A note to the reader: Kristin and I have started an endeavor whereby we are writing a letter a month to our daughters, who won’t be able to read these letters for many years. Our desire is to capture some of what we are going through and thinking now and to pass that along to their future selves when it’s the right time to do so. What a gift to give our kids – (some) of the understanding of why their parents did what they did way back when. Kristin and I are writing separate letters and we wanted to share them with you all. This first one is from me but there will be others to follow. I must admit that I am a bit nervous about hitting the publish button as this is a seriously transparent window into who we are. “Leap and the net will appear”, it has been said, so here goes!
Dearests Madeleine and Juniper:
Mama and I have decided to write a letter a month to you both for the next year or so. The reason we are doing this is two-fold: First, we want to do something that forces us to write more frequently creatively, and second, we want to explain a bit of our thinking that is going into our decision to take what we are calling the Great Plunge. This Great Plunge is our term, although we will use others also, for making seemingly dramatic changes to our life that will include me quitting my job and all of us all into a bus that we are converting into small home. We also seek out land to live on and a rural community to become a part of. On the one hand these changes are not all that dramatic because they are based on our core values and include changes that we have already begun to make. On the other hand, they are a radical shift away from mainstream living in America (the “Industrial Growth Society”, as Joanna Macy coined), and toward what we hope is a more life-sustaining way of living.
I am writing to you in an attempt to explain to your future selves the why behind the life that your mom and I are intentionally deciding to live. It’s a life that we hope to design in the best sense of that word, not to control but rather to cultivate and culture. I hope that through these words you will understand that a lot of soul searching and thinking has led us to these next decisions. Because nothing is static, everything is always changing and everything is connected, we don’t and cannot know where this will all take us. Each decision causes myriad effects, which then become causes themselves. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we do know that our actions radiate outwards in never ending circles like a pebble dropped into still water. It is our vow to act in ways that cause positive ripples throughout the world.
In a single sentence, the following quote from Gary Snyder (poet, teacher, Buddhist and mountaineer) sums up how I want and vow to live: with simplicity, boldness, gratitude, strong and generous work and play, and with lots of walking and laughing:
Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.
In the following paragraphs I will attempt to explain and weave together our core values with the life that we envision. This is no way means that this is how it will always be because even our core values will change over time. Above all else we envision a dynamic life that will evolve with our changing selves and the changing conditions around us – a life that will be responsive to the conditions and needs of the world around us and that is part of “….the great adventure of seeking solutions as to how best to live” (William S. Coperthwaite).
Harmony. We are doing this both for ourselves and for you with the full recognition that we are not separate. We cannot simply make self-centered decisions without causing harm to you and everyone else; and we cannot sacrifice our own lives solely for your benefit without causing great harm to ourselves and others. We aim for a balanced and harmonious life and will use that, perhaps more than anything else, as our yardstick for a life well-lived.
Simplicity. We endeavor to “live among the enchanted: enchanted by the possibility for simplicity and beauty for all” (William S. Coperthwaite). Living a simple life opens up a world of possibilities for all of us. By not letting our life be taken over by too much debt or too many things and by limiting unnecessary distractions, we open up a world of possibilities for ourselves and others. When we take too much from the world we take away the possibility for others to live healthy, vibrant and fulfilling lives. And the same is true for ourselves; when we fill our lives with unnecessary stuff, we limit ourselves. Living simply means to live a less distracted and more wholesome life where we can discover the wonder and joy that exists both within ourselves and throughout the world. And to allow others this same possibility.
Adaptability/Resilience. In addition to cultivating harmony, we aim to create a resilient existence that is highly adaptable to current and future change. It is also an existence that encourage grace, beauty, joy and love in the world and that ensures others have this opportunity as well. Resilience is characteristic of strong individuals, families, communities and societies and this is something that we foresee as crucial in our rapidly changing world. We don’t know what the future is going to entail but things are changing so quickly that I don’t think the past will be much help in predicting the future. Our hope is to create a resilient and strong family by learning ancient skills in living that we have forgotten, by re-wilding ourselves in thought and action, by knowing how to grow food and tend the land, by learning to build housing and by honoring our interconnectedness with the world. By learning how to provide for our own basic needs and encouraging others to do the same, I believe that we can create resilient communities that are self-supporting and that add to the world rather than take away from it. Another aspect of resilience is adaptability which very much includes the ability to think for oneself. I do not want to cultivate the mentality of a sheep, looking for a shepherd to follow. I would rather encourage free-thinking and inquiry as practices of adaptability and resilience. The ability to change with changing conditions and to bounce back from setbacks will be crucial in this rapidly changing world. Through building relationships, honing practical living skills, and tending the earth we can ensure that the world continues to take care of us, all of us, while we continue to take care of it.
There is so much more to say and not time enough to say it all. I hope that future letters will give you a window into my actions and the thinking, feeling and core values behind them. For now, simply know that I love you more deeply and widely than I knew was ever possible and that this love continues to grow each and every day!
Your Loving Papa
Written by David