slow living


making-of-an-elder-cultureOne of the great thrills of existence  is that there is an endless amount to learn. I recently wrote a blog post predicting that as baby boomers entered the last third of their life there would be a resurgence of the 60’s values that many held in their youth. I was excited to discover that I was not alone in this hope. Dr. Theodore Roszak, famous for his culture-defining 1968 work, The Making of a Counterculture, and as a leading proponent of ecopsychology, has written a book on this very topic called The Making of an Elder Culture , published by New Society Publishers.

It has been a joy to read this book and become familiar with the work of Dr. Rosjak (who I am embarrassed to admit I was not familiar with — there’s that joy of new discovery!). This 76-year-old maintains and embodies the spirit that he writes about. He writes with a vigor and an idealism of a person one-third his age. In his latest book Rosjak makes a compelling case that as the baby boomers live for decades past 65, they will reengage with their original, countercultural values and take a leadership role in making the world a better, fairer place.

Roszak sees the baby boom generation as the leading edge of a profound change in demographics that will dominate world culture for the foreseeable future. The combination of lowering birth rates and longevity will make the world an older, and hopefully, wiser place. The 60’s were a time when we believed that if we raised individual consciousness we could change the world. Dr. Roszak agress with the Confucian concept that we cannot “pull the shoots.” That is, we must respect nature’s rate of growth and change. There is nothing, he asserts, that has the potential to raise consciousness like aging.  When vast numbers of people live into their 90’s and beyond, their values will shape our world. We will become a world that prioritizes wellness, sustainable living, and learning. The values of consumption and growth for growth’s sake will give way to a world where mutual care will be of utmost concern. He lays down a challenge for this aging generation. He says that, “Theirs must be a noble, far-sighted cause. They must be the spearhead of a compassionate economy that spreads its benefits to everyone.” He has the audacity to propose an optimistic world vision that results in a healthy relationship with the places we live and our broader environment, and leads to a spiritual realization.

Discovering the works of Roszak has particular meaning for me because I am a proud member of the Radical Passe. The values of the counterculture have stuck with me through the decades of narcissism, greed and fear. It isn’t just the ’60’s that have had a sustained appeal for me. I’m a fan of a whole world of thought that flowered with romanticism in 19th century Europe and passed on into a coma in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. This was a tradition of humanism. It included the belief that the unexamined life was not worth living. It questioned the alienating values of industrial capitalism. Its religion was love. This tradition included Carl Jung, John Lennon and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It brought us the art films from Jean Renoir to Vittorio De Sica. We believed in the experiential educational principles of John Dewey and the therapy of Fritz Perls. It was based on the belief that there was something better to life than the world we inherited: that money, stuff and fitting in were not life’s ultimate goals and something “more” was worth fighting for.

Unfortunately, since this scene is mostly passed and not comprehended by most, my heroes are mostly dead. Ashley Montagu, Erich Fromm, Confucius and Tolstoy are all gone. (There are a few exceptions, including Harville Hendrix and some of my personal teachers who are not so well known). So I sometimes feel a little lonely at this end of the philosophical spectrum. This has increased my joy at discovering Roszak. Here’s a guy who is alive and whose thought and life I can admire. Here’s an invite, Theodore. How would you like to take on another piece of your “eldering” role? I’d love to add you to my mentor list.

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less-is-moreTim Kasser, PhD, a professor of psychology, and Kirk Warren Brown, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology recently completed a research study that validates my theory that fufillment comes from living the life of the heart. Their results are reported in one of the essays in a wonderful new book published by New Society Publishers called Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska. In their article, “A Scientific Approach to Voluntary Simplicity,” they say, “A primary, take-home message of the findings of this study is that living more happily. . .is (depndendent on) whether (people) are living in a conscious, mindful way and with a set of values organized around intrinsic fulfillment,” which they define as “. . .personal development, relationships and community,” rather than the materialistic values of consumer culture.

This is only one of the nuggets of gold found in this collection of essays about Simplicity, a way of living that is gaining increasing popularity as we experience the consequences of living an ever busier, more acquisitive and more self-focussed life. We find that despite our material well-being we are less happy, more stressed, less connected to others and our most important relationships harder to maintain. On a broader level we find ourselves in economic disarray, our health worsening and the health of our planet in crisis. Simplicity, which is part of a broader movement that includes the slow food and slow living movement, promotes a life that brings us closer to the heart. As Cecile Andrews says in the introduction, what all of the definitions of Simplicity have in common is “a sense of clearing away the extraneous, stripping away the inessential. It’s about what’s real, what’s important or, again, as Thoreau put it, ‘life near the bone where it is sweetest.’ ” This corresponds to my definition of heart, which is living in harmony with our essential nature.

I’m embarrassed to say that one of the joys of this book is to get introduced to the big thinkers and transformational leaders in this movement, of whom I have been previously unfamiliar. These include such luminaries as Bill McKibben, Sarah Susanka, Jerome Segal, Dave Wann and several others too numerous to name but equally as impressive, including the editors.  Their writing matchest their philosophy: it is simple without being simplistic. It is essential, meaningful, enlightening and heartfelt.

Another delight in reading Less is More is to discover the works of New Society Publishers, a small press that comes out of Gabriola Island in British Columbia, Canada. Their mission is to publish books that promote sustainable living, a just society and a healthy planet. They, too, walk their talk. Their books are simply attractive while their company operates with a carbon-neutral footprint.

I am both educated and inspired by the writings in Less is More. Living simply, like finding the heart, is the work of a lifetime. It is not easy to get there, but it provides a life of ease once the goal is reached. This book is a wonderful contribution to reorienting our lives away from the alienating influences of our shame-inducing consumer culture back toward what is really important: the choice to care for ourselves, others and the planet in a simple, loving way.

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