‘The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Downshifting is as much about questioning conformity and letting go of seeking the approval of others as it is about reducing, reusing and recycling. Learning to lead a simpler life is as much about standing in our own truth as it is about cultivating joyful frugality.
Observing the events with the riots in some UK cities recently, overwhelming questions for me have been: What is beneath all of this? What is the root cause? And how will we address that? The initial sense I have of this situation is that it seems to have a lot to do with repression, extreme resentment and an inability to find an appropriate, non-violent outlet, a way of expressing pressing grievances. There also appears to be a lack of a trusted environment where those grievances will be heard unconditionally and acted upon with respect and compassion.
These acute waves of emotions feel very similar to me to those experienced by many who are teetering on the edge of leaving the rat race. The more personal ‘rioting’ that results can take the form of breakdowns in relationship or health of one kind or another. Many, fortunately, choose to intervene sooner, before their feelings of resentment and frustration reach their peak.
What saddens, but does not surprise, me in the state’s response to the violence, is the aggressive, retributive approach that is being taken.
Downshifting is something I see as being primarily a peaceful path. It is often initiated as a result of some very strong emotions, revelations or passions surfacing. However, the act of downshifting and of moving towards living more lightly on the earth, is one of gentle, restorative justice – of setting things straight in our lives to how they were always meant to be: lived with meaning, fulfilment, time to slow down, relax and enjoy.
The rioters have reminded me of the consequences of living our lives in a society focussed on the material and where relationships, community and fairness come a poor second to GDP and unrelenting economic growth at the expense of the poor and the planet. This approach, as we have seen, is not only meaningless, but also powerfully destructive.
On a personal level, breaking the cycle of suffering that supports our being in the rat race often involves releasing our approval seeking habits so that we can be ok with standing in our truth and letting go of materialism. Unleashing these ties releases the time and energy to nurture relationships, build community and restore fair play. Who do you know who does not wish to live in peace?
Peace is not just an absence of violence, war, or riots. It is about living in harmony with ourselves, other people, other sentient beings, plants and minerals.
Whilst harvesting crab apples yersterday, I was reminded of the harmonising principles of permaculture design and then, on returning to my desk, discovered the refreshing alternative idea of an eco-prison in Norway, where inmates are encouraged back into society through a rehabilitation programme based on participating in food cultivation.
It would seem to be an intelligent, downshifted solution to the failings of the business- as- usual prison system.