Friday, August 9, 2019

Slow and simple

Nearly two decades ago, in a secondhand bookshop, I came across a book that had Voluntary Simplicity in its title. I put it back, resolving to buy it a few days later, but when I wanted to do so, it was gone. I never found that particular book again, but of course there are thousands of similar books, and the topic remained on my radar and eventually became a passion.

The concept wasn't new to me, either. We were taught to care for the environment from a very young age, and Germany had a green wave during the late eighties and early nineties - on our holidays in England we were surprised at the ubiquity of plastic bottles and bags. A lot of our paper - from exercise books to toilet paper - was grey recycled paper, and plastic folders and the like were banned from school.

Even though it took a few years before I seriously started committing to a simple life (I was never a maximalist, but in my early twenties I was so attached to some of my belongings that I travelled with a 20kg suitcase when visiting home, just so I could bring certain CDs, books and clothes with me), I always felt drawn to it. There are several aspects to Voluntary Simplicity, and I am far from mastering them all, but living with less, more sustainably and at a slower pace, has been immensely satisfying and freeing.

Since my diagnosis simplicity and slowing down have become even more significant. I feel I am shedding anything superfluous, making space for what really matters. My need for tidiness may partly stem from anxiety and a need to control something that I can control, but it is so much more than that: Japanese Buddhism, for example, sees cleaning and tidying as a way to cultivate the mind, a spiritual practice - a view that has been popularised by Marie Kondo.

Through my meditations I have been accessing the observing self, often with great difficulty, and I am spending much more time in nature and can hold yoga poses for several minutes without getting agitated. Sometimes I schedule too much in a day, and it leaves me flustered, overwhelmed and reactive. That's when I am reminded of that proverb "You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day, unless you are too busy - then you should sit for an hour."

Holly recommended the unusual and wonderful book pictured above (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey) and I got it from the library a few weeks ago. The book charts the author's observations of a woodland snail while bedridden during a mysterious illness. I could relate to so much of what Tova Bailey had to say about being ill, the isolation and alienation, though her illness was completely different (and I was lucky to only be bedbound during the worst of the chemoradiation. Incidentally, I was delighted to see that the author 'photograph' in the book is a painting of the author on a couch with her dog by her side. Last year I had painted myself and Daisy on the couch when I was unable to move due to side effects. Synchronicity!). The writing is lyrical and philosophical with a unique voice, and the writer and reader learn a lot about molluscs, and from them. 


Here is an interview with Elisabeth Tova Bailey.


  1. I needed the peace and simplicity that I found on your post today. Thank you. That book sounds lovely.

    1. Thank you Brenda, and apologies for the late reply - I don't get notifications for comments anymore (need to sort out a lot of technical stuff!). x