Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Help! I'm downshifting ….

Post by Liz
This is the new buzz word. It's cool and it's the trendy new movement, what it actually means is simplifying your life and deciding how you can live your life in accordance with your spiritual principles or ethical beliefs. The reason I'm shouting help is because it is much harder than you can imagine.

 My husband and I are slowly a little bit at a time, making changes in our lives so we can better live according to our beliefs. I have to say Martin feels the courage of his convictions more profoundly than I, in many ways he is my inspiration and I know he draws strength from his Quaker faith and testimony. Living your life in a simple way sounds fairly easy doesn't it? But many of us have been living quite a materialistic life, one that our Grandparents and Great Grandparents could only dream of. We are bombarded from birth with advertising and how we are 'entitled' to this and to that. Our lives are incredibly busy, rushing here there and everywhere, bleeping phones, endless emails, we can be found anywhere in the world. Big Brother watches over us and the big corporation supermarkets supply us with an endless array of relatively cheap goods of food and clothing.
Blissful in our ignorance we don't think where our food comes from, how it is produced, where our clothes come from and who makes them. We are happy putting our empty packaging in the recycling bin once a fortnight. Our rubbish is taken from us and hidden away. We turn on the tap without thinking, perhaps even leaving it on for a minute or two unnecessarily. We have light at the flick of a switch not caring how perhaps we are using up our resources. People drive their petrol guzzling cars even if they are too big for their real needs, but they will say they are entitled to them, they paid for them what business is it of anyone’s? We are used to convenience at others expense and it's comforting, it keeps a thin line of padding between us and the real world. We have forgotten many of our skills once so natural to us, we rely on stuff to make life happen for us. Many of us have abdicated responsibility.

I am currently reading a book called 'The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community' by David Korten. http://www.davidkorten.org/great-turning-book  I agree with much of what he says perhaps because it fits my own way of thinking. We do stand at a crossroads that is clear and two paths are ahead of us, one of possible annihilation and one where our descendants will live in greater harmony with each other and the Earth herself. I'll be honest, I don't know which way it's going to go. But I do have hope and there is a definite shift in consciousness and I see it in many of our young minds. After our wanton destruction of our natural resources, our poisoning of the land, rivers, oceans and air and our cruelty to our non-human family I think we owe it to our children to teach them the error of our ways and guide them to new ways of thinking. Will our descendants look back at us and say, 'Wow, thanks guys you really turned things around.' or 'What the hell were you thinking! We curse your very names.' I know which one I would prefer.

So many of us will say but I have had no part in this and I 'do my bit'. Really? If you eat meat do you think about what kind of life that animal had? Do you have time to think about it and can you afford to think about it? It's difficult. Do you have faith in the shops that provide you with clothes? Many of the supermarkets and big names use bonded labour and child labour in sweat shops and not necessarily in far flung India or Singapore where it seems so distant. There could be a sweatshop near you. Usually poor and desperate people fleeing their country and living  a half life as illegal aliens, or perhaps they have been trafficked. Slavery is booming and I'm not just talking about Workfare. Do we think about the chemicals we bathe our bodies in every day, the harm it is doing us and the suffering the animals had to endure for our beautification? When we dye our clothes or use washing powder and various other chemicals do we feel guilty as it swirls down the plug hole and into our water system? And even if you are a vegetarian like me and still consume dairy, do you think about the baby animals taken from their mother and often killed so we can get our milk and cheese? Or that it really is unnatural that we drink milk meant for other species? Do we think about the crops we eat, the chemicals used, the diminishing hedgerows and the small farmer being swallowed up by industrial farms? How about coffee, tea, chocolate? Fairtrade makes us feel rather pleased about ourselves doesn't it? A step in the right direction perhaps but far from ideal. I have to stop and think when I pick up food, for example; cherry tomatoes often from Morocco. They have severe water scarcity there because most of their water supply is being used to grow these tomatoes, which they don't even eat.

 O.K well how about conservation? That's good right? I wish I could wholeheartedly say yes. But indigenous peoples are not being allowed to live and hunt on their ancient lands, they are often driven from them, their homes burned and people thrown in prison.  The less cute and fluffy animals are rarely supported, marine life is dying, our oceans are unwell. We all know about the delicate ecosystem on which all life exists. Our obsession with industrial farming and packaged goods are wiping out the rainforests, the lungs of the earth. And unique plant life that may hold the secret to cure many ailments are disappearing. When those displaced peoples who still live in accordance with nature cry out to us and beg us to stop, I cry with them.

 My point is that even if I were to live as simply as I possibly could in this life, there will still be something that will taint my best efforts. Money and greed permeates through everything. This is very frustrating to me. That will only stop if big business suddenly becomes responsible and banks are regulated, refuse to charge interest on loans and discourage debt. Of course the opposite is true at present and they need people to be burdened with debt, that's how they make their money.

 So, how are we doing? Well, John Woolman is an inspiration to my husband. This quaker wore plain clothing without dye, refused to use any materials gained by slavery or bonded labour and literally lived by his convictions.

Well, we need to learn how to sew. Sure I can sew by hand, alter a hem, add on a button. But that is pretty much it, lots of people are way ahead of me on that one. O.k. It's on my 'to do' list. I did an aromatherapy course, I know how to make my own soaps, shampoos and perfumes. So why aren't I doing it? Well, I'm too tired a lot of the time and my girls would have a fit. They think I'm nuts as it is. Making excuses? Or is it that these things take time to adjust to? Martin is keen on making his own cloth, you can make it from nettles, we tried. All I can say is this is still in the experimental stage and our nettle patch is doing really well.  Like becoming vegan, you have to give yourself time to adjust, it's a long term commitment.

