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Niki Collins-Queen

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Blogs by Niki Collins-Queen

The joy of ordinariness
3/12/2010 2:16:10 PM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

William Powers' memoir “Twelve by Twelve: A One-room Cabin Off the American Grid and Beyond the American Dream” is an intimate account of his journey to find answers to the questions: “Why would a successful physician choose to live in a twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot cabin without running water or electricity in rural North Carolina?”and “How can we learn to live in harmony with each other and nature?”
Dr. Jackie Benton (not her real name), a mother, peace activist and “wisdomkeeper” who mostly lives off the produce from her permaculture farm, struck Powers as someone who had achieved self-mastery in confusing times. To avoid war taxes (fifty cents out of every dollar goes to the Pentagon) she accepts only eleven thousand dollars instead of the three hundred thousand she could make as a senior physician.
Powers needing a way out of despair from a separation from his young daughter and a decade of challenging international aid work accepted Jackie's offer to stay in her cabin next to No Name Creek for a season while she traveled.
He said Jackie's 12 X 12 and her unique approach to living in todays world seemed full of clues toward living lightly and artfully. He hoped it would help him learn to think, feel and live another way.
Having worked in Africa and South America Powers asked Jackie how we can stop the northern economies pillage of the Global South's forests, mines and oceans. He later came to synthesize Jackie's vision as “see, be, do.” Before acting on a problem we must “BE.” Take time in solitude to reflect, meditate or pray. Only when we SEE with clarity can we act (“DO”) fearlessly. Powers says this blending of inner peace with loving action is sometimes called God, intuition, the “still small voice,” grace or presence. He knew Jackie was right, “The world's problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness at which they were created.”
At first it was difficult for Powers to live without a shower and toilet in the 12 X 12. He said Jackie did not leave an “Idiot's Guide.” However, as the weeks passed in the 12 X 12 he found a deeper appreciation for the preciousness of water and the natural world. He said, “Instead of listening with one ear, as I sometimes do when faced with deadlines, with multitasking, I used both ears. Real listening is prayer.”
Jackie's instructions were to “simply sit” and “to not do, be.” Her stack of hand written cards with sayings or questions like “The Strenuous Contours of Enough, Trade Knowledge for Bewilderment” and “Simplify”
brought him into mindfulness and deepened his daily life. She said earlier, “The joy of simplifying one's material life is you don't have to work long hours to buy and maintain a bunch of stuff.”
Concerning anger Jackie advised, “When you become so enmeshed with the fullness of nature, of Life, that your ego dissolves, emotions like resentment, anger, and fear have no place to lodge...you still feel these emotions but more like a dull thud against the mind...When you see worthiness, praise it. And when you see unworthiness, trace it. Don't judge. Trace anything you don't like in someone else back to their unique history; then trace it back to yourself because anything you dislike in others is somewhere in you.”
Jackie's “wildcrafter” life and her eclectic neighbors of organic farmers, biofuel brewers and eco-developers helped Powers synthesize the wisdom of indigenous people. Their idea is not to live better but to live well: friends, family, healthy body, fresh air and water, enough food and peace. To ask what is enough? To see how genuine well-being is not linked to material possessions and productivity.
Powers' chapter on “Noise and War” reminds us that humans have slaughtered one hundred million of our species in twentieth-century wars. Powers fears America with its massive military industrial complex with 721 official military bases in foreign countries, and over one thousand unofficially, has chosen empire over democracy.
Powers and Jackie's story show how we can reshape ourselves in the face of globalization. We can decide what get globalized: consumption or compassion, selfishness or solidarity, war or peace.
Their penetrating insights offer clues for a smaller footprint, the joy of ordinariness and a more meaningful life.


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More Blogs by Niki Collins-Queen
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Recipes for Survival: Stories of Hope and Healing. by Karen Wilson

This book is about surviving some of the most difficult childhood experiences imaginable...  
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