Plain Living ~ A Quaker Path to Simplicity by Catherine Whitmire

It is easy to get embroiled in all the frazzle and speed of life these days, and this book is full of inspiration, quotes and ideas for reflection in embracing what Quakers call ‘plain living’. I think the ideas would be helpful, no matter what your religious persuasion. I am going to publish some of my thoughts as I read this book over the next few days. I would be interested to hear your own thoughts on plain living.

  • Do you wish you could let go of some things?
  • Do you think living a plainer/simpler life is a good idea?
  • What would you not be willing to let go of? 

One of my own failings is a wish for everything to be simple NOW – in a ‘I want it now small child tantrum’ kind of way. In reading this book I am learning that it is helpful to let go of the need for speed from a spiritual point of view. That simplicity is less a way of life than a path of continual learning. We let go of extraneous things when we are ready – it cannot be rushed.
I am heartened to read a book like this. To learn that there are people in the world who are willing to take action that seems to be against the majority in a small, but in my mind powerful, way. Plain living in this book by Catherine Whitmire goes far beyond decluttering your wardrobe or your schedule. It also includes such things as speaking more plainly, listening more effectively, and clearing the mental clutter of superfluous thoughts so that your inner life corresponds with your outer.
In the book, plain living is described not only as a main feature of Quakerism, but also a central feature of what it is to be a whole human. Simplicity gives a person the space needed in their lives for compassion to grow, and it is only then that they are impelled to take meaningful action out in the world.
The frenzied living of modern life is a kind of distraction – a busy-ness without meaning. I know I succumb to it often, and then wonder, at the end of the day, why I feel strangely empty and unsatisfied. On those days where I take the time to make space in my life for silence, for listening, or for nature, my days feel richer somehow – they feel ‘lived right’.
“This simplification process was not about ‘sacrifice’ but about choosing the life I really wanted”.
Inward Simplicity
  • Letting go of outer non-necessities, be they our dress or speech, the way we behave or the things we own, because they tend to obscure our vision of reality.
  • Not a sacrifice but a positive gain of focus and attention on what is truly important.

Simple Living
  • Lots of possessions require lots of maintenance – ‘time, money, and energy are consumed in selecting, acquiring, maintaining, cleaning, moving, improving, replacing, dusting, storing, using, showing off, and talking about our possessions, then there is little time, money, and energy left for our other pursuits.’
  • Not rejecting beauty itself, but rejecting the tendency to let concerns for ‘things’ clutter our minds.
  • In choosing a simpler way of living we come to know our own tastes and make choices based on those tastes rather than allowing the pressures of advertising campaigns, marketing and the opinions of others to influence us.
  • We choose those things that are meaningful to us and that are useful to us personally.
  • Simplicity results in a ‘lighter’ life. More opportunity to enjoy what you do have and to be thankful.
  • You celebrate festivals and follow social customs only where they are an expression of your own truth – if they have no meaning for you then you let them go.
  • Not to give up things out of a sense of self-sacrifice or duty, that would only create unrest and tension in the mind. When a thing no longer holds an attraction for you – when you understand the benefit of its absence you will be able to let it go easily.
  • Our choices for a plain life are entirely our own and come from our own experiences – what is necessary for one person may not be necessary for another. We must respect the differences and not expect to meet any kind of ‘standards’ of simplicity.
  • Emotional simplicity is an important choice too. Protecting our emotional health by not overwhelming ourselves with situations that are difficult to cope with.
  • Taking care of ourselves – not overburdening ourselves with the fears, dramas and worries of others ‘Not taking on things that are not ours to carry’.
That’s quite a lot to think about just from the first chapter. There is a lot more besides and I am reading it from a less religious view that is actually presented, but there are some interesting suggestions. I think the point about simplicity being a personal process is crucial – we can do without an attitude of one-upmanship – my life is simpler than yours – kind of nonsense. 
Are you inspired to make any changes in your own life?
 I will continue with this book in my next post.
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