The world is a large place, made no smaller by our increasing knowledge and awareness of its far corners and the many people who occupy it. To seek to understand the many wonderful riches our earth contains is a good and noble pursuit and yet for some this is not enough, and never has been.
Throughout history people have sought to dominate and rule through expanding empires, to increase power and wealth through conquered lands and its people, exploiting their resources to do so. No doubt there have been benefits to some brought by those in power but what has been lost? Indigenous cultures swallowed up and homogenized by more powerful invaders; the loss of traditional crafts and skills due to the increase of mass production; local dialects swept away by an increasing universalization of language brought about by mass media; food grown and distributed cheaply at a high cost to the people who live and work on it as well as animals and the land.
If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Globalisation is too often about profit regardless of the cost to life. Despite a large increase in recent decades in individual wealth and opportunities there has also been a dramatic rise in depression, anxiety and stress. Perhaps this is because the freedom we have been led to believe our increased options have given us is an illusion. Anyone with a mortgage (literally “death-grip” in French) does not actually own their house until every last penny has been paid off. Houses are decorated, clothes are bought, holidays enjoyed even when we don’t have the money to pay for them and so spend our days under the shadow of debt. We are told that we need these things, that it’s our personal right, that we are “worth it“. When we believe this we become complicit and willing slaves building our lives on a foundation of need/want/must have. Freedom comes in recognizing the difference between what is genuinely needed and what is desired, and making responsible choices accordingly .
We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like. Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over. We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.
Richard J Foster
Adverts, marketing, fashion, film, magazines and newspapers continuously feed our desires creating needs where there were none, our greedy inner consumers always craving, always longing for more. As E. F. Schumacher says in ‘Small is beautiful’ his seminal book on economics : “The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but the very causes of its expansionist success”.
There is a tonic strength, in the hour of sorrow and affliction, in escaping from the world and society and getting back to the simple duties and interests we have slighted and forgotten. Our world grows smaller, but it grows dearer and greater. Simple things have a new charm for us, and we suddenly realize that we have been renouncing all that is greatest and best, in our pursuit of some phantom.
William George Jordan
The large corporations have even tapped into a recent trend born out of a desire by many to return to a simpler time, when things were homemade, natural, and simple. And so we buy products (often at great expense) made in a homespun style; cosmetics that are marketed on the basis of their natural and beauty giving properties (with no mention of the toxic cocktail of chemicals in the mix); and simplicity has become a by-word in décor, fashion and lifestyle trends. Thus in our quest for a simple and natural life we buy what we are told we need to achieve it, blind to the irony.
The more you have, the more you are occupied.
The less you have the more free you are.
The fact that so many of us are seeking simplicity, even if it is in our choice of products, shows that deep down we know that having more stuff is not what we need. Bigger houses take more time and effort to clean, possessions need to be looked after, maintained and protected. The more clothes we have the more time it takes to decide what to wear. Grooming and beauty products for every part of our bodies and to correct every perceived flaw take up an inordinate amount of space, time and energy. Not to mention the affect our consumption has on the environment. At what point do we decide we have enough? And that in fact to have less will be better for us, for our environment and for our fellow man?
It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. . . . Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving. . . . The Indians in their simplicity literally give away all that they have—to relatives, to guests of other tribes or clans, but above all to the poor and the aged, from whom they can hope for no return.
Charles Alexander Eastman
If we began living smaller then maybe we would stop being so obsessed with ourselves and not allow our individuality to be used as a consumer tool. Then our thoughts would be less controlled by outside forces, giving would be more important than getting and quality better than quantity. Our possessions could be enjoyed and used without too much attachment and so we would freely share with those who have less. Then perhaps we could truly appreciate and value what is most important.
I have pondered these issues over many years and so small has become a bit of a by-word for me as a way of life. To live small is to live simply without the extraneous or superficial. It’s to appreciate the wee moments – a relaxing cup of tea, the smell after it has rained, getting into freshly laundered bedding after a long day and those little wild wonders that are all around us. I have found through the process of simplifying a greater appreciation for life as well as an ability to breathe more deeply, think more clearly and enjoy the moments as they come.
Even so, I’m well aware that I have a long way to go on this journey of creating the symphony that William Ellery Channing so eloquently speaks of. Yet the path is a pleasant one, perhaps I will meet you there…?