Walden, or Life in the Woods

Walden, or Life in the Woods, by Henry D. Thoreau.  Ticknor and Fields, 1854.

In observance of the sesquicentennial of Thoreau’s death, I read Walden for the third time.  I won’t be sharing this on Facebook, out of respect for the author.  This is a fellow who, long before there were telephones or even typewriters, calls his own time period “this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century” and questions the need to build a railroad. What would he make of social media? “It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which the herd so diligently follow.”

Of course there is no end of quotable lines from him skewering mainstream society, but his basic ideas are still as rock solid as they were in 1854: 1) simplifying one’s life brings more satisfaction than acquiring fame and fortune, and–especially important–allows one to work less and have more leisure time to pursue one’s talents and interests, 2) spending time in nature is critically important to sane living, and 3) understanding oneself is more important than trying to keep up with the outside world. Returning to the book now that I am older, I do not have to believe him; I know these principles are true. Continue reading “Walden, or Life in the Woods”

Reducing Food Wastage

I grew up in a clean-your-dinner-plate kind of family, with parents whose food limitations during the Great Depression and World War II rationing had taught them to value food highly.  That ethic has stayed with me, so I have been shocked over recent months to learn of the gargantuan amounts of food wasted, some of it, especially in restaurants, still perfectly edible.

I first became aware of the problem when I read the book How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee.  In the section about reducing the carbon footprint of food, the number one suggestion was not to waste it. That was ahead of any mention of what you eat, how it was grown, or how far it travelled.  Then recently, the topic was again brought to my attention in a blog post by James McWilliams (I highly recommend following his blog “Eating Plants”).  He cites a study finding that consumers throw out an astonishing half the food they buy! Continue reading “Reducing Food Wastage”

The Value of the Ordinary

Here’s a passage that recently caught my attention. It’s taken from Awakening to Zen, by Philip Kapleau, Roshi:

“The deeply aware person sees the indivisibility of existence, the rich complexity and interrelatedness of all life.  Out of this awareness grows a deep respect for the absolute value of all things, each thing.  From this respect for the worth of every single object, animate as well as inanimate, comes the desire to see things used properly, and not to be heedless, wasteful, or destructive.
To truly practice Zen therefore means not leaving lights burning when they are not needed, not allowing water to run unnecessarily from the faucet, not loading up your plate and leaving food uneaten.  These unmindful acts reveal an indifference to the value of the object so wasted or destroyed as well as to the efforts of those who made these things possible for us: in the case of food, the farmer, the trucker, the storekeeper, the cook, the server.  This indifference is the product of a mind that sees itself as separated from a world of seemingly random change and purposeless chaos.  This indifference robs us of our birthright of harmony and joy.” Continue reading “The Value of the Ordinary”

The Spirit’s Pilgrimage

The Spirit’s Pilgrimage, by Mirabehn (Madeleine Slade).  Great Ocean Publishers, 1960.

Mirabehn was a British-born close associate of Mohandas Gandhi, working with him from 1925 until the end of his life. She was not just a secretary or assistant, but a diplomatic adviser and project manager. On occasion she was even sent by Gandhi to represent him in negotiations with British officials. She stayed on in India until 1959, continuing her work to improve the lives of the poor.
As a young adult, she had been told by a mentor that Gandhi was “another Christ,” and from then on her mind was made up to go and work for him. Her dedication was rock-solid, as it required her to face a much harder life than she would have had at home in England: stressful political situations and imprisonment, extremely hot humid climate, poor sanitation, typhoid and repeated bouts of malaria, living in mud huts with scorpions and ticks, hard daily physical labor, language and cultural barriers, etc. She was tough, too–after all this, she lived to be nearly 90! This is her story in her own words, told as though the reader was sitting in front of her, and builds a solid on-the-ground foundation under other more philosophical commentaries about Gandhi and his work.

The 100 Thing Challenge

The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul, by Dave Bruno.  Harper, 2010.

Dave Bruno, a fairly average guy, decides to set himself the challenge of living for a year with only 100 things for his personal use. He spends a year reducing his possessions down to that number, and setting the rules of how he will proceed. I really liked that the guy was thinking and blogging about this, honestly trying to stop buying stuff that leads to clutter and no additional happiness, followed his plan for a year and wrote a book about it. He stopped going to malls and doesn’t own a TV. His wife and three daughters are OK with him doing the challenge although they don’t set themselves the same challenge. By the end of the challenge year, he seems to have changed in ways that will last. Continue reading “The 100 Thing Challenge”

Beware to Compare

In his newest book, Beyond Religion; Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama makes a convincing case that if we are to teach a way of ethical living that everyone worldwide can accept and practice, it must be independent of any religion and must be based on compassion.  He explains in detail what compassion is and isn’t, and gives numerous down-to-earth suggestions and encouragement for incorporating it into our daily lives.  He concludes with non-religious meditation instruction, advocating that not only would adults do well to practice, but also that children be given compassion training in our schools.

In this post I want to focus on just one of his many practical suggestions for how we can infuse our thinking and actions with greater compassion: avoid comparing yourself with others.  Continue reading “Beware to Compare”

The Positive Side of Aging

Nearly every display of birthday cards features several that exploit the downside of aging as funny. These jokes primarily concern loss of appearance, loss of health and energy, loss of sex appeal and potency, or may view just the state of being old itself as amusing. I have found myself laughing at some of these gags, because I too have inherited our society’s view of the old, but in this post I want to point out some of the advantages and strengths elders possess. Continue reading “The Positive Side of Aging”

Rethinking Hair Color and Makeup

Part of my path toward a simpler lifestyle has been gradually to forego hair color and makeup.  I’m mildly surprised that most women, as busy as we all are, still spend so much time and money on these products when it is so freeing to go without.  I wore makeup for about twenty years, and colored my hair to cover gray from my late 30’s until late 40’s (I grayed prematurely).  Women want to look younger and, in society’s terms, more beautiful, but have we really considered whether those standards of age and beauty are what we want to support?  Are we more likely to attract the love or status we want by using these products?  Furthermore, have we looked at their impact on our health, the environment, and the treatment of animals?  Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading “Rethinking Hair Color and Makeup”

Tea-totally Refreshing!

I’ve got a new favorite summer beverage, Peach Passion Apple Mint Tea (see below) that is easy to prepare.  Let’s try to make our own drinks as much as possible this summer instead of buying beverages in bottles and cans that have to be shipped over great distances.  Bottles and cans can be recycled, but it’s better for the earth not to produce them in the first place. Continue reading “Tea-totally Refreshing!”