Our Weekly Call On Simplicity -- With Duane!

Posted by Amit Dungarani on Jul 15, 2014
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Every week, all our summer interns and mentors pick a value, do some reading and reflection, and engage in three personal practices for the week. After generosity and moral action, last week's theme was simplicity. On our weekly video conference, where we share our stories, we were greeted with a legend of the simplicity movement -- Duane Elgin. What a call it was!

We opened with reflections from our five interns. Nilay spoke about how cleaning up his room with the lens of simplicity made him see how much junk he had and how it also helped create some mental space. Mira chatted with the simplest person she knows, her grandma, who has "never worn any make-up, doesn't eat out, have any possessions outside of her religious books" while Priyal made a deal with the non-simplest person she knows -- her brother. "I will give up ice-cream if you give up shopping for this week," he told her. She followed through and they ended up doing a service activity in its stead. Priya spoke about thinking about materialism during her shopping trip for her college dorm room. :) When asked about the hardest thing that they wanted to give up, it felt a unanimous call to figure out a way out of incessant social media use. "Do I really need to get sucked into hourly updates from other people's lives?" Vishesh, who made a decision to get off Facebook a year and a half ago profoundly noted, "Number of likes, friends and all that -- we can't let FB create a materialistic interpretation of our social relationships. Real friendships go way deeper than those numbers."

Following that, everyone reflected on Duane's work on simplicity for the last four decades and each had an opportunity to ask him a question. (The first question everyone had was exactly how we got a world renowned figured to agree to join our humble call. :))

First core idea Duane shared ended up being referenced till the end of the call. "Simplicity is not a sacrifice. It is a celebration." Or as his mentor, Richard Gregg (a student of Gandhi), used to say: "Voluntary simplicity is a partial restraint in some direction in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions." In other words, simplicity brings us inner riches that were otherwise dormant due to our pre-occupation with our outer distractions.

His personal journey was remarkable as well. Growing up on a farm on Idaho, he was always connected to the cyclical rhythms of nature -- until he got swept up by mainstream dream, got an MBA from Wharton, worked on a presidential think-tank, hobnobbed with the powerful and elite, and started to pursue a linear growth that left him exhausted. Then, one fine day, he made a dramatic shift towards voluntary simplicity. He quit everything about his old lifestyle, and went in an entirely new direction. On his spiritual journey, he had some profoundly illuminating experiences. The universe came alive, and only deepened his convictions. "Consumerism makes sense only in a dead universe. If the universe is dead at its foundations, then it is rational to turn to material pleasures to protect us from life’s pains. On the other hand, if the universe is a living system, then it makes sense to get rid of undue complexity, live more simply, and focus on coming into a conscious relationship with the world around us."

There was a broad resonance, despite our diverse perspectives. Fourteen-year-old Mira reflected on Duane's writing on collective consciousness of a classroom. "That's totally true. Each class has its own vibe, and good teachers are the ones who are tuned into that and use it to make it a better experience for everyone."

In response to the many thoughtful questions by interns, Duane shared great tidbits. On success: "If you can't be best friends with yourself, then you can't be friends with others." On simplicity: "Simplicity can either be regressive (sacrificial), cosmetic (green lipstick on a pig) or deep (bouncing between outer simplicity and inner richness)." On cultural transformation: "In the early decades, I was an 'MBA gone bad.' Then, they started saying, 'MBA gone green.' That's a huge shift in our collective consciousness." On stories: "The tissue of our lives is our conversations and our stories. As soon as we change our story, we change the world." On advice to his own teenage self: "Give yourself space to change your mind. Don't take on the success formulas of others. And most of all, remember that everyone is ordinary. There are no special people."

His words really touched us, not only because they were deep concepts but because you knew the words were coming from a deeply lived experience. For the last 38 years, he said he's been living month-to-month financially. Clearly, he is not a person who banks on his consumer identity, but rather chooses to be rooted in his spiritual identity.  In today's world, that's a truly courageous stance.

As we closed our call with a minute of gratitude, Duane offered a quote by Ramana Maharshi: "Silence speaks with unceasing eloquence."

What a beautiful conversation. The interns diligently read the background material, did the practices of giving up something from ice-cream to social media, and intelligently engaged with dialog with  a renowned personality -- who ultimately ended up reminding us that "We are the leaders we've been waiting for. Let us mirror an alternative possibility."  (Below is Priyal's rapid graphics work.)

Thank you, all, for holding space for such sacred engagement within our collective "garden of simplicity."     

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