Mindfulness: The Doorway to Simple Living

Mark A. Burch has just published a new Simplicity Institute Report, called ‘Mindfulness: The Doorway to Simple Living.’ I’ve posted a short section below and the full essay is available here

Also, before I leave you with Mark’s fine essay, I’ve been contacted by two different writers seeking interviewees for their own work on simple living. First, Rebecca Butterworth is writing an article for “Women’s Health Magazine,” and she would like to interview women who are living simply. If you would be willing to speak with her please email her (soon) at:  

Secondly, Jane Genovese is seeking interviewees in Western Australia who are living simply. If that sounds like you and would be happy to be interviewed, please email Jane at 

Mindfulness: The Doorway to Simple Living

Mark A. Burch

The term “mindfulness” has a specific meaning and has only recently been incorporated into narratives about simple living as such. It is clear, however, that for those passionate about voluntary simplicity, there has always been more involved than mere material minimalism—though reducing material baggage is certainly an important aspect of the practice. Some contemporary writers about simplicity seem to think of it as little more than a spate of Spring house cleaning. But in the lives of those inclined to drill deep and suck out all of simplicity’s sweetness, a transformation of consciousness has also been involved. The physical changes that come into our lives are often preceded and organized by some prior psychological, and sometimes spiritual, change of perspective. Charles Wagner, a 19th century Alsatian writer about simple living described it this way:

No class has the prerogative of simplicity; no dress, however humble in appearance, is its unfailing badge. Its dwelling need not be a garret, a hut, the cell of the ascetic, nor the lowliest fisherman’s bark. Under all the forms in which life vests itself…there are people who live simply, and others who do not. We do not mean by this that simplicity betrays itself in no visible signs, has not its own habits, its distinguishing tastes and ways; but this outward show, which may now and then be counterfeited, must not be confounded with its essence and its deep and wholly inward source. Simplicity is a state of mind. (emphasis in original) (Wagner, 1903)

In consumer culture, people can bring good humour and a spirit of camaraderie to parting with material possessions, especially if this arises from some sort of trauma or catastrophe. But such events are viewed as temporary setbacks from which we hope soon to return to the pursuit of a consumerist way of life. Enduring loss because we must is quite different from deliberately cultivating a shift in how we see the world, what we desire for ourselves, how we feel about our relationships, and how we live our daily lives. This shift in worldview is something I think is fundamental to living a joyful, fulfilling simplicity in some approximation to a life-sustaining symbiosis with the rest of nature. We don’t arrive at this point of view simply by choosing to change our minds. We can choose, however, to cultivate practices which effectively change our minds for us.

Richard Gregg, the originator of the phrase “voluntary simplicity”, writing in 1936, went so far as to suggest that an inner transformation of consciousness is both prior to and essential for making progress toward simple living. It is from a transformed awareness that new social forms and institutions evolve to change the course of history:

“…the way to master the increasing complexity of life is not through more complexity. The way is to turn inward to that which unifies all—not the intellect but the spirit, and then to devise and put into operation new forms and modes of economic and social life that will truly and vigorously express that spirit. As an aid to that and as a corrective to our feverish over-mechanization, simplicity is not outmoded but greatly needed.”  (Gregg, 1936: 17)

Many other similar examples could be cited from the simplicity literatures of several centuries and a diversity of cultures, but these examples should suffice to illustrate an important connection between simple living and a transformation of consciousness which for many is both its driver and its effect. But what is this transformation exactly and what role does it play in voluntary simplicity?

The full essay can be downloaded here.

2 Responses to “Mindfulness: The Doorway to Simple Living”

  1. SJ says:

    Thanks very much to Mark for writing this and Samual for making it available.
    Remarkably insightful work.
    It shines warm light upon a road that I have been embarking upon.

  2. Joseph says:

    Simplisity starts with the heart.It must be satisfied- accept the situation.BEING RICH IN HEART!!

  3. […] are endless blogs on simple living, mindful living, minimalism and other related views on living more gently and sustainably. Some address the […]

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