Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1131 – Day 1152)
I try to write these posts like a journal – one draft, and little forethought. I sometimes don’t express myself as eloquently as I would with revision. But, unless I feel I have wrongly characterised someone, I try not to go back and edit. This is a journal. It is meant to be an exploration. However, I opened a book this morning – after I wrote my post – and found a truly eloquent summary of what I am writing about. And so, I preface my own post with these words, from these two great teachers:
Practicing simplicity does not mean giving away all our things, quitting our demanding jobs, and moving to a mountain hut or living off the grid. It simply means being very honest about what we value within our lives, what sustains us, brings us joy and meaning and devoting ourselves to those activities, people or things. While we might end up having fewer possessions or changing some of our habits, simplicity compels a return, not a rejection – a seeing through and within, rather than looking somewhere else. When we live from a place of simplicity we naturally find we need less, and instead are more open to life.
— Llwellyn Vaughan-Lee and Hilary Hart, “Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life”
I have always been an adventurer and what my family call ‘a world traveler.’ When I was a small child, I would constantly run off from my mother and go where my interests led me. Or, I would stay behind, transfixed on something when my mother walked away. Quite often, I looked around and realized I was all alone, and I would panic. It happened so often that before I learned to write, my mother taught me to stop looking for her, to look instead for a trusted person in authority and to stay with them while they paged my mother to come claim me. I am grateful for the wisdom of her protocol: stop, stay still and let myself be found.
I see the trajectory of the series of posts that I have been writing. I have been paddling against the tide, I have not followed my inner compass…and now, lo and behold: I am lost.
But being lost at this moment is not unexpected and I am grateful for my spiritual community who has been where I am, even if they didn’t send postcards from this place. We don’t find ourselves as quickly in these foggy moments as our mothers were able to find us, when we wandered away in the shopping mall. This process is internal and it takes a lot of surrender to let go of the ego. Things that have stood in my way have been burned in the fire of surrender. And some dreams that I have held dear have gone up in flames as well. There is a tendency to rush to fill in what has gone. And, I am grateful for my curiosity, willingness to try new things and to never stop the adventure.
Where do I want to go from here?
I’ve been looking at homes in different cities and different neighborhoods. I’ve looked at homes on acreage, homes on city building lots, condos, townhouses and tiny homes. I’d love to live in a tiny home but the practicality of that in the confines of zoning restrictions where I currently live and work is not viable. I’ve considered intentional community and artist collectives and I’ve considered the pros and cons of city versus rural living. I’ve considered the question: in which country do I want to spend the next and possibly final chapter of my life? I have always said that there are so many ways to live.
Finding the lifestyle that suits us can sometimes be the task of a lifetime. I have recently re-considered becoming a wandering mendicant. Those who have known me for decades will know that this has been a long calling for me, but it seems that my purpose is best fulfilled in relating to others, not in a solitude that is a relief to me. And even in this weighing of my options, I am grateful for the element – at least to some extent – of agency and choice.
Big questions. And so when folks ask me what I’m looking for in a home, I have no simple real estate type answers for them. I am shopping for a lifestyle, within my financial budget, that allows me to live out my soul’s purpose. I am looking for a style of life that matches my goals and priorities. Some people may think I am not being serious enough in my search for what is next. I am purposefully attempting to face it with joy and love rather than fear and dread. And in that, I’m looking for who I am, who I want to become, and what I want to offer the world, in the years I have left in this body.
In my efforts to fill the spaces that burned in the fire, I have pursued activities that I love, while I wait and watch. I have joined an urban percussion band, continued my painting, set writing goals and taken up woodworking, in addition to kayaking and hiking. I had once wanted to climb Kilimanjaro but my health won’t allow that and so I look for other ways to journey as a pilgrim would, because even if I can’t wander forever, real pilgrimage is an important element of my journey in this body.
Each time I turn around, I find something else that catches my interest and that I would love to pursue. I’m delighted to find the world continues to fascinate me. I’ve enquired about returning to the stage, as I am a professionally trained actor, and I’ve taken courses in beading and pigment making. Some things I found were easy and some were hard. And some I just decided that I never really wanted to do again. It’s been a process of trial and elimination. The goal has not been to find a hobby.
It has all been a grand date with myself – a search for the unchanging “I” within me – and a test of the best tools that I can use to serve humanity by my meaningful work, self-healing and style of living, in this next chapter of my life.
In this adventure, I left my home of a decade and a half to return to my place of birth. I did so on the hope of a couple of promises and dreams. They did not come to pass and they are being grieved as part of this time.
Simplicity means letting go of that which no longer serves us and placing attention on only that which enlivens and enlightens us.