 Downshifting is stepping down a gear at a time, only really slowly. Our pace of life is still pretty hectic, we still have as many bills and we are still chained to a mortgage. O.k we're working on it and we have a vision, a goal to work towards. We have got an allotment, a compost heap (which we need to use more), our own rescued ex-battery hens, we don't yet have our own goats much to my disappointment, but we do grow some of our own food now, and I always plant wild flowers and encourage some weeds into the garden to help our pollinating insects and our poor suffering honey bee. Oh and the biggest thing is getting rid of the car, we are car-less and it's not as bad as you think. I know some people really do need a car, but many of us only think we do. Yes public transport can be rubbish, but guess what? It slows you down, you become just that little more engaged with life. It hurts me to know that my purchasing is still hurting other people that we are far from 'taint free' , but little by little we are making small but important changes. It's very difficult because big business is everywhere, even if many of us relied on small community, with small local farms, even our own currency, it means that someone somewhere else is going to have to bear the burden we once carried. But even so,  I still feel this is the way to go. Sustainable farming and sustainable business, wanting less and living according to our real needs. Food, shelter, water, basic clothing, love and community. Not plasma TVs, stuff, plastic packaging, sweets and chocolate (well maybe chocolate, slave free of course, a woman has her needs)...o.k  that's what I'm talking about, I don't need it, I desire it. This being self aware business and learning to let go of our desires and the illusion of 'I want' is hard work. But there is a great freedom in letting go, in living simply and not clouding your life with stuff you don't need, there is beauty and joy to be had in getting back in tune with Mother Earth. That's because we too are part of this delicate ecosystem. We have forgotten that. The benefits outweigh the difficulties, less worry, less stress, more time to be you. Every little step helps to heal us and our planet. We will keep on making those changes and take it as far as we can. Perhaps I should make a diary and record our efforts, successes and struggles over the years. At least we can say, we tried, we acted and didn't just talk about it.

We need to develop an ecology of mind and we need to listen and allow nature to teach us once again. This short video is about the philosopher and anthropologist Gregory Bateson   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqiHJG2wtPI  

Finally,  one of my teachers dear to me (though I have never met him) Thich Nhat Hahn leaves us with these wise words:

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change”


  1. Liz, you might like to read some of Daniel Quinn's books (e.g. Ishmael, My Ishmael, The Story of B). I agree with most of this. We do need to be aware of our impact on the world, on other people and on other species; and have posted on this in the past. The main issue, as I see it, is human overpopulation. I'm going to be covering some of this in my service in June. The post also follows on quite nicely from Ash's post on the Ethics of Responsibility, quoting Dr Jonathan Sacks.

    1. Thank you Ian, I have read My Ishmael and enjoyed it very much and will eventually get around to reading more. Yes, quite a debate about overpopulation, we may have differing opinions on this I don't know. I agree with Roger that in fact the birth rate is falling in rich western countries. Population explosions tend to be in the poorest areas, where women are second class citizens and education is poor or non-existent. I will try to get to your service in June :)

  2. Liz,
    Try not be so anxious and worried.We all live on this roundabout of a materialistic age and it is not possible to jump off (short of death !).

    However you can do quite a lot towards saving the planet and encourage others to do the same.

    For our part we do what we can and are content with that - little as it may be in a global context.

    Here are a few of our feeble efforts :

    1) We do not waste food
    2) We compost all kitchen waste.
    3) We buy(as far as possible)local products
    4) We make repair things rather than scrap.
    5) We grow fruit & vegetables in the garden.
    6) We grow flowers that attract insects.
    7) We burn dead wood from the surrounding woods
    on a fuel efficient log-burning stove.
    8) We drive a fuel-efficient small car.
    9) We walk and cycle
    10)We encourage our grandchildren to appreciate
    the natural world and not do things to
    despoil it.

    Sadly, we cannot claim to be vegetarian but try
    to eat meat in moderation.

    The supreme irony for all living things on this planet is that we can only survive by eating other living things. We have to accept the reality of that - life feeds on life -

    To para-phrase a well known prayer Liz, "Change the things that you can change but recognize the things that you cannot.


    1. Thanks Roger you make some great points and suggestions. It's not that I'm worrying excessively and I didn't mean to give that impression, but I am concerned about our future impact, what we are doing now and what we are leaving future generations. However, you give me a timely reminder that I need to be in the present and live my life in the hear and now also, thank you. P.s. am envious of your log burning capabilities :) We tick the list for everything else. Quite keen on freecycle too. Don't agree that we need to eat meat, but yes, we do need to eat other living things as part of the ecosystem, whether that be plants, bacteria etc. But even if you have one vegetarian day that's a great thing! And love that prayer!

  3. I quite agree with what you say Ian but the indiginous UK population is actually falling as we are not producing sufficient children to offset the death-rate. So we are doing our bit !! Shame about the rest !!

  4. Excellent blog Liz, and a timely reminder about responsibilities. Future generations will doubtless hold us culpable unless there`s serious acceptance of, and action upon, the current imbalances that you allude to.Ian has made many clear and reasoned points in earlier blogs too along lines generally supportive to this point of view.And well done Roger-a 10 point campaign for common sense.Your indigenous population `nudge` we`ve debated before though, I suspect !That`s a whole other blog I`m sure!!
    Great stuff Liz. Made me for one think I need to smarten up my act.

    1. Thanks Ash, we all have so much to offer and not just here, collectively we can all do a lot, which is why the small things really do count. There are many things we should be looking at in our personal lives but also in our community.