Archive for the ‘Simplicity’ Category

I will be attending a presentation by an old friend, Tom Barefoot, tomorrow night in Northampton on Gross National Happiness.

It is happening at the Media Education Foundation offices at 60 Masonic Street, Northampton, MA at 7:00 pm. Come.


A group of Vermonters have been meeting to formulate ways to assess whether their communities are succeeding or not, whether people in the state are happy, and growing happier or less so.

Many factors affect one’s sense of well-being. The measurement of well-being is by definition subjective, and therefore any standard definition will be subject to criticism. The choice though is whether to measure something that provides a great deal of objectively comparable information, or to neglect to measure what is important.

I looked at the GNHUSA website and the methodology that they use to measure happiness, and frankly my impression is that it needs work. They have a link to a “sustainable Seattle” questionnaire that also seemed a little thin to me (that’s my code for needing work).

I have an alternative.

It is also simple, and is derived from Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. It is a measure of results, not of causes.

1. Survival:

To what extent did you successfully meet the following needs over the past month, and expect to over the next month (0 – 9)

A. Food                                              0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Water                                              0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Shelter                                            0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Warmth                                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Free from Illness/health         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sleep/rest                                      0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Work                                                0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

2. Safety/security

To what extent did you successfully meet the following needs over the past five years and expect to over the next five years?

A. Food                                                0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Water                                               0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Shelter                                             0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Warmth                                           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Free from Illness/health         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sleep/rest                                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Work                                                  0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

H. Safety from bodily harm           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

I. Safety from persecution             0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

3. Love/Belonging

To what extent did you successfully meet the following needs over the past five years and expect to over the next five years?

A. Close friends                                     0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Multiple acquaintences                0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Close family                                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Fulfilling love relationships       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

4. Esteem

To what extent did you achieve your goals for self-respect and respect of others over the past five years?

A. Career and/or life achievements  0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Mastery of a profession or craft     0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Development of confidence             0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Respect of others’ accomplishment   0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Respect of you                                        0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

5. Self-Actualization

To what extent did you achieve your goals for self-fulfillment, in action and experience?

A. Ethics                                                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Creative expression                              0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Design/problem solving                     0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Peacemaking                                           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Acceptance and magnaminity         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sincerity                                                    0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Study                                                           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

H. Work life in the “zone”                         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

I. Sense of humor, irony                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

J. Self-motivation, determination       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

K. Self-reflection                                         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

6. Spirituality

To what extent did you realize spirituality in contemplation and action? To what extent did you inspire others?

A. Sense of unity of all things and

your connection to ALL                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Sense of truth                                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Sense of beauty                                      0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Life of heartful passion                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Sense of harmony                                 0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sense of surrender/agency               0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Inner courage                                         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

H. Contemplation                                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

If you are willing, fill out the enclosed questionnaire, e-mail it back to me, I’ll enter the data into an analytic “happiness” spreadsheet and I’ll tell you how happy you are. (a joke, not really. I think the measure is representative.)


The data and interpretation varies by age. Students tend to be very confident of their survival, security, belonging needs, but have not yet experienced sustaining esteem building accomplishments. Unemployed tend to score low. Elderly tend to score low.

I think that largely reflects reality, how happy people really are.

The top score is around 120, the lowest around 1. If social welfare is the measure of the success of an economy, this scoring institutionalizes the assumption that a fully actualized financially secure person generates at maximum 120 times the well-being of a poor and depressed and alone person.

It does suggest that if resources can be dedicated to near universal survival and security, that that realizes a higher impact on community welfare than highly educating and nurturing a single person.

Whats the right number, the accurate difference between the optimal and the minimal happiness in the world? 120, 240, 24000? Hard to know.

It is a certainty that a relatively small amount of resources creating a safety net makes a BIG difference in social welfare. Whether charity or government should make that safety net is an open question.

And, whether we, through our employment, our charitable institutions or through our governance, are realizing optimal social welfare per the activity in our economy, is another profound question.

In measuring social welfare, as distinct from individual welfare, it is also an open question whether scores of youth should be weighted comparably to scores of elderly. Maybe we should weight the scoring socially by years of life expectancy remaining (squareroot of 25+ life expectancy. I at 56 would be weighted at the squareroot of 55  – 7.6, while my 19 year old son weighted at the squareroot of 82 – 9.1, while my 86 year old mother would be weighted at the squareroot of 25 – 5.0). I know. I’ll never be elected president for my advocacy for “death panel” social welfare scoring.