I shared a dream with the young man and it seemed we had shared the same values. But, while we shared a dream of living simply, of preserving old fashioned folk ways of doing things, the way in which we would seek to pursue those dreams diverged at the crossroads.
In a span of six months, he had either changed radically, or perhaps he simply dropped the mask he was wearing.
The vegetarian pacifist that could not stand to see an animal harmed, has turned into one who wants to hunt and kill animals for food and to use all the skin and bones and sinew. He became a person willing to bear arms for his values. He was preoccupied with himself as a killer when last we spent time together.
Homesteading certainly does not require this! And more to the point, this is not a part of the way I want to live. I follow a more Tolstoyen brand of ecology and rewilding.
I come from a heritage of vegetarian, pacifist, anarchist homesteaders for whom community, hard work, simplicity and spirituality are at the centre of life. While some of them protested, their greatest contribution to protest was in living by example.
I am not a full vegetarian, I practice self defence and I have slapped a man who abused me. I do not stand in judgement of anyone’s choices or less admirable moments. I am struck however, by what was a rapid and fundamental shift in the root of one’s philosophy of one’s place in the world: Are we a single unit that needs to defend oneself, or are we part of an ecosystem of Oneness? Do we aspire to survive by peaceful cooperation or violent competition?
Faced with someone whose whole way of orienting himself to others had changed 180 degrees in such a short time, I returned to looking within.
Who am I, at the core?
What is unchanging about me, in all circumstances?
How can I use this to live my soul’s purpose?
This, my friends, is the fundamental quest of every mystic and spiritual aspirant.
There has been a shift with many people – not so much in my age group or the baby boomers before me, but more so with the millennial generation – toward simplicity, folk arts and old timey ways of doing things as well as moderate to extreme re-wilding. Artists and craftspersons have re-labelled themselves as ‘makers’ and ‘storytellers’ and I’m okay with those labels. What is inspiring is that in the midst of mourning the loss of my companion on this journey, I have found that there are many many people out there who are discovering alternative lifestyles and living simply.
For me it is not just a whim. I have explored the many ways I can live by this principle of simplicity for nearly 20 years and it is my heritage. Simplicity was part of the only vows I ever wrote and declared, at my ordination.
I have a great advantage. With the large span in years between my siblings and myself, I am still the child of parents who lived on a farm and practiced old-timey ways and handicrafts out of necessity, not nostalgia. I have the benefit of my father’s stories of just how darned hard it was to live without an electric stove or indoor plumbing, when he was a child. I remember my grandmother making cheese, weaving, and actually using a washboard to wash clothes; not to produce the nostalgic sound I create in my percussion offerings.
In this process, I have looked within and back to my ancestors. I see a richness of culture and of tradition. I also see that ideals are often difficult but not impossible to maintain in juxtaposition with the modern world. And I see the ways in which technology can be used to free up time and create wellbeing, in order to accomplish my soul’s purpose of leaving the world better than I found it.
I’m not having a romance with the belief that all self discovery and meaning can be found in complete rewilding and de-domestication, of returning to a life without electricity, running water, central heating and medical facilities. This may be more sustainable (or maybe not – the research is still not clear) but it is not, in itself, going to give me peace and contentment. I’ve done all that already and I learned the truth in the Buddhist adage: Everywhere you go, there you are. It is not a change in circumstances but the spiritual work of a lifetime that brings us, finally, to a state of Simplicity. And, at my age and state of health, now, to re-wild myself in a physical sense might possibly give me parasites, pneumonia and morbidity – as well as shorten my lifespan. And if we all re-wild ourselves, I am not certain it would be more sustainable for the planet. Life (all life) is too precious to shorten needlessly.
Re-wilding, in the end, is an inner process, helped by old skills and communion with nature. Permanent retreat to the forest is not needed for me to bring forth the things I want: freedom, preservation of old skills, simplicity, pacifism, community, spirituality, sustainability, healing and artistic expression.
The true yogi, Swami Satchidananda used to say, can meditate on the streets of New York City.
I am beginning to find new ways to dream and to achieve the dream I had wanted to live. It is embryonic and it is fragile. Because of that, I am protective of it and I don’t like to talk about it much.
At each stage in life, we get lost and found again and the process takes on different emotions. As a toddler, it was panic. As a teenager, it was angst. In my quarter-life crisis, it was a vague ennui and anger that life was not as I thought it would be, and a passion to protest and not to conform. At mid life, it becomes one of accepting that some of life did not go as hoped and some dreams need to die.
The passion remains but the focus must change from outer to inner in order to move outward again.
I think this is a most glorious, fragile and tender place to be. I’m not rushing to become anything or buy anything or adopt anything. I’m letting go of all that I can.
I am stopping, getting still and waiting to be found.
For what are you most grateful, today?