Saturday, August 12, 2006

Simplicity and its ripple effect on others

Brew of the day: fennel. My fennel is a mass of yellow flowers transitioning to seed. Funny how plants don’t question their evolution, they just get on with it.

In the house of my childhood, which my parents built in rural Queensland, Australia, the kitchen was designed with a long ‘breakfast bar’ in the middle, forming an island with all of us kids seated on one side and my mum standing on the other side, facing us, while washing the dishes.

Behind her on the wall were a series of beautiful pieces of writing which she put onto wood and then varnished. From the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (my favourite writer) was Children, and also Marriage. There was also Desiderata, and Desiderata II. The words of each of these beautiful and poetic pieces of writing are forever etched in my mind. Looking back, it was an incredible gift my mother gave her children. Inspiring words that we’d inevitably read, day in, day out, as we consumed our food that she’d made with love and care.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,even the dull and the ignorant;they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love;for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,it is still a beautiful world.Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

I was tidying up during the week when I came across an envelope in between some boxes with Bethany’s handwriting and the words ‘to the poor children’ on the front.

My heart sank. I could only imagine what was inside. Bless her!

I opened it.

Dear Poor Children, If I could do something to help you I would.
Love always, Bethany Angelika Robinson
Ps. I’m so sorry!!

(and a big hand drawn love heart)

Yesterday, out walking hand in hand with her, I talked to Bethany about poor children and their families. I said I donated money each month to help and during my life I’ve sponsored children in Third World countries. She didn’t know I did that and felt some relief. I was surprised myself, that I’d not shared it with her before now, given the girls seem to know every last detail of our lives.

I also shared that sometimes the best way we can help isn’t always by giving money. I shared the analogy of ‘feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life’ (even though we’re vegan!). I explained that there are so many different ways to help the poor and all over the world various organisations were doing such things as building shelters; planting fruit trees; digging wells; providing medicines and food; showing them how to develop crops sustainably, etc.

Ultimately though, those of us living luxurious lives (anyone reading this blog, despite what their bank balance or mine might say, is living a very luxurious life!) can do a lot to shift the balance between where we are and where others are. Today’s blog reflects the small changes we can make in our own life which always go on to have a ripple effect in ways unseen.

'Live simply so that others might simply live!!’ I came across this statement years ago and I always find that it is a good reminder, and if we endeavoured to follow the sentiment, we’d actually find, in the releasing of the need to be greedy, we’d be freer.
Modern lifestyles assume a sense of clutter and going rather over the top with activities which fill in every waking second of the diary, and the incessant gathering of material possessions. So often we think we ‘need’ something, yet the truth is there is truly very little that we do need.

I listened to a radio report yesterday in the wake of the alleged terror alert in Britain, where the discussion focused on what people could take on planes as hand luggage. Essentially you were allowed your passport and credit cards. Passengers were beside themselves and said they ‘needed’ their make-up and their i-pods. Say no more! Personally, I’m still not sure I even know what an I-Pod is, I’m just getting my head around the concept of an MP3 player. Though within a few years these will probably be obsolete as well, and the huge industry which creates these ‘essential’ items will be as responsible as the purchasers for the mountains of them which go to land-fills.

I’m on a de-cluttering mission of my own, right now. When we arrived in the UK seven and half years ago all we had were a couple of suitcases, a couple of toddlers and a ventriloquist doll. Bit by bit we picked up furniture from the auction. The toddlers were exchanged for home educated kids who seem to create STUFF out of thin air! I know compared to most people we don’t have much stuff, yet for me what we do have sends me into a spin. It is so out of proportion to what is necessary. I can fit ALL my clothes into a small basket. My next biggest possession (and great love) is books…I’ve just about narrowed it down to one shelf now. The kids still have a library’s worth, despite my nudging to donate more to charity. Apart from a few special family photos, I could comfortably fit my ‘life’ into one suitcase.

I’m determined to get the contents of my publishing office into a filing cabinet and out of my ‘sight’. I’ve no attachment to any furniture and not-so-secretly love the idea of living in a yurt with nothing more than a few rugs and soft cushions…oh and a bit of incense and candles. I really want to get my family’s ‘life’ to a state of permanent simplicity.

We can reduce the consumption of any material possessions by intuitively choosing pieces that, hopefully, come from renewable resources and can become a legacy rather than one more thing for the landfill.

