“In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism, scepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.”
― Vincent van Gogh
|Vincent van Gogh|
Throughout this book I hope the message is clear; voluntary simplicity as a vital strand in your life will help you live in a more vital, more satisfying and more fulfilling way. I hope that the message has not been that all technology is bad and that we all need to live as though it was a point in some earlier century. That is not to say that we need not look at our current society and the way people live, and hopefully use the past to help us create something better for ourselves and our families. Some will tell you that a simple life involves letting technology do all the work while you take it easy and enjoy the entertainments provided for you by movies/television/internet etc. Whilst entertainment may be some small part of your life, it cannot replace the long term joys and satisfaction delivered by voluntary simplicity, less reliance on others, and the rejection of the commercialization that now targets you from cradle to grave.
A really simple life involves you in taking control of those things that are important to you and your family and introducing a level of self-sufficiency in every aspect of your life. Instead of spending valuable time wandering from one entertainment to another, stop and consider that your lifestyle has become little more than mental ‘channel hopping’ and your work only provides you with the means of securing a bigger television, another meal out, or a more exotic holiday. Real life is about making and growing things and not buying things, using what you have and not wanting what you cannot have, doing things and definitely not just watching things on any breed of electronic box. Involving your thumbs occasionally doesn’t really make any difference.
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
One of the biggest problems of what most of us experience as ‘modern life’ is a life divorced from the reality of living here on earth. Many of us live completely within an artificial ‘man-made’ environment; we flick between our state of the art, technology-full homes, move along with our ‘enclosed environment’ cars and end up in our spiritually vacuous workplace. After a few hours we go home for more of the same. Too many weekends are spent in indoor, air-conditioned shopping-centres, restaurants, cinemas and sports facilities. Do we know what time of day it is, or what time of year, or how cold it is outside or is it raining? Some of us rely entirely on technology to ‘inform’ us of these things via a digital display rather than stepping outside to find out for ourselves. Many of these things are outside our control, but where we have a choice we should make the right one, and choose to live in harmony with what is going on in our particular spot on the planet!
“A quiet, secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbour — such is my idea of happiness.”
― Leo Tolstoy
The best way to be in harmony with the seasons and the weather is to be out in the fresh air as much as possible. Don’t always drive or travel on public transport; walk when you can and get exercise and fresh air together with time and space to be quiet. Not only gardening will get you outside; with an extension lead you can do the ironing outside and you can easily prepare food and cook outside; you can write and read and sew and knit outside, so do try all these things. If you do not have the joy of outside growing (see Chapter 5), then you need to get into the countryside, or city parks and gardens as often as you can. Don’t just go out in the summer, but get together the right clothing and be outside throughout the year. If possible walk your children to school each day and use the opportunity to talk with them about the weather, nature, and the changes in the seasons. Try to help them develop an awareness of the natural cycles that are taking place around them. Get them used to the idea of walking, not only as a recreation, but as a very effective means of transport. So you get tired and sometimes you get cold and wet, so what! The beneficial effects on your body, mind and spirit quickly compensate for any minor irritations of the day.
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
Like it or not, sleep is an essential part of all our lives and loss of sleep, for whatever reason, has its consequences. Take your sleeping time seriously and try to make your bedroom a place of calm and quiet. Don’t take your worries to bed and don’t take your phone, television or computer to bed either. (More about sleep and keeping health in Chapter 9 Simple Health.) If you find yourself constantly tired by the afternoon, it may be that you need to examine your sleep patterns and alter them if necessary. Be very aware that children and young adults may have the need for considerably more sleep than others, and lying in bed late is not an option; they should have a reasonable bedtime each night. If you have a difficult time either getting to sleep or staying asleep, just read in bed, even though you may not be getting all the sleep you need you will be resting.
“Fatigue is the safest sleeping draught.”
~ Virginia Woolf,
At a very basic level your chance of success or failure at living a more simple life depends on getting things done; to get things done you need motivation and energy, but you also need a plan. If you wake up each morning with only a vague idea of what you intend to do that day, then the chances are that you will achieve little and waste much time on getting down to doing it. If on the other hand, you have a plan, then chances of success are greater. Of course the plans ‘of mice and men’ are famous for not always working out, but at least you are starting out with good intentions. If you are the kind of person that likes to make lists, then do this in a practical way that means you have an achievable set of goals.
You will have to do some jobs every day, like feed family and animals, maybe bake bread, do washing and the like. You also have jobs that you need to do almost every day, like to take children to school, or run your homeschool schedule, go to work... Occasional jobs like planting potatoes, painting a room, bottling fruit or buying chickens all have to be fitted in around those every day ‘chores’ (I use the word ‘chores’ not in any derogatory way, but as a simple method of dividing the ‘what has to be done’ from the ‘what I would like to be getting on with’ jobs).
