I learned two things that have stood me in good stead from Tom Cullinan. He is a monk, Benedictine, one-time of Ampleforth Abbey, and lives in the woods on the edge of Liverpool, his life an abiding witness to simplicity and intercession for the wellbeing of creation.
He said, “It’s a good idea to want things other people don’t want.”
This is shrewd advice for anyone who aspires to live simply, quietly and frugally. If you look for what is left over and cast aside, you avoid much jealousy and competition, and are allowed to go your way in peace. As well as to material things, this applies to time. If you rise early – 4.30am, 5.00am, before the world gets up – and finish your day correspondingly early, you are blessed with large tracts of solitude and quiet, alone with the wind and the birds, with the peaceful arriving of the dawn.
And Tom said, “Don’t talk about it.”
This is the soundest advice ever. In the past I have tried to talk to people about the way of simplicity, and found only argument and incomprehension. Recently – stupidly – I tried once more. I never will again.
Sir Percy Blakeney (fictional character – the Scarlet Pimpernel – good role model for those who would live simply) said, “If we are to succeed we must persist with our anonymity”; and I say, Amen!
The way to proceed is modestly, hiddenly, a small, inconsequential, insignificant track, of no greater account than the path the fox leaves in his passage across the meadow.
“Life slips by like a field-mouse, not shaking the grass,” said Ezra Pound. So it does, too: and if one is to really taste life, find the ambrosia of it, one had better find the way to be as small and quiet as the field-mouse, as the grass.
To succeed in radical simplicity, it is wisest to be almost impossible to find, virtually invisible, effaced, the merest faint mark on the edge of society; a smudge. Silent.
I know this; and I resolve entirely to learn it into my life as a daily practice. To be burrowed in to the earthy quiet of life, hard to find, and to talk about the way of simplicity only to those who have already seen its precious shine revealed.