Personally, I find that using my skills in a job that contributes to the wider community allows me to live consistently with integrity and honesty. I’ve lived with this principle most of my working life, and those few times where I’ve not, have almost certainly been when I’ve engaged in jobs for money and that didn’t nourish my soul. Consequently I didn’t last more than a month!

Some of my greatest joy has been when doing volunteer work, such as Meals on Wheels; Riding for the Disabled, and sitting with lonely, dying people in a hospice. Developing compassion for those more needy doesn’t have to involve money. Giving of your time is every bit as altruistic as writing a cheque for charity.

It was about 20 years ago when I worked for Meals on Wheels. To see the state some of our elderly live in and to know their only contact with the outside world is through organisations such as Meals on Wheels is both sobering and heart breaking. What sort of culture do we live in to allow this to happen? It’s certainly doesn’t strike me as civilised. And it proves without a doubt that poor doesn’t just refer to those in Third World Countries. We need to be conscious of what is on our own doorstep too.

I grew up on a horse stud and taught others to ride when I was a kid myself. Teaching at Riding for Disabled was a natural follow-on when I became an adult. It is so easy to take our mobility for granted. To watch the face of a child with Cerebral Palsy or Downs’ Syndrome when they’re atop of a horse is a picture you don’t easily forget. Nor would you want to.

When I decided to work voluntarily at the hospice, I don’t suppose I knew what I was getting into, until one of the people I’d befriended wasn’t there one day. Just an empty bed! Did I make a difference to that person, or any of them, by my visits? By my reading? By my listening? I don’t know. It made a difference to me though. It opened my heart. Kahlil Gibran writes that “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”

My life has felt like one big voluntary experience since I became a mother! We don’t get paid monetarily for mothering, do we? The truth is, there is no price you can put on this career ~ this selfless path of challenging ups and downs. It’s a job that no-one can truly give you ‘cover’ for if you have a sick day or need a vacation.

My family choose to honour the natural resources of the Earth and recycle and re-use as best we can. It is all too easy to shake my head in shame at what humanity is allowing to happen to this planet. All too easy to just give in. But I won’t. Till my last day I will nurture, respect and honour her as much as I am able.

Every day I’m feeling my purpose on this planet is moving towards environmentalism. What good are our idyllic parenting lifestyles if we don’t have a planet which can sustain life for our kids? If the kids we bring into this world will grow up having to fight for clean water then what point is there talking & writing about natural parenting as if it were an isolated issue? It isn’t!!! They walk hand in hand. You simply can’t advocate natural, holistic or green parenting if you’re not walking the talk and campaigning for a cleaner world. Why sit back breastfeeding contentedly yet not think of speaking up when our sightless Prime Minister calls for nuclear energy? He may not see the connection between cancer, tumours and those living near nuclear sites like Sellafield, but mothers do.

Mothers will be the revolution and evolution of our species if we are to survive. It will be their Mother Bear ferocious selves that come to the fore…that give them the determination, based on love, to bring forth peace and common sense in all the decisions and choices that affect us all.

Living simply allows us the time and space to nurture the relationships which hold our life together. What price can we put on the love, support and value of friendships or a family member? How tragic that it actually often takes a tragedy before people sit back and recognise what is of importance and meaning in life.

It is too easy to lose my sense of self if stuck inside a building all day. Going for a long walk counts for more than physical exercise. This time allows me to remember my connection to the Divine by witnessing the beauty in the hills; flowers; trees; clouds; insects; birds; suckling calves and watching my own children who, five minutes before might have been pressing my ‘cabin fever buttons’, devour berries along the wooded lanes. Not a day goes by where their joy at discovering berries isn’t less than the joy of finding them the day before! I always marvel at this ‘fresh eyed’ version of looking at the world. Kids have so much to teach us, don’t they?

I use quiet time/meditation, my journal, Pilates, moment to moment awareness and writing to explore my inner self find a place which fills me up so that I may give more out to my family and to the world in which I live. The most important thing out of all this is that by living consciously in the moment I do experience joy, love, peace and wonder. These things aren’t felt so easily when our day to day life is jam packed with meetings and too many things to ‘do’ rather than ‘be’. When we can barely think because our day is overloaded with activities, it never hurts to ask ourselves what we’re running from.

Awareness of my body means that I take a lot of consideration over what healthy, wholefoods to feed myself and my family. The right ‘fuel’ allows us all to enjoy life more fully. Less than adequate nourishment contributes to us being grumpy, tired, weepy and unsociable.

If you want to start living more simply, then you might like to consider the following:

Ethical money is probably something most people don’t consider when looking at their bank balance. Where does your money get invested? Have you asked your bank? Is it used to fund arms or child labour? Why not bank with Triodos bank and support ecological and ethical businesses? How are you spending your money? This paper stuff, these numbers on a balance sheet are representative of your life’s energy. Be honest enough with yourself to write down how much comes in, how much goes out. I know that can be challenging, but it is empowering too. Where is your ‘energy’ going to? The most liberating and positive thing we’ve done as a family financially is to get rid of credit cards, close down our high street bank account (no more horrid fees!!!!) and bank ethically.

Each time you purchase something, ask yourself honestly if you really need it. Is it something you could borrow or rent? Is it renewable?

Advertising is a joker’s game and those who get sucked in are nothing more than fools. The whole industry is based on us being duped into thinking we’re not good enough without a particular item. Resist it, you’re stronger than that!!

Volunteer your time. It can be with a local children’s drama group, or as a friend of mine is doing, go abroad and volunteer. Another friend of mine is going to trek in the foothills of the Himalayas to raise money for kids in orphanages in India. She’s also a chiropractor, and with other chiropractors will be giving free adjustments to as many orphans as they can.

Volunteering is not just about working in a charity shop. There are so many options, locally and globally. Maybe you could do something innovative and set up a soup kitchen for the needy with organic vegetables donated by local growers.

Avoid going shopping! Think of free and more life affirming activities like camping, walking in the woods or playing rounders with your children.

There are lots of things to do besides having a night out of paid for entertainment. Invite friends to bring a meal around and share food pot-luck style. Write to your mum!!; snuggle with the love of your life by the fire side; bake olive and sun dried tomato bread; play the Transformation Game (it’s amazing!). Learn a language.

Think about ditching your car. Do some serious maths and see if you’ll save not only money, but time and frustration by becoming a user of public transport instead. Don’t forget to subtract the impact on the environment.

No need to deny yourself treats and luxuries by any means. Just do so with conscience and consciously. It will make all the difference.

We’re not on this Earth to impress our neighbours. We don’t have to have an equally big car in the driveway or a Jacuzzi or a conservatory in order to fit in. Use your lifestyle changes to educate them! Let your example be an eye opener …

So, these are a few ideas to help you and your family redress the balance which exists in this world. Denying ourselves wealth doesn’t help the poor, living consciously does.

Blessings ~ Veronika ~

Channel 4 are looking for women who are passionate about The Continuum Concept to take part in a new series about childcare.
If you raised your children in this way and would like to help another family to do the same then we want to hear from you
Please contact on 020 79073413 or email
I’ve spoken with Claire and this is a commission based on the history of childrearing over the past 100 years…no trashy tv! Sounds to me like a great project to be involved in. Interestingly I’ve got a piece coming up in issue 19 of The Mother about Hopeful Daughters ~ an insight by film maker Elmer Postle into how each new generation of mothers tries to parent just that bit better.


flowerpot said...

It is funny reading your post this week, some weeks ago we started a Good Deed Monday, where we went and did things for other people on Mondays, we have done some interesting things so far and it leads on to other things, my daughter has now made a friend who is in a wheelchair and they are inseperable, she is going to start at Riding for disabled this week as a volunteer, so much of wht you say is how i feel, you are just so much better at putting it into words than me. @ years ago we also came home from England with 2 suitcases each, our whole lives were in them, i had got rid of everything we had before and to this day so not miss any of it. But again we have now accumulated more STUFF, although i have to say it is mainly books, i too only have one shelf for myself, i use the library or if i have to purchase a book i read it hand it around friends then on sell it to fund the next boo, everything has to have a purpose or there is no point in having it.
Love your Journal again Veronika, thanks for sharing.

Jax said...

a good post to read as I'm sitting here surrounded by stuff that I'm desperately trying to pare down. Not sure I'm going to be able to give all my books away though.

barrydh said...

yep - great stuff again V. The Universe provided us with this fantastic house we're in now only once we had committed to getting rid of for Kahlil's quote, well I probably use the first line of that more than any other with clients - and I've put it in at least one book so far!!
loads of joy...

Trisha said...

I am in the process of further simplifying my life. The less you have, the easier it is to get rid of the fluff when it accumulates. I quilt and donate some to Project Linus for needy children and babies, and give others to friends of my daughter who need baby things. It feels good to give something I've made with my own hands.