GNL number 16


A report of doings at meeting #16, Sunday, November 9, 2008
including liturgical notes, major themes, and odds and ends


The point in life is to know what’s enough–
why envy those otherworld immortals?
With the happiness held in one inch-square heart
you can fill the whole space between heaven and earth.
—Gensei (1623-1668), “Poem Without a Category,”
The Enlightened Heart, Edited by Stephen Mitchell, p. 86

Opening the discussion today on LESS IS MORE,

  1. Ann pulled out a tiny 2-inch square note on which was handwritten much pith, as follows: Having less stuff could mean having more time, space, freedom, love, justice, peace. And having more peace means less violence, more love–less violence, more justice–less violence, more time–less violence, more food–less violence, more space–less violence…… She also quoted from a book by Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. See Afterwords below for this and other later thoughts.
  2. Sue, as host, had copied and posted Haiku poems around the living room for us. She spoke not only of the beauty of brevity in poetry, but in other arts/architecture, recalling that the Less is More phrase originated with the architect Mies Van der Rohe. She said in her own writing and editing, she’d found she’s always looking for simple, smaller, more direct ways to say it, and spoke of the difficulty of unlearning an intense work ethic, from which she said she’d emerged freer in the aftermath of her dad’s death. And she brought several quotes. (See Afterwords)
  3. Gail brought her booted, fractured ankle and another slant: how her fracture has been a strong reminder of Less is More. She said she’s had to be less independent and to learn how to accept more help from Cliff and Virginia and to communicate more clearly with her family, all of which has been basically good and healthy. She also read to us two lovely short poems written by Virginia. (These in Afterwords as well)
  4. Sitting next to Gail, but with two broken ankles, was Chris, who readily related to the less control and more letting be as hard but valuable. (And less time at work has meant more time to read good books!) Describing herself the inveterate collector of mementos and rocks and books (who had about a dozen books on de-cluttering) now unable to do all the fine stuff-sorting she’d planned, was an irony that she pictured with great good humor. And as strong as her stuff-reduction plan is, she knew the books and rocks would be the last to go, a sentiment hitting home for most of us.
  5. Jack, also familiar with diminished motor ability, picked up on this sub-theme too, speaking of having to let go of himself as walker-about-town, calligrapher, artist, and writer, but finding his joie de vie intact, even if sometimes punctuated by frustrated curses and tears, still the joy in each day. Maybe more than ever, say we.
  6. Nancy made note of how the natural world reminds her she needs and wants less of the stuff our culture says we all must have to be safe, cool, and happy; the less stuff to seek and manage, the more freedom to be here, present, engaged and available to life, its beauties, the ways it needs help, the ways we can help. She read four poems from the anthology Earth Prayers, and brought to share three YES magazines with many features related to reducing our needs and footprint. See AW, below.
  7. Cynthia brought a show-and-tell, her beautiful handmade Christmas card from last year with its simple twig drawing and haiku message: “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means”—Dr. Koichi Kawana. Then she told the story of a break-in recently at her and Ron’s camp, by a man who took nothing of great import and was caught and put in jail, but left them feeling robbed and violated. A little later, she was able to write a poem, Ode to a Thief, which helped her see that they were not so robbed, but ok, and more. The poem appears below. As we closed, Cynthia suggested a good place to go for December’s theme would be Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea (and Sue’s email quote of October 21)): “….Please write down some conditions for happiness that are available to you right now….”
  8. And a couple editorial comments in appreciation: How nice it was to have Sue as host open and close the meeting with her Tibetan singing bowl; and how inadequate such reports as this are to convey the flavor and spirit of the meeting, which as so often happens, was both serious and full of hearty laughs. (Plus, as also often happens, by the end of this one we found we’d had a second meeting, the delightful conversation over lunch around the big table, with Jay included!) And on this evening later, a few days from traditional Thanksgiving, another thankyou—to all you Skippys near and far, who’ve made these gatherings such a stimulating, heartening, healthy, allaround delight, and for this partaker, a real Sabbath.


Fear less, hope more.
Eat less, chew more.
Whine less, breathe more.
Talk less, say more.
Hate less, love more.
And all good things are yours.
—Swedish proverb


NEXT TIME: Sunday, Dec.14 (1030), at Jack’s, 141 Jay Street,Cobleskill. The topic: Happiness Available Now. (Brunch makes us all happy)


from Adair, who sent this note:

  • One point I wanted to make about Less Is More: in my opinion, it is only true as long as it is voluntary. When a person chooses to live with less stuff, that is a long way from struggling with poverty, which many do.

from Ann:

  • Six wordy: Less is more, more or less.
  • One Egg:
      It’s hardly enough for breakfast,

      It isn’t enough when you bake,

      It isn’t sufficient to make a meringue,

      Or bake any cookies or cake.
      It doesn’t go far in a salad, though you dice it, slice it or chop it.

      But it covers the floor
      From wall to wall
      If you are clumsy enough to drop it.
  • From William Sloane Coffin’s Credo:
      “There is a Zen paradox whereby we may lack everything yet want for nothing. The reason is that peace, that is, deep inner peace comes not with meeting our desires but in releasing ourselves from their power….”
  • From something I read somewhere:
      The world is evenly balanced between good and evil, your next act will tip the balance.
  • From Jack Kornfield’s The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace
      “Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coal-mouse asked a wild dove.
      “Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.
      “In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal-mouse said. “I sat on a branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow, not heavily, not in a giant blizzard, no just like in a dream, without any violence. Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch – nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off.”
      Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away. The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on change, thought about the story for a while and finally said to herself: “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come about in the world.”
      —Kurt Kauter

from Sue:

  • “Less is more”
    —Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German born architect, designer of glass and steel beam skyscrapers—fled Nazis to USA—became citizen in 1944.
  • Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.
    —Dr. Koichi Kawana, Architect, designed Japanese botanical gardens all over the USA
  • Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.
    —Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect, designed the Guggenheim.
  • Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
    making the complicated simple,
    awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
    —jazz musician Charles Mingus
  • We learn from our gardens to deal with the most
    urgent question of the time: How much is enough?
    —Wendell Berry
  • for further reading–Book I saw listed online–Less is More: An Anthology of Ancient & Modern Voices Raised in Praise of Simplicity by Goldian VandenBroeck
  • Additional Less is More quotations I didn’t read:
    • The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.
      —Joseph Priestly
    • Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.
      —Albert Einstein
    • Manifest plainness,
      Embrace simplicity,
      Reduce selfishness,
      Have few desires.
      —-Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching
    • You can’t truthfully explain your smallest action without fully revealing your character.—–Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966
    • A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.—–Henry David Thoreau

from Gail: Virginia’s poems—

  • Raindop crystle
    Shinny in the Light
    Oh so Pritty made
    durring the night.
  • The clouds
    White and I am blue
    and that is fine
    and howbowt

from Nancy:

  • Tired of all who come with words, words but no language, I went to the snow-covered island. The wild does not have words. The unwritten pages spread themselves out in all directions! I come across the marks of roe-deer’s hooves in the snow. Language but no words.
    —–Tomas Transtromer
  • Let the trees be consulted before you take action. Every time you breathe in, thank a tree. Let treeroots crack parking lots at the world bank headquarters, let loggers be druids specially trained and rewarded to sacrifice tree at auspicious times. Let carpenters be master artisans, let lumber be treasured like gold, let chainsaws be played like saxophones, let soldiers on manuevers plant trees, give police and criminals a shovel and a thousand seedlings, let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods. Walk, don’t drive. Stop reading newspapers. Stop writing poetry. Squat under a tree and tell stories.
    —John Wright
  • To live content with small means, to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich, to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never—in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.
    —William Ellery Channing
  • Soil for legs Axe for hands Flower for eyes Bird for ears
    Mushroom for nose Smile for mouth Songs for lungs
    Sweat for skin Wind for mind
    Just enough.
    —–Nanao Sakaki
  • And from notes unread at the meeting:
    (some glimpses into a “koan” dropped long ago into this head and still ringing—–)
    “Bare Bones”….

      Stripped down to basics,
      Naked, no cover.
      No running, no hiding,
      No struggling, no striving.
      Naked before demons,
      Naked before God.
      Ego and fears along for the ride,
      along but not driving.
      Present, unblinking,
      face to face, real.
      Giving your eyes, gaining your eyes,
      And gaining your life,
  • And some recommendations:
      First, E.F. Schumacher’s classic book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, which almost 40 years ago was talking about the unsustainablity of our economic system and advocating regional economies, appropriate technology and a standard of living based not on GNP but on “obtaining the maximum amount of wellbeing with the minimum of consumption”. (Did you know the E.F. Schumacher Society and Library is nearby, in Great Barrington, Mass.?)

      This meetings’s theme also suggests another wonderful place to visit: an hour and a half away in Coldbrook, NY, the Shawangunk Nature Preserve, where an amazing couple have lived truly simply, off the grid, beautifully, in a tiny handmade home on their wild land for more than 30 years, and do tours and programs for the public. (Spring, maybe?)

from Cynthia:

    Ode to a Thief

      The kitchen window is shut tight and locked,
      because that’s how you came in….
      The mountain breeze no longer flows through while I’m away—
      The four rooms are closed and still.
      The doors are bolted, the extra keys are with me now,
      because you know where they hung….
      The dresser drawers are all rearranged, all the cabinets too—
      I know exactly where things should be.
      I think of you as darkness falls, and wonder why
      This simple place attracted you….
      No lavish landscape frames the cabin,
      no shining trinkets call—
      Its treasures cannot be stolen or sold:
      Sunshine still streams through the windows
      shortly before noon,
      The scent of cedar rises after rain,
      the forest creatures scurry and sing,
      an eagle soars above.