The primary concept of referencing social well-being as the measure of success or failure of an economy/society rather than secondary measures like GDP or cumulative gross net worth, is sound, more than sound.

The question now is to develop tools that are credible enough to be trusted sufficiently to be used, and then relied on (and always refined).

There is a tendency to attempt to measure cause in too great a detail, to the point that the metric itself embodies specific sets of values that are not universal in fact, and then represent an imposition of the values by the measurement. In this exercise we need to measure. We live in a democracy with contending worldviews and definitions of success. To the extent that the measure itself is free from bias, it will be relevant, accepted, used.


Read Full Post »

Every description of sustainability that I’ve heard includes some element of “live and let live”, translated into “live with a smaller ecological footprint”.

In the business world, if you look at annual reports of the largest publicly traded corporations, nearly all dedicate some portion of their reports to proving that they are good corporate citizens, that they walk lightly on the planet, or at least as lightly as is possible in their field. BP, Alcoa, GE, Google, Cisco.

As a new business school faculty, and somewhat as a new “scholar”, I’ve been struck by the hoped for congruence of sustainability and profitability, that the most profitable approach at delivering a good or service from concept to design to manufacture to delivery to service is to be the least wasteful (including the least wasteful to others and to nature).

At the same time, I observe that FEW organizations and few individuals accomplish or even seek simplicity, contentment with enough.

Our fixed costs of living are too high, and we continue at that. Some is beyond our control. The high cost of housing is a disaster for the young. In most locales, the prevailing salaries and wages paid don’t provide enough income to support mortgages required.

The bubble in housing prices remains. To those that own, increasing housing prices are their primary financial investment for retirement. They need housing prices to increase. The norm of highly leveraged mortgages remains, and leaves the S & L type banking world and securitized mortgage investment banking world still very vulnerable, more than vulnerable.

Food costs are still inflationary, prices also still buffered by a large component of their “value” resulting from speculative money chasing commodities in addition to functional money.

People at least can simplify their food needs. Even buying organic and fair trade, it is possible to spend really a small amount on food by using food staples that one prepares themselves, rather than packaged convenient foods. It is possible to garden, to sprout.

But, if you only shop at grocery stores, 90% of the shelfspace is dedicated to relatively highly processed, highly packaged, highly branded foods.

Transportation is an odd one. There are VERY FEW options for simple vehicles in the US. There is very little ride-sharing, and outside of a few metropolitan areas, very insufficient mass transit. Sprawl compels auto use. Verticle competition for eye lines in traffic motivates big auto use. For those with means, driving small vehicles is thought of as dangerous, not a virtue.

So, on cars, families with annual incomes of $50,000/year may spend $10,000/year on transportation, and $8,000 of that to own the vehicles (financing, insurance, taxes).

I’ve organized a few frugal economy discussions in my hometown. Everyone that comes believes in saving. But, going around a circle of 20 people at one occassion, when asked “what are you saving for?”, a quarter stated “for a better car”. OK, its a personal choice.

The tragedy though is that few entrepreneurs have formed proposals for businesses that succeed by achieving savings in miles driven. The transportation business models are still based on growth, growth of number of cars sold, growth in size and profit margins of cars sold.

Not “demand-side management”.

It is a business opportunity, but involves cultural shifts of common attitudes towards cars. For an innovative car rental operation, there is market opportunity for a “break-out”.

And, finally energy remains expensive. Even if the majority of the costs of housing and of transportation are ownership costs, the operating costs of gasoline and other fuels and energy sources, are very expensive.

The interesting characteristic of gasoline prices in particular, is that it is information that individuals confront daily (even walking). Changes in ownership costs of a vehicle is seen at most once a month in a car payment and as a fixed cost is understood as “there is nothing I can do about that”. But, operating costs are seen daily, and effects thinking if not behavior so much.

Simplifying happens by plan, by design,  not by reaction. High gasoline prices might stimulate a person to purchase an energy efficient car, a capital investment. Or, better yet, the recognition of high ownership costs of vehicles, might stimulate a person to car-share in a neighborhood perhaps. Or, by moderate capital investments in own’s home, significant energy savings (80%) are possible.

The art of a real sustainability advocate, a real simplicity advocate, is to structure paths by which the capital investments are possible.

Currently, to make energy improvements on a home requires funds that are nearly always subordinate to other mortgages, even though the energy mortgages actually generate the income to pay for them, while first and second mortgages are paid for relative to the ups and downs of market prices. Its an additional obstacle to the decision to adopt energy efficiency. (Tax credits can’t support it forever.)

Either homeowners take all of the risk and are entitled to all of the benefit, or innovative financial entrepreneurs can define mortgages or externally funded paths in which homeowners take only some of the risk, but then are entitled to only some of the benefit.

“Demand side management”.

Read Full Post »

The “straight-ahead” optimist approach is that a glass half-full is a more appreciative way of describing life, than a glass half-empty. The implication is that one that prefers a glass half-empty is a pessimist, negative, ironically often stated as a condemnation of those that name a glass as half-empty.

Both views contain a proposed norm that a full glass, or a full plate is best.

It ain’t so.

In business, a plant that is half-utilized is really under-utilized. Most at that level would be losing money, experiencing a great deal of volatility, unable to keep good employees for the volatility, and therefore also unable to make consistently high quality product.

So, most think of increasing the plant utilization (or a person getting busier, a full plate) as a virtue. It certainly is compared to a plant that is losing money, BUT at some point (usually at around 70 – 80% of capacity), the logistics of juggling supply chain issues, employees, etc. start to get difficult. At 85-90%, to manage requires a great deal of discipline, and systems need to focus on preventative approaches. Typically, manufacturers or even office efficiency approaches adopt preventive risk reduction, as their primary operational strategy, rather than just pushing forward.

At 90 – 100% capacity utilization, organizations become tyrranical. Their plate is entirely full. There is nothing that can be allowed to go wrong, to deviate from the system in any way, ever. No new business relationships are possible, even if they are more interesting or profitable. The money is rolling in (if they were priced appropriately), but there is great risk as whole systems can crash.

The same problems occur with individuals whose plates become so full that nothing can go wrong, or they have no room in their schedules or their minds for anything new, even if related to the work that they are doing.

Their full glass, an implied goal of the optimistic approach, becomes a glass that no new water can enter.

In contrast, the Buddhist approach takes care to leave room. 70% utilization.

If we need 8 – 9 hours to sleep, one  and a half full days off (“Shabbat” + social), 3 hours/day to eat and cook and deal with necessities, that leaves 60 total really available working hours. Optimal regular working time commitment using the 70% rule of optimal utilization leaves 42 hours of scheduled work, and 18 hours of unscheduled potential work/project time.

Thats where I want to be. Not tapped out, but definitely fully engaged.

Read Full Post »


To return to the themes of simplicity (efficient, inexpensive, building community, energized – healthy, secure/safe).

We all have to eat. Lets eat together.

When I’ve lived in communities (land, college, communal houses), we all ate together. One or a couple people prepared the food, and we all ate together. It took a bit of navigation around our various food enthusiasms, religious commitments, allergies, but the net result was that we ate together, we cooked together, cleaned together. We spent less time doing each than we would have alone or just with our nuclear family, and it was most often much more enjoyable. Washing dishes is a chore alone. With a friend, its fun (of all things).

In college, we had a separate vegetarian food cooperative cooking plan called Grazers. There were about 20 – 25 members, with lots of guests. There was one person on college work-study that purchased commodities and managed the budget. (Sometimes well, sometimes not so well. One May was a bit hungry and boring.) Two people daily would cook, and two people daily would clean. Sometimes the cooking would clique up, but even those remaining that got lumped together randomly had a great time.

The quality of the food varied. Some were excellent cooks, some were abysmal, having never even heated up water in their lives. Some wanted to learn, and some just couldn’t care less.

Nevertheless, the experience over a year, was a real closeness with the people that ate together, but also some alienation from the mass in the regular cafeteria.

In 1989, I and my wife lived in a semi-communal house outside of a college town in Western Massachusetts. The house was located in a neighborhood of other cooperative households and families, that was named “Hearthstone Village”.