Nothing creates a more stable basis for daily routine than regular times for getting up, going to bed, and mealtimes. Some people take naturally to a regular regime and others find it very difficult, but until you have tried it - about a month seems reasonable - then you can’t possibly appreciate the benefits. Simple living groups like the Amish traditionally get up early, reflecting the agricultural life that most of them lead; you may have the freedom to develop your own schedule to fit around the things that you need to do. You may find that you need more sleep in the winter months, which means a winter daily schedule might involve an earlier bedtime or a later getting up time. For wellbeing and some kind of harmony with the changing seasons, it just does not make sense to be in bed asleep while the sun is up. Avoid deviating from your regular times at the weekend, otherwise late nights and lying in will stop you getting back into your normal routine and leave you feeling jaded by midweek. Your body will respond well to regular periods of rest and nourishment, do not neglect them, and the effect on your mental and physical health will be noticeable. If you try a ‘living routine’ you will find that it evolves over months and years into something that works just perfectly for you ~ but it does take time!
“A person who has not done one half his day's work by ten o'clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.”
― Emily Brontë
Just as a day needs some plan and structure, then so does your week. Some days are better for bigger jobs than others and sometimes more of the family are at home. Try to plan a weekly routine that allows for relaxation as well as work. Obviously, if you are involved in growing food, then you will need to build in some seasonal variation; note that the weather has a nasty habit of washing away the best laid plans. In my part of the world (UK) we always have four seasons to plan for, but in some years those seasons seem to come in random order!
While you are establishing a good weekly routine, you may like to try something like a school timetable to help you get into a workable pattern of tasks. Simple harmony is best achieved by matching your personal preferences of when you best like to do things with when you schedule them to be done. For instance, if I have to shop, I like to do it early, in and out, with the job done while the day lies ahead. Shopping in the afternoon is never a pleasure and always leaves me feeling resentful of the time spent doing it.
Try to find time during the week, usually mealtimes, when the whole family can be together and not in a rush to be anywhere else. You may be part of a belief system which has special days for worship each week, be sure to include these in your plans.
“Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God's guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God.”
Quaker Advices and Queries ~ Britain Yearly Meeting
Bringing the Seasons into Your Home
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
Make a point of brining what you can of the seasons into your home. You can use these things as a centrepiece for the table, as a focus for grace, or as simple and beautiful decorations. You can even hang things from your front door to greet your family as they return home and welcome visitors. Don’t be afraid to use whatever you consider beautiful, even if the rest of the world might see it as a vase of weeds. Children will soon warm to this idea and if you have room, a small ‘nature table’ is a wonderful idea (given the kind of ‘finds’ that your children will make the kitchen is not the best place for this collection). I have listed below a few suggestions of seasonal items, but your family will have its own ideas. (Be careful of particular allergies and hay fever in your household.)
· Springtime; crocus, hyacinth and daffodils planted in pots in the previous autumn, cut branches of willow and hazel, a jar of frogspawn (to be released into a pond after a few days).
· Summertime; flowers, weeds and grasses of all kinds and colours. Crops from the garden make a wonderful display before being eaten. In late summer small sheaths of wheat, oats or bulrushes.
· Autumn; fading leaves of every colour, nuts and berries, pumpkins, gourds and fruits, dried ears of sweet corn.
· Winter; holly, ivy and mistletoe, evergreens of all types, bare winter branches of twisted willow and dogwood.
· Any season, rocks and stones, logs and twigs and any interesting ‘finds’ that relates to your home or family.
If you have problems with getting these things into your house, or finding them, then create a small notice-board and fill it with photographs or artwork, of the changing seasons. Rotate the pictures regularly and encourage children to take, or draw their own pictures of the changing year.
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
Using Winter Darkness
Many of us find winter difficult to cope with; it’s not the cold so much as the darkness that affects our mood and sleep patterns. Many suffer from seasonal affective disorder ‘SAD’, and the worst months for this are November and December (at least that’s so in the Northern Hemisphere), leaving the sufferers tired, depressed and longing for spring and light.
One of the problems is that we are constantly interfering with our bodies by living fully in artificial light. I’m not suggesting for one moment that we do without artificial light and live our winter evenings in the dark, but that we make some room for darkness in our lives.
If you are lucky enough to have a clear winter evening, go for a walk, carry a torch and wear something reflective, but get away from the lighting of houses and streetlamps, enjoy the darkness and the beauty of the night sky. Make a habit of these winter night time walks and get used to the darkness.
