jusummerhayes

A simple life

Photo by Marc Zimmer on Unsplash
Photo by Marc Zimmer on Unsplash

Good morning, and a very happy, albeit belated Easter.

As you might have seen, yesterday, I took a day off from posting on Livejournal or sharing anything else on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. It wasn't so much that I went completely offline, but I needed to break the habit of always being at my computer or on my phone, if for no other reason than I wanted to be present to whatever was arising.

OK, so once again, I'm calling in aid the 'S' word. I've no idea why because it's not as if you're short of people (mostly) finger-wagging the virtues of our new normal which, they say, is a throwback to the halcyon days of old. Actually, I just made that up. I've no idea what people are writing about but, I'm sure, somewhere in the midst of all the outpouring of content is some dewy-eyed, romanticised piece talking about them good ol' days

But I was there, at least in part.

As I've explained before, up until the age of 14 I had a connection to the 19th century and an even stronger connection to the early days of the 20th century. The difficulty for me is that whilst I can call on the memory gods to show up, I've no way of saying, largely by dint of my age, whether it could offer us a roadmap for our post-Covid19 lives — i.e. a more simple life. 

In my case, as a kid growing up in the 1970s, there were a few happy days, but there was also a lot of rancour and mistrust in our house by dint, largely, of an absence of money. This was partly the result of the family having to survive off of one wage but also because (this is my view at least) the class system my parents had been born into and the school system. You see, neither of them went to grammar school and that meant they didn't take any exams. Both ended up doing manual work, albeit my dad did pull himself up to the heady heights of a City and Guilds qualification in electronics and he then managed to find a job as TV repairman for Rediffusion

So, when I start to talk about a simple life, my point of reference tends to be by force of circumstance. It wasn't as if my parents had taken a leaf from their tree-hugging, flower power brothers and sisters of the 1960s and decided, freakishly or otherwise, to opt for an alternative, largely eco-lifestyle. No, particularly for my Mum, and not unlike the traits that my generation has inherited, she wanted a better life. And that meant the usual assortment of white goods and things to make her life, qua housewife, a lot easier. She did, in the end, have a few but housework was bloody hard work and there was no 'carry water, chop wood' approach going on in her mind. It was the system's or someone's fault that she had to endure. 

And then when it came to my turn and my brother to make our way in the world, our parents wanted us to do better than them and, no doubt, have more. That's not to say that we didn't have an appreciation of things — I make things last a very long time and everything is valuable to me — but our mission in life, as is evident by how you now see the world (pre-Covid19 of course), is replete with materialism on an unprecedented scale. And that means I'm guilty as charged for creating this monster of an earth-eating appetite that, in short order, as I've written about at length, will eviscerate everything and anything in its path — climate change is one way to describe it but it's much more nihilistic than those few words describe. It's my belief that we're on a mission to consume everything of value which will, I'm sad to say, lead to our eventual demise. 

Do I hope in the days to come we take stock of what's occurred during this god-awful time? 

You bet. 

Will we? 

I'm not sure.

But there's a large part of me that wonders why the lexicon of 'simple', 'less' and 'eco-friendly' has languished (if ever they took off) for all these years when our forebears knew that growth for growth's sake would inevitably end in tears — and I'm sorry if that sounds a bit crass given no doubt the grief that hangs heavy in the air with well over 114,000 deaths around the world but you have to ask why it's taken something of this magnitude to make us see what a simpler life might actually look like. 

(Right now I'm reading two books by John Butler. The smaller of the two, which is more biographical and called Mystic Approaches, talks a lot about John's early days as a farmer. These few lines caught my attention (p.18): "I've never forgotten Tom Craxton coming to build a wall with only a hammer and a piece of string. Mechanisation is a false god is (sic) ever there was one but I admit you need a certain frame of mind to be able to resist it." Clearly, none of us, or very few had the frame of mind to give up on mechanisation then or I'd wager now.)

So Summerhayes, are you going to simplify your life? The honest answer is I don't know. 

I don't think it's that complicated and, as I've previously said, I've this strong desire to downsize still further but I know that it's one thing to talk about simplicity but another entirely to ditch all my stuff and live from a backpack — which is what my wife thinks I'm talking about every time I mention the idea of travelling in a van. 

In fairness, if this pandemic has done anything, it's made our family realise how much we've taken for granted, particularly across the spectrum of connection but as to whether post-Covid19 you're going to see a volte-face all the values that we appear to hold dear apropos of consumption, I think that's going to take more than another heart to heart. I don't want to say what needs to happen but perhaps there has to be a shock of such epic proportion that only then will we all wake up and take stock of the world we've created, including how Covid19 so rapidly and indiscriminately spread from a relatively small provincial town in China to now.

At this stage, I'm reminded of something that Michael E. Gerber wrote in his extraordinary book, The E-Myth Revisited (it's towards the back and it's called a letter to Sarah — his fictional character that the book is based around):

"I think that we, playing our end game at the bottom of the twentieth century, are going to need one hell of a lot more than anything our “trainers” have in store for us. I think we need a shock, a self-administered shock, so jolting, so outrageous, so unsympathetic to our little wants, that we’ll either be blown off the planet we’ve each shaped for ourselves—our personal little spaces—when we least expect it, or we will burn to a crisp right there on the spot, never to be heard from again.

And therein lies the problem, Sarah, and, of course, the opportunity. How does one come to the point in his or her life when he or she is not only ready but eager and willing—however terrifying the prospect might be—to self-execute such a leap of faith without any guarantees that it will do any good?"

As I wrap up this little piece, I'm reminded of something else that always comes into view right about the time I'm trying to envisage a small, more sustainable world and that's the picture of my late grandparents, Peter and Lorna. They had next to nothing — it really was a basic life — but the thing that shone through more than anything else was their love for each other. It showed up in plain and obvious ways — they never argued or had a crossed-word — but it was also much more mysterious and only now am I beginning to question how, perhaps with my relationships fastened to a more mature spiritual practice, might I become a more loving and accepting person. 

Take care.

Blessings and much love,

Ju

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