St Francis, my hero for nearly fifty years —
Our self-esteem and the positive regard of others are cherished possessions; it is not easy to let them go. Finding humility is a descending stair cut roughly into the rock and clay of life, taking us down to the bedrock of peace. It involves letting go of all bolstering opinion, whether our own or that of others. It is part of our invisible minimalism.
Diogenes, my favourite philosopher —
He slept rough here and there, but often in a large disused water jar in the market place, and he begged his food. He saw himself as a citizen of the world and distanced himself from partisan tribalism. He famously had no possessions but his staff and bowl — then one day when he say a boy drinking from cupped hands, he realised he didn't need the bowl and threw it away. Diogenes was an essentialist to the core. In our household we felt surprised that he saw the staff as more useful than the bowl, and we spent a while talking about that. By the end of the conversation we'd decided we could all do with staffs!
I delight in Bashō's student Mizuta Masahide (17th century Japanese physician), for the little poem he wrote —
— that says when his house burned down it gave him a better view of the moon. I don't know if it really did, but Bashō liked the poem and it offers us the clearsighted courage of minimalism expressed in a nutshell.
I love St Martin of Tours —
— not only for cutting his cloak in two and giving one half to a beggar on a cold day (a model for minimalist generosity, sharing the one thing you have), but also for hiding in the poultry run when the church dignitaries came to make him a bishop.
I cherish the teaching of Bodhidharma (said to have brought Zen Buddhism to China), not least for his portraits —
Just when we might have thought nothing could be more minimalist than buddhism, Bodhidharma provoked us into seeing we had a way to go yet, teaching that the essence of the way is in no longer being attached to anything, even words and appearances, finding enlightenment simply, directly, in and through everyday experience. Giving yourself up without regret, using everything without using anything, travelling all day without going anywhere at all. Bodhidharma expounded the zen of the minimalist mind.
And I am enjoying my newest friend, Ryokan Taigu —
— who put it like this: