I’m always on the lookout for news that sparks even the tiniest bit of optimism about the future. We need that right now, right? I know I do. I look for such news everyday. And, the good news that’s recently come to my attention is minimalism. Ah, minimalism, mindfulness and affection.
Zen has a Minimalist Heart
As I write, hundreds of thousands of millennials are involved in a growing movement called minimalism. This movement questions the consequences of materialism and consumerism in American life. The movement is about exploring alternatives to our sense that there’s an iron cage of inevitability about the way we live.
Minimalism helps me feel grateful because it vibrantly demonstrates that the way most of us live is not inevitable. It’s a matter of well entrenched habit and choice. We can always cultivate more skillful and wholesome habits.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and give thanks continuously… Because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
So What’s Minimalism?
The people involved in the minimalist movement ‘resist’ participating mindlessly in the ongoing injuries inherent in our economy. They ‘resist’ through the responsible exercise of personal freedom.
Minimalist living is about exploring options. Furthermore, minimalism is about choosing to live in ways that can slow and perhaps eventually reverse the destruction of the natural world. Refreshingly, minimalists freely choose to be mindful about how they live. They think about consequences. Affectionately, they suggest alternatives to some of my own mindless complicity in habitual lifestyles that deaden the human spirit.
Just imagine, the minimalist movement is growing so fast and is so interesting that it’s made it to the pages of Forbes magazine: forbes.com/sites/deborahweinswig/2016/09/07/millennials-go-minimal-the-decluttering-lifestyle-trend-that-is-taking-over/#468eeba37550
Zen, Minimalism, Mindfulness and Affection
“…few people can deny that there is a ‘wave’ of minimalism happening right now. It has become such a big part of my life now that I wondered where minimalism came from… Some would say, as would I, that minimalism has some of it’s roots in Buddhism.”
One reason I find the new minimalism so hopeful is because, in my mind at least, it represents the reemergence of an idea that was current in the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s the idea that, practically, the choices we make about how we live matter deeply to the rest of the world.
Additionally, I get excited about minimalism because anyone who connects the consequences of how they live with the thought that their actions affect others shows a willingness to see the real organic, moral, and spiritual connections between us. To my mind, that means minimalism is the reemergence of the once commonly shared moral and spiritual idea that “the personal is the political.”
Way back in 1969, in the Whole Earth Catalog, Wendell Berry captured this truth best when he wrote, “[T]he environmental crisis should make it dramatically clear, as perhaps it has not always been before, that there is no public crisis that is not also private.”
“Nearly every one of us,” he went on, “nearly every day… is contributing directly to the ruin of this plant. A protest meeting on the issue of environmental abuse is not a convocation of accusers, it is a convocation of the guilty.” ~Wendell Berry
Care For The Earth As If You Were Caring For Your Own Children
Though as far as I can tell minimalists have not given up on public or electoral politics, they’ve gone beyond simply thinking that politicians or single-issue lobbyists alone can guard or restore the health of our planet. They’ve taken what seems like a growing measure of personal responsibility for our manifold crises. Therefore they act in ways that might make things better by also changing the way they live. And, to my mind, they act in extraordinarily hopeful ways.
For example, some have moved into tiny houses—some have eliminated waste from their lives. You can check out a documentary on the wonderfully optimistic things minimalists are doing here: http://theminimalists.com/films/
According to Leo Babauta, the blogger at Zen Habits, minimalism and simplicity are, “…striking back against the growing complexity of the modern world, against consumerism, against the mindset that we need to buy to solve our problems, that we need more and bigger. Against the idea that busier is better and that we must always be connected.”
And because minimalists live in mindful concern about the dimensions of their actions, I think of them and their movement as deeply spiritual.
Babauta and many other leading lights of minimalism are not only into the idea that less is more. They’re into meditation, mindful eating and shopping, no-waste living, Buddhism or non-religious forms of spirituality. They ask: “What is essential to my happiness?” “Who am I?” “How can I live more gently and harmlessly on this earth?” To my ear and experience these questions are at the heart of the minimalism that is at the heart of Zen practice.
Of course, the Zen tradition began among Buddhist monks. People well known for their ability to live simply, creatively and contentedly. People also well known for their affection for the smallest details of nature, for the most vulnerable and humble of things.
“Smile, Breathe, Go Slowly” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
The Tay quote in the heading above is his summary of the training rules for Zen practice. It’s a nice example of Zen’s minimalism. Dogen Zenji’s record of guidance to the cook is also a nice example of a recommendation for minimalist living. When advising the cook about how to care for the kitchen implements and food, how best to use them, how not to waste them, Dogen wrote, “You should look after water and grain with compassionate care, as if tending your own children.”
In Zen practice we train in minimalism, with mindfulness and affection for all the objects we use in practice, for the simple food we prepare and eat, for all of Nature and for one another.
Here are a couple of links with more information on the connection between minimalist living and Zen practice. You might like to explore:
Please visit a Sweeping Heart Zen event if and when the spirit moves you. We’re in historic Gloucester on Boston’s North Shore. Here’s a link to our calendar: sweepingheartzen.org/events/
I hope you have a wonderful week!