Friday, July 10, 2009

Voluntary Simplicity

Personally, I had chosen a life of voluntary simplicity years before I knew there was a name for such a lifestyle or that authors like Duane Elgin were leading the way, helping others discover a balanced, mindful, deliberate way of life. And although Elgin is surely one of the most recognized names in modern Voluntary Simplicity, it was only last month that I sat down to enjoy his almost 30 year old work, Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich.

Voluntary Simplicity (the book), I felt, could be divided into two parts:
  1. The personal transformation in living a life of voluntary simplicity
  2. The broader, environmental and economical impacts of our world should we choose or not choose simplicity
The first two-thirds of the book (what I call Part 1) begins by explaining what voluntary simplicity is and is not. It's not about living in abject poverty, but about living lightly, reducing our ecological impact on the earth, and sharing the world's resources with the whole world (not just the industrialized portions of it). It's not about denying ourselves the things we treasure most, but about de-cluttering our minds and lives so that we can concentrate on what's most important to us. It's not about withdrawing from life, but being empowered to transform the world around us by becoming intimately involved.

Particularly moving are the testimonials presented that illustrate a life of voluntary simplicity to be a slow, but amazing evolution wherein decisions of an individual, when made with mindfulness, have power to change the world:
The character of a whole society is the cumulative result of the countless small actions, day in and day out, of millions of persons. Small changes that may seem unimportant in isolation are of transformative significance when adopted by an entire society.
...our individual well-being is inseparable from the well-being of other members of the human family... [it] is the example of each person's life, much more than his or her words, that speaks with power. Even the smallest action done with a loving appreciation of life can touch other human beings in profound ways.
Unfortunately (for me, anyway), the book progressed into the final third (my "Part 2") which felt more like reading an economic text on what happens to the world if we do or do not choose voluntary simplicity. Personally, I preferred the discussion on how lives are transformed when we begin making deliberate and mindful choices, and how to go about making those choices.

Well, we can't win them all. I was glad to have finally sat down to read this book and it reinforced a lot of what I think about a life of voluntary simplicity. I'm looking forward to checking out some other books that might go further into how we, as individuals, can make informed, mindful, deliberate choices giving each and every one of us the power to change the world.
Recommended: To those interested in exploring the idea of voluntary simplicity
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


audrey neal said...

I read that book a while back -- here's the link to my review at Goodreads:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts too.

hmd said...

Audrey - Thanks for sharing your review!

Sam said...

I read the book a few years ago and remember not liking the latter half either. I too enjoy the personal day to day experiences and reading about other's experiences.

hmd said...

Beany - Me too. I was really psyched up to read this book and was disappointed in the second half :(