In the village, there was a “food rota”, that went from household to household, a couple times each week. A couple people from each household would cook, and everyone would help clean. The Hearthstone Village rota was a giant one though. 20 or so people would converge at each household. It was lively to say the least, daunting if you weren’t ready to prepare food for it. These were committed folks, so there were many food trips held by people with strong opinions. We reconciled the varying needs, but it took some discussion.

An alternative that households or groups of households could adopt could be similar to “Grazers” or the Hearthstone Village “food rota”.

That is to invite and set up smaller food rotas say in groups of 4 or 8, that are manageable, a little more intimate, and a bit more customizable to match up people with similar diets, interests, or other special needs. Individuals or families could be members of multiple rotas (I like the term) that eat together on different days, and have a variety of communities that they are a part of.

Groups could do things after or before eating. Those that are interested in meditation for example, could mediate together before eating. Musicians can play music after a regular dinner. Poets could read their work. People could watch films, discuss social/political issues, or even organize.


Another thought on food relative to family social scale, is that we are our brothers/sisters colleagues (if not zoo-keepers). In my food addiction state, I need others to give me feedback (kindly) on my eating process, reminders. I need my wife and others to pay attention to my specific planned food regimin, to prepare my 1 1/2 cups of protein/carbs and my 1 cup of vegetables or fresh fresh fruits for breakfast.

I rationalize if left to my own unreminded devices. I hate it when my mother asks “Are you dressed warmly enough?”. Come on mom, I’m 55 years old. And, sometimes I think of my wife as a surrogate mother when she asks “did you put flax oil on your salad. You need those omega 3’s”. But, I also appreciate that she is actually caring for me, and willing to do so even though I’ll react harshly to being told what to do.

So, to get to brass tacks. I’m committing to facilitating a food rota matchmaking service in my locale, and if we can get it onto the web, it can serve similar matchmaking function elsewhere.

If someone beats me to it, more than wonderful.

If anyone is interested in this idea and wants to help, please e-mail me at rswitty@verizon.net.


A third thought is on gardens. In our household we have raised beds gardens on a strip of land on one side of our driveway. We have about 150 square feet of garden space, 100 square in raised beds. We grow leaf and root vegetables, tomatoes, squashes, peas, bush beans, some potatoes, strawberries, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower. We trellis to get the plants to grow in three dimensions (peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers/squash).

We estimate that we grown approximately $400 of vegetables annually. Its not enormous amount, and does not cover all our vegetable needs (we still shop, especially for local corn), but it does contribute some, and is a part of our connection to our place. We dig in it.

We also have a collective compost pile that we collect from a few families, in”exchange” for some of the fruits (a couple pounds of snowpeas, a couple tomatoes, a cabbage).

I hope that we can expand the garden, but at this point that would require consuming front yard space, which I don’t object to at all, but realtors have expressed that that makes a house less sellable if we should need to move. (I don’t get it. I would think that it would go the other way. 400 sq feet of good seasoned organic soil in raised beds and plots should be an asset. Yeah!)

We plan to put in a small greenhouse in front of our house (southern exposure), that would allow us to extend growing season considerably. In simple cold frames (a sheet of glass on a raised bed), you can extend the growing season two – three weeks on each side. With a somewhat climate controlled greenhouse, I expect four – five weeks. We’ll see. The idea is to help in heating/insulating the house, but also for the growing.

Read Full Post »

My body is my temple. My body is my tool/machine at my disposal.

“Yeah sure”, if you looked at me.

I weigh more than I need, and I hunger for more than I need. I’m not alone in that, but for me it requires some external structure of what I eat, when, how. I have to plan ahead what I’m going to eat (what foods AND what quantity), and limit myself to that plan.

I have a food addiction, that is both managable to an extent, but not deniable.

I don’t know what percentage of adults hunger for more than they need, but I know its high, looking around at people my age. I know some that just know what is enough, and it really is, and I know others for whom there is never enough.

“Enough” is the primary word in a simple or “light-living” life-style and society.

When I eat healthy choices of what foods to eat, then “enough” is satisfying, even over time. When I eat unhealthy choices, “enough” is unsatisfying. My body, my cells, are desparate to take in the nutrients that they didn’t get, and desparate to remove the materials that they got too much of.

I’m not a nutritionist. From what I know, a healthy diet consists of lean meat/fish and/or vegetable protein, moderate amount of complex carbohydrates (from whole grains and legumes), a considerable amount of fresh or freshly cooked vegetables and fruits, and a very moderate amount of unsaturated fats (preferably from anti-oxident oils).

Deserts are better left to special occassions, and in relatively small portions, a treat. (None if you are a sugar addict. Better to leave well enough alone.) Saturated fats are ok in small portions (cheese, butter). Foods containing high quantities of sugars (even some “healthy” cereals) are best to avoid.

Sugar is addicting, in that it triggers a satisfaction/hunger sequence in cells, that is only satisfied by more sugar. It takes about three days to ween cells themselves from the sugar addictive cycle (from memory and experience not authoritative). But, our brains do remember the sugar addiction sequence, and even when our cells have stopped suggesting “give me sugar”, our brain “muscle memory” may relay that to the part of our brain that initiates action, even though the need is a false one.

Healing sugar addictions is similar in approach to getting past other substance addictions, and may be more difficult to overcome in some individuals. Socially, the degree and manner of promoting sugar (and simple carbohydrate) addictions, is insidious.

The delivery of food is a business, but it is not ONLY a business. We are the consumers of food, and by taking possession of our choices, actually caring for our ourselves, we can make decisions that are simultaneously healthy, inexpensive and tasty. And, as more and more of us actually do take possession of our individual bodies, and of our social participation, we can influence what food is available in the marketplace, and how it is available to us.

Since my income has declined considerably, I’ve had to look at the expense of the food that I eat.

When I was a professional, working long hours, and my wife worked, and my teenage children (who cooked often) were not attentive to food seasons or cost of different ingredients, we spent a lot more than we needed to on food. We ate a great deal of even lightly packaged foods, and highly marketed foods, that were expensive.

For example, we regularly bought tortilla chips, Tostitos (this is not a product placement). A 16-oz bag at the grocery now costs $3.99 (.25/oz). A 16-oz bag usually lasted my family a day or two. And, a 6-oz bottle of salsa costs $3.50. For other purpuses, we also bought tortillas that cost $2.59 for 36 tortillas, or (.07/oz). The same food. So, we shifted from buying the highly marketed and packaged tortilla chips from mega-corporation Fritolay, to a truly labor-intensive value-added commodity product from a regional tortilla presser. We eat tacos now, rather than tortilla chip snacks.

We previously ate things like healthy frozen pizza, or frozen vegie burgers, not to mention twice-weekly trips to our excellent local Chinese Restaurant (China Gourmet, great food, great price – that is an unpaid product placement).

Instead, now we cook as a family.  We informally rotate which meals. (My wife cooks maybe 10 meals a week, I cook maybe 5, and my son 6.) We use primary and inexpensive ingredients (beans, whole grains, some cheese, spices, vegetables, fruits, whole grain noodles).

We cook in a sequence, designed to utilize leftovers. We start with isolated foods (rice say), which the next day leftovers will be used in a soup or stir-fry. We waste very very little food this way.

For taste, we learn how to cook. Even seemingly very boring foods (beans) can be prepared very well by learning to cook the particular food expertly, and apply spices and add-ins skillfully. For example, a well-cooked serving of basmati brown rice with light spicing is delicious and cheap.

The result is that we’ve decided to cook healthy, inexpensive and delicious. As a family, we went from spending over $1,000/month on food, to now less than $500, and we definitely eat better.

With the availability of food buying clubs, rather than buying retail (even through food coops), we can save more. We do buy a portion of our food from an Asian food market, that sells curries, seaweed, rice noodles, at about 1/3 of what our local natural foods store sells the same products for.

With our savings, we then have much greater choice in how we live. I hate to admit it, but not having enough money is a slavery. In my critical range, money does buy freedom to an extent. For most working people, that is the story.

I need to be in control of my food choices now. Because of my food addiction, I can’t leave it to my hunger. And, because of my awareness of the insidious food marketing techniques applied by food companies, I can’t let what stimulates me in a store or reading a magazine or watching a movie, take control of my choices. I am not a Pavlovian dog. The choices are my choices, not their’s.

Read Full Post »

“Live simply so that others may simply live”.