1 Comment

  1. Rev. Judy Scott said,

    December 4, 2008 at 2:32 am

    I used to believe that anything was better than nothing. Now i know that sometimes nothing is better.
    ___Glenda Jackson
    Why snatch at wealth, and hoard and stock it; your shroud, you know, will have no pockets.
    —–Betty Paoli
    No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writin a poem.
    —–Booker T. Washington
    How refreshing
    the whinney of a packhorse
    unloaded of everything.
    —–zen saying

    Is Time Money or Life?
    by Daniel O’Rourke
    The Observer, Dunkirk, NY 11/13/08
    A Time-Warner Business TV ad, parroting western efficiency experts tells us, “Time is money.” Do you know what the Buddhists in the East say? They say, “Time is life!” Now that’s food for thought — and a topic for a column.
    Does anyone really doubt that the Buddhists are correct and the capitalists, wrong? Have we in this country devalued life itself in favor of our now fading stock portfolios and bank balances? Ultimately, what do we want to do with the days, weeks, and years that life gives us? Do we wish to spend them making and worrying about money? Sadly, some live just that way.
    Money, of course, is only a means to an end. Francis Bacon said, “Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.” I don’t know if comparing money to manure is the best analogy, but you get the point. We need it to nourish living things. It’s to be spread, not stashed away. It’s to be used – to remodel the family kitchen, to send the kids to college, to give to the local soup kitchen. Money can do much good, but it can also sour our souls. The French proverb had it right, “Money is a good servant but a bad master.” Or as Billy Graham told us, “There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches but the wrong comes when the riches possess men” or women.
    Unfortunately, money often possesses us. It’s the way some keep score. It’s the scale on which we weigh ourselves and our neighbors – an inaccurate yardstick, of course, but a common one. Subconsciously, many judge their worth by the value of their home, by the model of their cars, or the brand name on their jeans. God help them.
    To paraphrase Martin Luther King, I dream of a world that will judge my grandchildren not by the worth of their possessions but by the content of their character, by the quality of their lives not the value of their belongings. Those possessions and trinkets will have little to do with their happiness. Henry David Thoreau told us long ago, “Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.”
    This holiday season, however, Americans will be buying many non-necessities for the body. For retailers this is the most profitable season of the year. The Nielsen Holiday Forecast estimates that Americans will, despite the financial crisis, spend ninety-eight billion dollars during the holidays. That’s billion with a “B”! Other analysts, however, are fearful that this year we will not be shopping till we drop. The big box retailers and many economists do not approve, but personally we’d be prudent to hide the credit cards in our sock drawer and put more money into our savings account.
    What, however, do these diametrically opposed world-views from the East and West teach us in this financial crisis? That crisis has already and will continue to have a serious impact on many lives and families. Tragically, some have lost homes, retirement savings or jobs, but they still have their lives. Their money is not their life.
    But not only eastern religions have wisdom to impart about life and money; Jesus did too. Here he’s speaking to us who naively trusted the financial system. “Do not lay up treasure for yourselves on earth, where there is moth and rust to consume it, where there are thieves to break in and steal it.…” (Mt. 6: 19-20) That’s what has happened. Our investments for retirement and our children’s education were nibbled away by greed, consumed by mismanagement, and rusted away by lack of regulation.
    But what about those thieves of which Jesus also spoke? Did they too sneak in and steal? Did they cook the books to misrepresent stock values in order to give themselves inflated bonuses? Some think so. The Bible tells us, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6-9). Henry Fielding, author of the Tom Jones novel expanded on that scripture, “Money is the fruit of evil, as often as the root of it.” Would Fielding have had some Wall Street types in mind?
    Although some bankers and fund managers might have done nothing illegal, they often cooperated in a system that was immoral and unethical. To a large degree lobbyists for the financial markets shaped the legislation that ultimately enabled this crisis. What this says about our Congress and President is another depressing story.
    But back to Jesus. He tells us in the continuation of Mathew 6, “To lay up treasures for yourselves in heaven where there is no moth or rust to consume it, no thieves to break in and steal it.” That heaven is also realized here on earth by contributing money to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and shelter the vulnerable whom this crisis has hurt most deeply.
    The private sector will be forced to do much more to help not only the traditional poor but also the newly impoverished middle class. The government can’t afford it. The next administration will be burdened with trillions of dollars of debt. The basic needs of an increasing number of our citizens, however, must be met. They will not go away. As Jesus told us, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mathew 26:11), and they provide us who have some resources with opportunities. The humorist Al Batt quips, “Money changes people just as often as it changes hands.” If we are compassionate to those in need, it can change us too — for the better.
    Retired from the administration at SUNY Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, NY. His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. He has published “The Spirit at Your Back,” a book of his previous columns. To read about the book or send comments on this column visit his website:
    Daniel O’Rourke
    8002 Frisbee Road
    Cassadaga, NY 14718

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