ONE pot. ONE bowl. ONE beautiful piece of fruit, or whatever. Well Diana wasn't going to stand that for long, so she took over the cooking again. But she was able to stay with the ONE idea, and she has truly enjoyed "cooking" ever since.

This account stopped me in my tracks, and sent a shaft of light shining through into what had hitherto been an area of confusion.

“Less is more,” they say, but it’s a question of breaking through.

To have many things is burdensome but is a solution of sorts.  A mother’s approach to the challenge of accommodating a growing family with all their toys and hobby gear and sports equipment and kitchen paraphernalia and electronic gizmos and books and clothes and shoes etc etc might quite understandably be to move to a bigger house.  To do that the family gets a bigger mortgage and to finance this the mother needs to take a job.  In order to go out to work she needs a car, a child-minder, formal clothes and shoes, a briefcase, and an inexhaustible supply of tights.  Tired at the end of the office day and after carrying out her second career as a taxi-driver to take the children to and from all the activities that either allow her to be out at work or that simply seemed a good idea now she has a car, she turns to ready-meals and take-out pizzas because there is no time to cook from simple basic ingredients, or even shop for them.  She has to join Weight-Watchers and a gym because she has put on so much weight spending her entire life behind a desk or the wheel of a car eating principally pizza.  There is certainly no time to clean at home, so she employs a cleaner, and begins to offer financial incentives to the children to tidy their rooms and meet school achievement goals, since there seems no other way to motivate them.  She gets more and more tired and always lives out of credit cards and an overdraft.

The Many has swollen into a tyranny.

She looks at the possibility of Less.  Cut back on take-out meals and stop the cleaner, to save some money.  Wear one pair of tights over another when both are laddered.  Less is not more.  Less is exhausting and horrendously complicated.  Now she has to cook like a chef as well as run a taxi-service and manage a business and juggle the childcare.  Oh, and sex!  Marriage!  Remember that?

But if Less makes life so difficult, surely the solution is striving for More – achieving by some means the Many.

And then she decides, on what looks at first like a dangerous whim, to choose the One.  To just be a home-maker.  She does the arithmetic and it dawns on her that her entire salary went on the car, the smart clothes, the activities compensating for a parent with no time to play in the woods or by the sea, the expensive take-out meals, Weight-watchers and the gym, child-care and the cleaner, and bribing her children.

Opting for the One, she discovers a world of freedom and creativity.  She discovers it is entirely possible to house their family comfortably in a much smaller house, provided they don’t try to house a load of clutter as well.  She finds to her surprise that the occupation of a home-maker on one income requires all the ingenuity, strategy, intelligence, planning and intellectual activity her office job ever did, and more.  Far from being intellectually deadening, it requires every brain-cell she can bring to the task – and faith and prayer as well.

This is not an anti-feminism rant.  It’s just an example from modern life of the Many, the Few and the One.  I'm not saying every woman is called to be a home-maker, I'm saying feel along the threads until your fingers find what is the One for you, and let the others go.  The Many is a modern solution proving unsustainable; it’s destroying the Earth and eating human souls away from the core.  The Many is the solution of Mammon.

The Less feels like deprivation – trying to do too much with too little.  But if, instead of back-tracking from the Less and reverting to the Many we push on through to the One – at that point we find peace; we learn how to make the singing bowl sing.

The teachings of Jesus are often taken to be primarily doctrinal points, where I think He meant them on a more practical level than we have commonly applied them.
For example, when He says: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things! But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her,” He is sometimes represented as meaning “paying attention to religious teaching is better than doing housework”.  But I think it’s a teaching about the Many, the Less and the One.    Martha has opted for the Many; she wants Mary at least to get off her backside and engage with the Less.  But Jesus knows the value of the One; it is the pearl of great price.

The parable of the Pearl of Great Price is indeed another example of the same principle, a man who traded in the Many (“all he had”) not for the Less (“goodly pearls”), but for the One (“the pearl of great price”) that can satisfy.

“If thine eye be single,” Jesus says, “thy whole body shall be full of light.” (here and here)

Beleaguered by the exigiencies of debts, commitments, physical ailments, wrecked relationships, impossible demands of budget and schedule, and ecological doom-scenarios, the modern world concedes that in the Many it has bitten off more than it can chew.  It looks hopefully to the Less for workable compromise – consumerism, yes, but eco-consumerism; or ready-meals, yes, but from the budget store not the high-end.  But the Less is often a no-mans-land of drudgery and deprivation.

The vision of simplicity is about pushing on through the Less to the One.  That’s why I find Innermost House so exciting; because I have come across very, very few people with the clear sight to discern the way let alone make the journey: but Michael and Diana Lorence have.

