February 8, 2011

Simple Living Saves Lives

Simple living is an ancient method of living within the limits of natural systems. Across the eons, people have responded to social, economic, and environmental challenges through lifestyles of sufficiency rather than surfeit.

The modern globalized system of capitalism (only one of many ways of allocating resources) is built on over-consumption and infinite growth. It funnels wealth to a small group of individuals and families at the top, while ignoring the deaths of thousands of unfortunates every day. Many would say that the system not only ignores the deaths of the less fortunate, but actually causes them.

Voluntarily cutting our consumption means that commodities such as water, forest, oceans, topsoil, and the atmosphere will be there for the less fortunate, as well as our children and grandchildren.

Making changes that reduce our ecological footprint is one of the most important things we can do to save lives today, and create a sustainable structure for the future. Simple living (or voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle that many are increasingly turning to as a way of creating a better, more balanced and equitable life, and world.

Duane Elgin, simple living guru, wrote the classic book Voluntary Simplicity in 1981. He continues to teach others of the benefits of living simply, and offers the following categories as he sees them. Mr. Elgin points out that there may be overlap between all of the choices described.

1. Choiceful Simplicity: Simplicity means choosing our unique path through life consciously, deliberately, and of our own accord.  This path emphasizes the challenges of freedom over the comfort of consumerism.

2. Compassionate Simplicity: Simplicity means to feel such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” Compassionate simplicity is a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development for all.

3. Ecological Simplicity: Simplicity means to choose ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological impact. A natural simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the non-human realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well the human.

4. Economic Simplicity: Simplicity means there are many forms of “right livelihood” in the rapidly growing market for healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds—from home-building materials and energy systems to foods and transportation. 

5. Elegant Simplicity: Simplicity means that the way we live our lives represents a work of unfolding artistry. Gandhi said, “My life is my message.”  In this spirit, an elegant simplicity is an understated, organic aesthetic that contrasts with the excess of consumerist lifestyles.  Drawing from influences ranging from Zen to the Quakers, simplicity is a path of beauty that celebrates natural materials and clean, functional expressions.

6. Family Simplicity: Simplicity means that the balanced lives of children and families are of highest priority and that it is important not to get sidetracked by our consumer society.

7. Frugal Simplicity: Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportunity to more consciously choose our path through life.  Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.

8. Political Simplicity: Simplicity means organizing our collective lives in ways that enable us to live more lightly and sustainably on the Earth which, in turn, involves changes in nearly every area of public life—from transportation and education to the design of our homes, cities, and workplaces. Political simplicity is a politics of conversation and community that builds from local, face-to-face connections to networks of relationships spanning the globe.

9. Soulful Simplicity: Simplicity means to approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of intimate connection with all that exists. By living simply, we can more directly awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment.

10. Uncluttered Simplicity: Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented.  An uncluttered simplicity means cutting back on trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials—whatever those may be for each of our unique lives.  As Plato wrote, “In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.”

- adapted from: Duane Elgin

Voluntary simplicity, in all its richness, offers us a framework to effectively instigate change that can save lives.

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