Don’t always use electric lighting in your home, eat some evening meals by candle or lamplight. You can even try reading by non-electric lighting ~ it adds an extra dimension to the written page. My children love what we call ‘Amish nights’, winter evenings when we eat supper and enjoy ourselves without the use of any electrical lighting or entertainment ~ bliss!
|(C) NASA (I think)|
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
In an age where almost anything can be had when you want it, the joy of looking forward is becoming a rare thing. One of the best things about winter is looking forward to the joys of spring! Perhaps the best way we can develop the joy of looking forward is to keep food seasonal. It is a thousand times better to wait for strawberries when they are in season (especially when grown on your own plot), than to buy those giant, glowing red, tasteless, pap-filled fruits that you can find in the supermarket the whole year round. Likewise with chestnuts, parsnips, raspberries, daffodils, baked potatoes and candlelit suppers, asparagus and fresh rhubarb; enjoy them all in their own season and enjoy looking forward to them. You can get these things whenever you want, but are they as enjoyable out of their natural season of context?
Few things upset me more than shops filled with Christmas decorations in September, or Easter eggs just after Christmas, hot-cross buns around the year and Brussels sprouts (from halfway across the globe) in June! Don’t make your home a place of unseasonal disharmony, follow the course of nature and the traditions of your family and faith, forget the marketing of ‘stuff’ and accept the gifts of substance.
Keeping a Diary
Some people keep a journal in which, almost every day they write what they have been doing; some others keep a regular blog of their activities, I’m sure that the ‘rich and famous' do this with some idea of later editing and publishing them. For us ‘lesser mortals,’ finding the time to do such a thing might seem difficult, although a weekly journal or blog might work well for some individuals. A diary, on the other hand, is much more manageable; the idea is not to keep an appointment book, but a record of when things happen to use as a point of reference in later years. Entries might include details of when crops have been planted, seeds sown, when harvesting takes place, when first-frost comes, the first night lighting a fire, birthdays, marriages, deaths, etc. Compare notes each year and you soon have a helpful guide to what needs doing and when; as you get older such notes might prove useful.
The ‘Plain Calendar’
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
Early Quakers (together with quite a few other religious groups) adopted what is called a ‘Plain Calendar’, that is a calendar which uses no names that were derived from ‘pagan’ gods or Roman emperors. The result is the days of the week (starting from Sunday) are First Day, Second Day, Third Day, etc. This is why the Quaker equivalent of ‘Sunday school’ is called ‘First Day school’. The months are just as simple, starting with First Month (being January) and so on.
Most other groups soon dropped this, but Quakers continued to employ it and many Friends still use it at Meeting and within their families. Quakers traditionally do not celebrate ‘feast days’ like Christmas and Easter Day, nor do they adhere to the traditional Christian ‘fasts’ like Lent or advent. Quakers opted for a plain and simple life without feasts or fasts recognizing that the creation needs to be celebrated every day and that no day is more sacred than any other. Today the majority of Quakers celebrate Christmas and Easter as secular holidays though many do acknowledge the religious heritage connected with these days. Many have interpreted this Quaker refusal to adopt the feasts and fasts of the year as awkwardness or contrariness, but in reality it reflects the Quaker ethos of nonconformity and going back to that ‘primitive Christianity’ that existed before the development of the organized ‘state religion’ that Christianity became during late Roman times and the early Middle ages.
Festivals of the Year
Why do so many of us feel the need to celebrate festivals and feast days, even if our religion, or for many, a lack of religion contradicts this need? Time for a look at some very ancient history, or is that ancient mystery?
The Etruscans lived in Italy before the Romans, and with time, much of their mythology became incorporated into Roman mythology. The story tells that once a man was ploughing a field and came upon something strange in the soil. At first he thought that it was a stone, but being a strange pale colour, he decided to investigate it and found it warm to the touch. On digging around the strange object, it soon became clear that this was the head of a human baby. The baby, called ‘Tages’, was young yet could speak like an old man. Soon a crowd gathered around the baby and it began to talk, telling of many things that would be the basis of the Etruscan (and later Roman) religion. The most strange prophecy concerns chickens, whom Tages said hold secrets in their bodies, waiting to be laid as eggs. Killing the chickens and reading their entrails can reveal the secret, but it may take many years of training to learn to do this. Tages eventually turned into an old man before dying and returning to the Earth from which he had come. One of his final and seemingly most important statements was about festivals – Tages warned that festivals must be kept because festivals are ‘the columns that hold up the year’.
