Voluntary simplicity is a philosophy and a conscious choice to simplify our lives and consume less, for the sake of our planet and for the sake of our happiness. Where we discover that less is more.
“…choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” – Gandhi
In the introduction to Duane Elgin’s book Voluntary Simplicity, Ram Dass writes, “A vast new frontier beckons. The ‘answers’ that we seek will be of our own making—they are still in the process of being discovered in our own lives. And yet for many of us this is not enough. We want to see more clearly… how we might adapt our daily lives to fit harmoniously into the larger pattern of evolution.”
I love the idea that the answers we seek will be of our own making. Actually, in this time of great crises, it is not an idea, it is the truth. As a complement to this, Elgin asks, “As individuals are we helpless in the face of such immense challenges? The reality is just the opposite—only change in our individual lives can establish a resilient and strong foundation for a promising future.”
Where are the answers? If we ask the question, “How do we learn and come to a place where we willingly, open-heartedly, share the Earth with each other and with other living beings?” we will find them. That question is fundamental to, and orients, all other actions.
Elgin writes, “After two hundred years or more of material growth we are confronted with an unyielding question: If the material consumption of a fraction of humanity is already harming the planet, is there an alternative path that enables all humanity to live more lightly on the earth upon the earth while experiencing a higher quality of life? This question reaches deep into humanity’s psyche and soul. Transforming our levels and patterns of consumption requires looking directly into how we create our sense of identity and seek our happiness.”
Who are we? Those who take, or those who nurture and share?
There is excellent detail in Elgin’s book on how to live simply but richly; what we can do, and I highly recommend it. He writes, “A turn away from the lure of materialism requires compelling visions of the future that act as beacons for our social imagination. We do not yet carry in our social imagination a clear vision of the opportunities afforded by new forms of growth.” Nor have we made a fundamental change in our culture to value “enough” instead of “more.” We need to support the ability to be deeply satisfied instead of living the pain of feeling vaguely insatiable. Truly living in the full community of Life—which means restraining ourselves to leave enough for others—is one way of reaching that state of being.
“Consuming moderately, differently and intelligently will produce sustainable jobs and a healthy world in the long run, promising wisdom and healing force of simplicity,” says Elgin. He helps us understand how less is more. He speaks of, “a discerning social intelligence that looks to a diverse garden of expressions that offer realistic models of change for diverse people and circumstance.” It is an elegant, sophisticated simplicity we need now, not a back to the land movement. It is using ever-evolving green technologies in combination with self-restraint that will move us forward in a life-sustaining direction.
Acknowledging the reality of how most of us live now, he says, “While green living brings with it a reverence for nature it doesn’t require moving to a rural setting. Instead of ‘back to the land’ it is more: make the most of wherever you are: adapting creatively to a rapidly changing world in the context of big cities and suburbs.” Joseph Campbell also makes this point, expressing it from the spiritual level. “Wherever you are on this Earth, is sacred.” We don’t have to go special places to find it, it is right where we are. When we come from this position we automatically develop a discerning, respectful social intelligence.
What is our beacon, our identity, our clear social vision? We need an overarching story, a value, an archetype to work towards to infuse our awareness, and that is that all life is sacred. If we begin to think about it, it becomes clear that from there, all good things follow. For those not inclined towards the sacred we can ask, “To solve environmental problems, how shall we live?” The practical results will be the same as if we ask, “If all life is sacred, how shall we live?” That works too, but leaves us without the sustaining, nurturing underpinning that comes with connecting with all Life in a sacred manner, and then proceeding to live from there.
In the end we can continue to be self-centered and face the consequences, or be a loving member of the Community of Life and reap the rewards. At this critical juncture in our human journey, we have a choice to become fully human in the best sense, rather than be driven by our hard wired biology to look out for our own pleasure. To evaluate what we need versus what we want. We need to do everything we can to help one another be our best selves and to put kind but firm limits on those who aren’t there yet. A big part of achieving this is to choose to live simply using only what we need, so that others may live. And so that we may focus on the things that make life rich and satisfying. It is so simple, really.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo da Vinci