A decade or so ago, an old acquaintance of mine, Vimala McLure wrote a wonderful book, “The Ethics of Love”, which was an elaboration/exploration of the practice of yama/niyama in three relationships: From/To “One”, From/To other individuals, From/To society. (She and another long-time friend Jody Wright are leaders in the infant massage commitment, to really invite new souls into the world lovingly.)

Yama/niyama is the 10 commandments of yogic practice. They are considered a prerequisite and complement to meditation and physical yoga.

Aparigraha/simplicity is one of the ten. Fanatic interpretations of aparigraha are common and dangerous. In other posts, I’ve described my own distorted application of the principle, almost analagous to an eating disorder. Ironically, I indulged in the practice of “enough”.

So, what is enough practically? “Enough” changes at different stages in one’s life, as our roles, responsibilities and ability to enjoy, change over time. Its up to us to learn our needs, and adjust our behavior as our and others’ needs change.

The practice of yoga implies a great trust in human nature. It doesn’t deny that there are inherent conflicting impulses and needs, but does note that our natural state is one of energy, attention, health. And, that the purpose of moral principles and other intentional efforts (disciplines) is calm minds to realize that healthy responsive status.

In a calm natural state of mind, we are more effective at accomplishments, resolving conflicts, enjoying and in a coherent manner.

From that primary criteria of calm energized minds, political and social assessments revolve around the extent that a context or effort facilitate “enlightened” individual and social consciousness/experience.

The values of yama/niyama are in some ways elaborations of really the single criteria of healthy consciousness.

Its similar to the relationship of the ten commandments and later written and oral elaborations in Torah to the first two commandments. Its described that Hashem (the ONE) communicated the first two commandments to the exodusing community at Sinai, and the two and the rest were later summarized in writing only. (First written directly by Hashem, then dictated to Moses.) The first two made an authoritative imprint.

“I am the Lord thy God” (the essential unity of all things, linking the transcendent with the material/sequential).

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Triviality is not the same as profound unity/integration. Don’t be distracted from full consciousness.)

Simplicity is one of the yama/niyama values and is one of the ten commandments. “Thou shalt not covet/desire/scheme for anything that is thy neighbors” (Enough is good enough.)

I like it.

From Vimala’s description, it is a worthwhile exercise to periodically reflect on simplicity in three critical relationships.

Have I simplified my relation to the transcendant? Is my mind a clutter? Does the clutter hide or distort the natural intuitive (self-evident) recognition of the simply and naturally profound? How? How can I reduce the unnecessary and artificial constructions?

How can the value of “enough” actually be enough?

In my relations to others, do I create unnecessary artifices, making simple productive and enjoyable interactions complex and confused?

On a material level, do I hoard? Do excess possessions weigh me down, as a “diseconomy of scale”?

Does my family have enough? Is it guided by “enough” as its optimum?

In society, do systems facilitate individuals and families to universally acquire enough? Or do our economic and social systems result in unhealthy distributions of income and wealth to the extent that many don’t have access to enough while others have excess to the point that they are ineffective as human beings?

Does society provide available means for individuals and families to provide for its members throughout their lifecycles? Does it facilitate the healthy care of infants and children (that are by definition dependent)? Their education, their gradual inclusion in rights and responsibility? Does society facilitate universal sufficient compensation, continuing education, and support for the physical and mental health of contributing adults? Does society facilitate a universal opportunity to care for the very sick, the mature, the elderly? Does it facilitate a way to keep the mature and elderly relevant, contributing in a meaningful way, if no longer professionally or physically?

Enough is a great word, a great criteria for personal and social values.

If one has/uses less than enough, then reform is needed to reach health. If one has/uses more than enough (resulting in inefficient waste or out and out corruption), then reform is needed to stay effective and let others simply live.

A middle way, with latitude and flexibility of application. A useful value.

Read Full Post »

I use the metaphor of a bicycle to describe health, physical health, financial health, psychological health.

A bicycle is only stable if it is moving. Some adepts can retain their balance on a bicycle without moving, but I need to have my wheels turning at least some to keep from falling.

Personal and community economy is the same. Things fall apart if people, assets, skillsets, traditions are idle.

I’ve had periods in my life, when I was actually poor. I lived in a communal setting that had basically fallen apart. All but another family had left. We couldn’t afford our land payments. I didn’t have transportation to get to work. Winter was coming on, and after the first snowfall I left to return to my childhood home. When I got to suburban New York, I weighed 135 pounds (30 pounds less than an optimal healthy weight). On the trip home, I ran out of money to pay for gas or tolls, 100 miles from New York while traveling with an 8-month pregnant woman. A New York state toll person loaned me $5.00 personally to buy gas and pay the turnpike toll. I’m sure that she was surprised when she received the repayment.

I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I adopted a form of voluntary poverty, a guilt and a supporting political ideology, that was not simplicity, but more punitive. I adopted a monastic view of life. I digested too much of the tropical Indian monk’s view (while I lived in snowy New England), and supported it by thin new left Marxist references that accomplished no transfer of power to community, but did disempower me. I admired characters in Russian novels (Father Zossima, Prince Myshkin), Franciscan monks, yogic monks. Even the language of “the middle way”, I took in as monastic (Siddhartha), not as actual Buddhist teaching of enough, but less than enough.

I was not a monk. I just was enamored with the romantic saintly image.

I didn’t know myself, my needs, my abilities. I didn’t accept my own fallibility. No parent, no sober mentor, no frank counselor was present to guide me. My friends were either as confused as I, or not confused and actually proceeding to get their lives together and my dogmatics irritated them. I fumbled along, still am fumbling along, and still confused by many of the same personal and social themes.

I know a few things now that I didn’t then. I know that financial health is not something to be ashamed of, but is in fact a simpler way of living. I know that rational and moderate self-discipline is not equivalent to less enjoyment or less freedom in life. I know that time is finite, and that it is one of the assets that I can and must keep within my control. I know that my intentions alone are not a sufficient basis of others’ trust, that what I deliver and how I present myself is. At the same time, I also know that my relaxed self-trusted effort and public person need not be false or contorted.

I know that a willingly productive and attentive life itself earns the right to live, to reasonable income. My sincere effort, skill and sensitivity is enough.

I also know that I have an obligation to contribute to public good, to help those that need help, to develop public assets and services, to help retain/restore wilds, and to think for the future, and to invest funds for the future (not only for short-term profits or gains).

I currently oppose the anti-corporate view that concludes that global corporations are so powerful that there is no room for community of any model. I find that attitude to itself be disempowering and distracting, a form of self-punishment, rather than of community affirmation and joy.

I do believe that there is a moral entropy to the “natural” progression of concentration of capital ownership, absent really assertive individual and community self-care and innovation. But, that the way to counteract that entropy is not by any resignation or revolution, but instead by creative and sensitive initiative, both individual and collective.

One consequence of living beyond one’s means, is that one self and one’s community grows poorer.

In the town in Western Massachusetts that I know well, industry has been leaving over half a century, shifting our (and many other) formerly industrial towns to underemployed and now in the vacuum of value-adding work, a retirement destination (inexpensive but still close to amenities). The average net worth in town is much much less than previously, and because of the influx of second home-owners and retirees cashing out of expensive homes in New York, Boston and Connecticut, home prices are higher than prevailing wages can support.

There are a minority that are comfortable, and actually have some disposable net worth, and fewer actual wealthy that have earned their wealth here  (fewer in number, but more assets). In the hills, near the many close to failing dairy farmers, are forested mansions with tennis courts, horses, servants. But, the wealthy that live in the region are mostly global wealthy, and invest in global securities (stocks, LLC’s, hedge funds) and not in either public assets or local small-moderate businesses. They reside in the Valley, but its hard to say that they live here in a social sense as they are not dependent on the Valley’s community health for their health.

So, if global capital, even represented by those members that live or vacation here, will not sufficiently invest in local enterprise or commons, who will?

We (whomever we is) will have to. And, we will have to do that by developing our net worth, and putting it to accountably productive enterprise and public service.

We have to work to increase both private and public net worth, and more than just in terms of market value of our homes. We need balanced communities, that contain both value-adding and residing components. Further, among the value-adding components, we need enterprise that serves inter-regional trade (exports to other regions/micro-regions) and intra-regional trade (local services).

We need to live frugally, to save, and later when our savings reach a point of being discretionary, to invest, and in a form that keeps the local and regional “bicycle wheels” moving. Actual investment IN something, rather than speculation for gain.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »