Many of the vlogs and books I have seen are about living in extremes. I recently watched a video where a woman and man live in a small but extremely tidy house amongst forests with no electricity, gas or mains water. They do not use any modern appliances and even write with pens. Their house is filled with antique leather backed books. They cook in the only fireplace they have and wear clothes which look like they belong to the 18th century. This is great but if you have a job, live in the city, untidy children or pets, etc. how do you achieve this tranquility of an ‘Amish life’? Can we really live like this unless we have the backup of garden or forest from where we forage or grow food or have some passive income?
Bea Johnson who has written about the ‘Zero Waste’ life lives in an extremely large house which is very tidy but then it is large enough to absorb the stuff that her family has, so it looks very minimalist. I have many questions about her home- for instance, I see that she has two children but she only shows us the minimalist wardrobe of only one of them. But I am still inspired by her and think that she is doing a lot of good. Long before Bea Johnson started talking about her basic premise of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot, in my work I was using similar words except for the first and last ones. My basic premise for being ecological is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reward. In reality, Refuse is another aspect of ‘Reduce’. As far as ‘Rot’ is concerned, I do compost (and I will put a blog post on how to do this without buying a composter, worms or any other kit) but as I do not have a garden my composting is limited. But as I reduce the amount of food scraps or food waste to almost nothing, there is no need for composting. If everyone were to reduce their needs as well as their waste, we would not have the ecological problems we see today. We’d also be healthier by eating a little less and not stressing about paying for unnecessary things. By reward, I refer to little treats costing nearly nothing that comes with living a low impact life such as the joy of sharing a hot chocolate and having a laugh with friends and family, knowing that you have little to worry about. Reward could also be about complimenting or sending thanks to people or organisations that help you live a balanced and good life- and you never know, it might encourage them to do even better!
As I lead a very busy life, all the things I do had to be easy to do, cheap and available and needed to be self sustaining without much maintenance. So here comes the ‘Middle way’ which is for me is about living a good life with as little harm to others as possible. As long as we live, we are consuming and producing waste- lets not fool ourselves that a perfectly zero waste lifestyle is possible. Even a monk or a nun living in a monastery is producing waste and consuming things. There are so many Ted Talks with speakers holding up a trophy jar with bits of plastic and foil in it, who declare, ‘That’s my waste for the entire year!’ Really? That is not true- that person must have many other types of waste including bodily, food waste and other things that they’ve recycled or composted. That is the reality of human life- we create waste as part of our time on this planet. So lets just try our best to reduce it and be responsible for our own waste. There is a triangular relationship between our health, money and the environment. So if you walk a little bit more and use your car less, then you are saving money, improving your health and helping the environment- three benefits in one action. It is also good to remember this relationship with each decision making process that you take. So if you want to buy food, what is the kind of food that is healthy, good for the environment and also cheap? For me, buying an organic vegetable box every week for about £10 and making it last as long as possible is doing all the three things.
Tsunesaburo Makiguchi about whom I have written previously propounded the theory of ‘Value Creation’ i.e. what kind of values are we creating. Values, he said, were relative, not absolute- in other words, needs must as the phrase goes. According to Makiguchi, there were three ways of creating value for the individual and society- beauty, benefit and goodness. William Morris said, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ so here Makiguchi’s values of beauty and benefit (usefulness) have been covered. By ‘goodness’ Makiguchi meant sustainability or ecological values which Morris, perhaps as it was not relevant in his time, did not allude to. As Makiguchi’s values are always relative to the situation, there is no need to compete or do things in set way. As long as you are doing something, however small, it counts. You can then take small steps until you can expand to doing bigger things. There is no need to throw everything out as in extreme Japanese minimalism or talk to your socks if they spark joy in you (KonMari method). Just do things your way in the manner that gives you the best life without harming anything.
3 thoughts on “Basic principles of the Middle way”
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the ‘Middle Way’. I’d argue it’s where most environmentalists stand when it comes to waste and doing your their bit for the environment. Being more sustainable in life is about more than just limiting your impact on the environment, something I’m not sure a lot of people are truly aware of. I know it’s something I should be more aware of!
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Thank you, Mike. I agree with that sentiment. Deep in their hearts, everyone wants to do good but there is a lot of misinformation about what sustainability is which creates confusion. Also there are checks and balances in that process of being mindful about waste. For instance, once a year, I buy organic meat from a small farm because I want to support small businesses. However, that meat comes in a polystyrene box which cannot be recycled where I live. I tried to get them to change this policy but they say they can’t; and suggested that I could give box to someone to reuse. But no-one wanted it, and so it was lying my house for nearly a year until I gave it to someone who said that they will try to use it. However, I’m not sure if they have used it, my guess it probably went to landfill. So do I stop buying from this small supplier due to my hard stance on polystyrene? Do I start campaigning for polystyrene recycling in my local area? Or do I campaign to stop the use of polystyrene all together? Many things to think about.
Considering the social and economic importance and benefits of taking action on our environmental impacts is something people don’t do enough. With greater awareness of that I think a lot of people would be more willing to live a more sustainable lifestyle