In choosing the One, we do not (have to) become sadhus and reject the material world, or choose ugly utilitarianism over beauty, far from it.  It’s not about asceticism, not the Skellig Rock Party.

Choosing the One is about looking deeply into our circumstances until we discern the melody of possibility within them, the fountainhead of grace and effectiveness. 

The ancient Greeks had two understandings of time.  One is Chronos (the god who ate his own children), the relentless face of time – “doing time”, packed schedules, over-commitment, harried and hurried, pushed from pillar to post time.  Kairos is the other kind of time, wu-wei time, being in the right place at the right moment doing the right thing – effective time.  In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu says, “In action, watch the timing”.  It’s about finding our place in the dance of creation, learning the steps of life’s pattern and choreographing something beautiful in the everyday.

A favourite passage of the Tao for me and lots of other people is Chapter 11:
Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

Finding the way to the One involves giving permission for space and emptiness to arise – leaving room for the light to shine in.

At the Laundromat, the assistant often urges customers, “Don’t pack the machine so full; you have to leave room for the water.”

Choosing the One leaves room for flow in a life.

All men will come to him who keeps to the one,
For there lie rest and happiness and peace.
Passers by may stop for music and good food,
But a description of the Tao seems without substance or flavor.
It cannot be seen, it cannot be heard,
And yet it cannot be exhausted.
(Tao Te Ching Ch.35, tr. Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)

 Sigh.  This idea is so big, and so dominates my life, I am painfully aware I have expressed it badly.  It is my One Sky, but how to put the sky into a box so I can make it my gift to you?  Look at the blue is all I can say.  The blue will  maybe teach you; it did me.


365 366 Day 49 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here

I don’t really like throwing things like this away, because wise thrift finds a use for such odds and ends.  There’s a Victorian rhyme my memory has now lost the threads of about someone heedlessly chucking out a heel of dry bread, and then at some later point descending into poverty and living to recall with regret the crust they threw away; an approach to daily life that shaped my upbringing and remains powerful as an inner motivation.
But prudent provision slides all too easily into hoarding clutter -  a heaving tide of flotsam and jetsam retained “just in case”.
Wishing neither to keep nor throw away such debris as is pictured here, I packed them up together with fellow bits and pieces into a large parcel and Freecycled them as a craft kit for bored children to make things with in the holidays.  Unlikely I know, but some harassed parent was actually grateful for these and the rest of the oddments in the bag.



Buzzfloyd said...

I think this is a helpful idea. Rather than trying to do something complex either thoroughly or inadequately, to do something simple instead is far better. If only it were easier to put such ideas into practice!

When we moved house and we had hardly any of our stuff here, it was wonderful to have so much space (in every sense), and we could make do with just a few things. There have been a lot of things that actually we needed to have and which would make life a lot easier if we could find them among all the boxes! So getting rid of absolutely everything wasn't the answer, but getting rid of all the crap we don't need so that we can find the things we do need would help. My goal is to reach that sense of space again, without making life difficult by not having the right equipment. But it's going to be a lot of hard slog to get there, and I find that I can't take shortcuts, I have to do it step by step for it to really take. But once you know where you're heading, it's a source of inner peace.

I have just got rid of a load of really good cardboard boxes that I had been hoarding over the Christmas period. I really hate throwing away things that could be useful, and then find myself without them at the salient time. But then it occured to me that the space they are taking up is useful *now*, so I was sacrificing something definitely very useful for the sake of something possibly a bit useful. This helped me to detach from the anxiety about getting rid of the boxes!

I think that when you have grown up without much money, you can develop this anxiety with its roots in not knowing how you will replace an item if you need it. It has a positive side in a mindfulness about consumer waste, but there is a balance to strike between hoarding and trying not to waste things.

Donna said...

This is one of the posts that feels as though you're plagiarising my head, or something. I've never been so happy as I am now I've realised home-making is a valid occupation, and I don't have to try and do all the other things as well.
I am one of those who felt the need to move my family into a bigger house, but this was nothing to do with Things. The One versus The Many is also true of people, and much as we love each other, my family need to be able to dissipate out of earshot of each other every now and then so as to retain our sanity!

Anonymous said...

That post made my head hurt but not in a bad way. It's like when you reach the end of the things you can do easily at school and now what you are learning is hard and requires using parts of your brain that are dusty and in a cupboard somewhere. I need to take on board the lesson but I think I need to read your post a few more times after my brain's unpacked and dusted off :-D

Slippyroad said...

I don't know how to say this without sounding like a simplicity snob. When our kids were little I stayed home with them. I only left home to teach fiddle lessons and eventually to go back to school part time. We lived (still do) very simply by growing most of our own food and by doing without. The kids thank me for it now because they see the self-centredness of their peers who never had to do without. However, I am paying for it now. I am facing old age and some medical problems and when I can no longer do the labour that is required in order to live simply, I will not have the income to hire someone else to do it. That being said for me there is pleasure in cooking complicated meals from scratch. If I could have anytime back from when my children were little it would be all of us sitting around a meal made entirely from food we had raised ourselves.

maria said...

When I took on the journey of less is more...I was ready for the confusion. I was ready for the misunderstandings. I was ready to relearn how to live.

We came from a house of 30 bedrooms, 11 baths, 2 great rooms and one large kitchen. Acres of land surrounded this mammoth.

When the move happened, I was paralyzed with fear. I did not know how to be in such a small space. But I learned to accept and learn to live breathing room for all of us and our endeavors.

I truly enjoyed this post Ember, because it shows the misconception of so many in the way of living simply and with less.

Less is definitely more in my life.

Great post as always my friend.


Pen Wilcock said...

Such interesting comments!

Buzz said "I have to do it step by step for it to really take," and that's what I have found too. I think I'd be right in saying that's also true of Maria - in the years I've known her, I've watched her trying this . . . no, didn't work . . . then that . . . yes, that's good . . . feeling her way to a way of life that stands the test of time and expresses authentically both faith and the soul of peace and beauty. I don't think I know all the story of your journey into simplicity though Maria, and would love to know more. Are there some posts on your blog where you have charted the original path of your move to the cottage for us to read?

Slippy Road, I feel sure that simplicity need not end it anxiety or destitution. May God bless and provide for you as you grow older; may your needs be met and your path be protected by angels. May your choices made in good faith bring a harvest of blessing, in Jesus' holy Name.

Donna, I think your house move has been made on an practical and intelligent basis. One of the important things you have gained for your children is the kind of garden that feeds the imagination of a child.

Hi Debs :0)
A brain duster. I could do with one of those! x

maria said...

No Ember, I have never truly shared how I came to live in a smaller home after the large one.

Maybe one day I will write it all down, and how it truly changed me and my family.

Peace be with you my Friend,


Tony Collins said...

I have found it so interesting to be part of the Way with you - in general, but particularly in terms of Getting Rid of Stuff.

I am trying to apply it to my office work now. My desk and surroundings are remarkably less cluttered; my diary is less full. So far so good. The real problem comes in regard to the objective of the office, where less is not always more and at least part of the goal is to meet budgets and if you overlook the need to make money you will not have a business, because margins are tight and everyone needs to be paid on time, and things have to be done very fast and multitasking is just part of the game.

Part of the answer lies in focus. One CEO I know only replies to emails at certain points of the day. As a company we have refused to get into a number of related areas. A particular temptation at the moment is enhanced e-books, which are meant to be the Coming Thing, but they require new expertise and software, and cost. Are they truly part of being a good content provider?

No easy answers but I am sure that these lessons can apply to the world of business. It is a road worth travelling. Time to read some management gurus on simplicity, if I can find them.

Pen Wilcock said...

I would love to read that, Maria.

Thanks for offering a perspective from the world of business, Tony!

Buzzfloyd said...

Focus is choosing the One rather than Less or Many, isn't it, Tony? Good time management involves focusing on one thing as much as possible so that you get it done. Moving between tasks is often necessary, but does result in a less efficient use of time!

.kp. said...

Hey there! Love this post and also wanted you to know how fantastic I thought The Hour Before Dawn was! I near had to send you a comment when William asked Jesus in...I was crying and near clapping.

I agree with an earlier comment on the characters being so real. I sometimes have to remind myself that the story isn't really happening! Just wonderful.

Along the lines of this post though, I left an interior design firm, which I owned, to homeschool our daughters. Single greatest parenting Provision thus far! Our family has grown so much from the "giving up" that it ever feels like we have so, so much more. I just can't tell you the joy it has been these past 5 years since we made the changes.

Praying you onward.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hey, Keitha - lovely to hear from you. So glad you enjoyed The Hour Before Dawn! If you had a moment to leave a review on Amazon, that would be fab.
I love your blog - loved the post about A Little Bit of Chocolate - yes indeed!

Pen Wilcock said...

Can't see a place to post a comment but - yeah, thanks Jan!!

Anonymous said...

I got in on this late, after searching for more on the Innermost House. I like what you said so much, about not less but one . I'd like to offer another idea...equate one with 'best'. Multi-tasking and quality has been proven to not work well. Focus, one, best, simplicity. A beautiful way to live, once you can get past societal norms, at least societal norms in recent memory...supported by chains, sameness, large, quantity.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hiya - yes, I see what you mean. I don't know if my 'one' always equates with 'best', but I like the simplicity. xx