Material Simplicity

Eileen Flanagan caught my attention after she left the most thought-provoking comment the other day on this blog. As the author of The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make A Change–and When to Let Go, she showed me so much gentleness and clarity. I got curious and asked to learn more about her. She mentioned she was a Quaker, a spiritual practice I briefly mention in The Power of Slow.

The End of Distraction

quakers“When Quakerism began in seventeenth century England,” she told me, “followers sought to center their lives on God and so tried to eliminate anything that might serve as a distraction.” We all know what distracts us today. Imagine living a life without it.

(Image from

“Today very few Quakers (or Friends) continue to dress in the manner associated with the Amish,” she reported, “but most agree that putting too much attention on having nice clothes or fancy possessions can distract you from what is most important. For many contemporary Quakers, concern about the environment and the global distribution of wealth are added reasons not to use more than we need.”

Simplicity at Home

Have you taken a good look at the contents of your refrigerator lately? I used to own way too many condiments until my in-laws recently moved in for two weeks. After they had left, the jars of indistinguishables disappeared with them. We haven’t replaced them and now there’s an airyness about the fridge like nobody’s business. Pretty inspiring.

The Quaker community has a meditative quality I really enjoy. I attended a service once in which we bathed in silence until one or two people spoke up. As Eileen states, “Many Quakers continue with the silent form of worship begun by early Friends. Worship usually lasts about an hour, but it’s not always silent. If during that time someone feels divinely inspired to offer a ‘message’, they may stand and speak. For me this hour to center is vitally important, especially after having children made my daily meditation practice more irregular and sometimes non-existent.”

Importance of Down Time

She agrees moments of down time are essential. Like my own family, she has instituted ‘quiet time’. As our kids have gotten older, we have found it increasingly difficult to enforce: soccer practice, friends, school, and music class seem to have butt in to what we used to cherish every day after lunch. It was easier when they were little and had fewer demands, I suppose.

“Our family sometimes has a ‘quiet time’ with our children before bed,” Eileen said. “Ten or fifteen minutes to snuggle on the couch in front of a candle–but given that Quakers are now part of the wider culture–with homework, soccer games, play practice, and the like–many of us struggle to live with simplicity and slowness in our daily lives.”

It seems no one is immune to today’s hectic pace of life.

Eileen said the “Quakers belief in waiting when we are not certain what is the right thing to do. As a congregation we seek to find ‘unity’ (similar to consensus, but not exactly the same). This process can be frustratingly slow, but often brings better results in the long term than rushing to a decision.”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, things happen all in good time. Letting go is a never-ending process. I appreciate Eileen’s notions and sacred message. We could all use a little more serenity in our day.


  1. Chel Avery

    June 27, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I saw this post because Eileen Flanagan linked to it on Facebook. This is a great subject to blog about! I have a quotation posted on my web page from a 1960s Quaker — am about to replace it, but would like to offer it here:


    Mildred Binns Young, 1966
    What Doth the Lord
    Require of Thee?
    Pendle Hill Pamphlet 145

    Sent by Chel Avery (

  2. Chel Avery

    June 27, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    phooey — my copy of the quotation did not survive transmission. Here it is again:

    Why with all our labor-saving devices and fast transport, are we so short of time? Is it because we are greedy of experience for its own sake?–to see more, go farther, earn more, learn more, than is feasible in one short lifetime? The human soul needs time, needs to take time, unless experience is to become mere accumulation, bearing bad fruit, like any other kind of ambition.

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