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When Less is More

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 151 - October 2008

The power cut that hit my part of the world the other day around noon was unexpected. Not knowing how long it would last, I quickly changed my plans: instead of putting some carrots through my electric juicer I would deal with my emails… except that of course the computer wouldn’t run on thin air either. All other gap-filling occupations that occurred to me, from a spot of house-cleaning to watching a work-connected DVD, went the same way, for each one needed electricity to function. It was quite a shock to realize how utterly I have come to depend on power for so many needs of daily life, from professional work, communication and entertainment to cleaning, cooking and laundering, and all this at a time when the world is rolling inexorably towards a global energy shortage. My local power cut suddenly seemed like a sample of things to come some time in the future, and it inspired me to imagine the impact of the real thing.

What would it be like, I wondered, if – as is happening in many parts of the world – electricity only came on for a few hours a day and we’d have to decide what to use it for? Personally, I’d choose using my PC to do my writing and communicate with my widely scattered contacts. And do chores by hand. The old-fashioned way. Broom and dustpan instead of vacuum cleaner. Manual foodmill instead of fast blender. Reading instead of watching resistible TV with glazed eyes. No hedge trimmer, no lawnmower, no labour-saving tools, except my washing machine. Oddly enough, the thought didn’t seem as horrendous as I’d expected: rather it suggested a slowing down and simplification of daily life.

What happened to me during that enforced pause, contemplating the worst and finding it not too bad, seems to be happening in some parts of the collective, too. Almost daily we hear more dire details of the dangers of climate change: global warming, the end of finite resources, food shortages and the collapse of everything collapsible in our highly complex and overstuffed consumer society. What is fascinating is watching the responses of the wide variety of people. There is the major category of Ostriches, who firmly keep their heads in the sand and pretend not to see what’s going on. Almost as numerous are the Deniers who claim that there’s no problem that technology can’t fix, and to say otherwise is just scare-mongering. There are the Honest Desperate who believe that the threats are too enormous to handle, all’s lost, let’s prepare for the worst. But, most excitingly, there is also a new mood, a new approach emerging here and there from grassroots level, which is where all effective reforms, revolutions and evolutions have always come from.

There is more to this new approach than changing to low-energy light bulbs, walking instead of driving and turning recycling into a fine art, important though all that is. What I am sensing is a growing rejection of the consumer society and its various frenzies which have hypnotized us for so long, the deliberate stirring up of greed, the buy-one-get-one-free con tricks, the deception of ‘retail therapy’ which doesn’t make up for not living a meaningful life. Consuming simply in order to keep the system going will have to stop for all kinds of practical reasons. What’s in the wind is a gradual rebellion against false values. It started a few years ago with the launch of the Slow Food Movement, an uprising against junk food and a return to traditional cooking and shared convivial meals. It continues in countless small initiatives, with individuals turning urban wasteland into communal vegetable gardens, setting up self-help groups, taking responsibility for their own health, and above all realizing that by making daily life simpler and less stressed, existence becomes richer, not poorer. In other words, if we cut out the external razzmatazz and explore our starved and neglected inner world, we’ll discover that less can be more, and that being thrown back on our own resources makes us stronger. Just try to sing your own song, in or out of tune, instead of listening to electronic noises, and feel the difference. If nothing else, you’ll get more oxygen into your bloodstream.

Of course, none of this will chase away the hard times to come, but at least we’ll have the security of knowing who we are and what our lives are about. It’s a pity that we need a looming eco-crisis to discover such basic truths, but the big mistakes of the past fifty years or so need strong remedies. (At that stage of my meditation the power cut ended and, with a slight feeling of guilt, I switched on my juicer and fed in some carrots.)

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About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail: beatabishop@fastnet.co.uk.

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