This has become my idea of festivals and feasts of all kinds ~ those with a religious history tend to like Christmas, those with a mainly secular background like Thanksgiving or Burns Night, and those rooted in our agricultural past like to celebrate harvest and ‘first frost’. These are important because they mark out the year; they give us things to remind us of the past and opportunities to pass on traditions to younger members of the family. As a Quaker, I don’t accept that any day is more important or ‘more sacred’ than the rest, but I don’t think the occasional annual celebration, as selected by the family from the vast range available as something to mark, is a problem. The vital thing is to celebrate them simply and avoid the over-commercialization that defiles so very much of our modern lives. Your family must decide which days you want to mark and those that you prefer to leave to others, it’s your choice alone, so don’t feel ‘bulldozed’ into becoming part of a celebration which you are not entirely happy with!
Greeting card manufacturers have ‘developed’ some special occasions to mark in the hope of delivering better sales figures in quiet times of the year; do we really need to send Easter and Halloween cards? If you feel the need to communicate why not send a letter instead?
Birthdays are an important time to mark each member of your household and reflect on their uniqueness and be thankful for them. Try to mark the occasions of childrens' birthdays with events and togetherness. Gifts for birthdays need not be expensive, but should always be very specific to that person, ideally something that they would not expect, but will be overjoyed to get. Try to keep any birthday in the family special and as stress free as possible. Those who have birthdays that clash with other festivities like Christmas or Thanksgiving should be left in no doubt that their birthday is as important and special as everybody else’s.
|(C) K and R Lovegrove|
You may think that this is an odd subject to introduce here, but just as each day, and each year has a pattern imposed upon it by nature; light and dark, spring, summer, autumn and winter, so your life also has some natural pattern. Our lives are marked in years, but each day our bodies are growing just a little older and, before too long we start to notice the changes. Perhaps our head has another grey hair, or it takes a just a little bit longer to complete that task.
Our ‘modern’ consumer-led society often ‘values’ our age in terms of the products we buy, but as individuals we can ignore this if we wish and decide how to react to the passing years ourselves.
Some effects of aging are biological. We cannot hold them back, we can pretend , we can dye our hair and use any number of aids to hold back the years, but who are we fooling? The best possible ways to keep aging at bay are to eat healthily, avoid those things we know that are bad for us, and to take care to exercise and remain mentally alert. We cannot foresee illness and accidents, but we can take steps to make them less likely.
Many cultures have respect for, and even some honour those who grow old, but in North America and Europe the emphasis is on giving the appearance of not growing old. Remember the one thing that everybody does at the same rate is get older; those people that are ten years younger than you now will still be ten years younger than you next time you see them, why fight it? As you age, do take account of having less stamina and more ‘wear and tear’ issues with your body. You may need to rest more and take more time over doing things; above all, carry on doing what you want to do for as long as you can and don’t stop doing the things you want just because others will think you are too old. If you are digging the garden and cooking the lunch right up to the end of your life you can consider yourself lucky whatever your chronological age!
The Course of Life
“After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die.”
~ E.B. White
However different peoples' lives are, their birth, and their deaths will always be an important factor. Make your home a place where these events are spoken of freely and be sure that children are not excluded from discussion of them. If you are expecting a new baby, involve your other children as fully as possible in the preparation and the joy of the event. When someone dies, allow time for mourning and again involve children in the process. As they grow up, children will come up against both these life events and need to understand them, and come to terms with the fact that they will one day parent children, experience the death of family members and have to come to terms with these life processes without the guidance of others.
Prepare yourself the best you can for your own death and try to leave things in order. Some have a warning that time is limited, but for others, death comes all of a sudden. We have no choice but to go.
“Are you able to contemplate your death and the death of those closest to you? Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully. In bereavement, give yourself time to grieve. When others mourn, let your love embrace them.”
~ Quaker Advices and Queries –Britain Yearly Meeting
· Try to live in awareness of the changing seasons.
· Bring items that reflect that season into your home.
· Eat in a way that makes the most of seasonal produce.
· Stick to a daily routine to help you manage your tasks.
· Be open in discussions about birth and death with your children.
· Consider which, if any, annual celebrations are to be marked by your family.
· Consider a daily list of tasks.
· Consider a weekly list or time-table of tasks.
· Fix times each day for getting up, eating meals and going to bed.
· Find times each week when the whole family can be together.
· Look at how you are ageing and try to live in harmony with the passing years.
· Consider adopting the Plain calendar in your home.
· Have occasional ‘Amish evenings’ in your home without the use of electricity.
You may like to read
Bonnie Blackburn, Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year: An Exploration of Calendar Customs and Time-Reckoning ~ Oxford University Press 1999
Want to know about any day of the year? Look here first.
David Ewing Duncan Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year ~ Harper Collins 1999
How we humans came to develop a calendar from Stonehenge to that thing on your wall.
The Old Farmer's Almanac Published each year for generations.
Essential annual for many in the USA, and know available worldwide. It has so much of interest in it that any description I give would prove totally inadequate. Have a look for yourself!
(C) Ray Lovegrove (aka 'Hay Quaker') 2014