(Reflections on Simplicity . . . )
One poignant story Mahel told me was a time of what he termed a “great spiritual awakening” for him. The story took place some years ago, before he immigrated to America. He had been a member in a party that trekked the Himalayas. As Mahel and his group were ending their trek, they arrived at a village at the base of the mountains. On the edge of this village was a huge swamp, a perpetual bog created by the constant run-off from a glacier on the face of the closest peak. A crowd of villagers stood at the edge of the swamp that particular day, intently watching something. They were motionless. As Mahel and his trekking companions moved closer to catch a glimpse of the curiosity that held these villagers spellbound, they saw a buffalo calf, stuck in the muddy swamp, struggling and bawling as the muck pulled it deeper and deeper under. The villagers stood motionless and silent, watching this struggling baby buffalo.
Mahel broke the silence and asked, “Why don’t you do something to help that poor animal?” The villagers responded, “There is nothing we can do. By tomorrow, this calf will be gone. Even its nose will slip under the mud of the swamp. It will be lost. It is so very sad.” Mahel was deeply disturbed by the cries of the helpless little buffalo and by the inaction of the Himalayan villagers. The villagers watched him, wide-eyed, as he unpacked his climbing ropes and walked far enough into the oozing, sucking mud to tie the ropes around the baby buffalo’s belly, just behind its front legs. With the assistance of one of his trekking companions, Mahel worked to slowly and ever so gingerly pull the creature out of the quagmire.
Once they had freed the animal, Mahel said it slowly rose on shaking legs and looked into his face. Its eyes met his for several long moments. In its gaze he swears he saw human eyes, and in those eyes was immense gratitude.
This experience profoundly changed Mahel’s life. He realized then and there that each of us are as helpless as we believe we are. The Himalayan villagers believed they were helpless to prevent the death of this little animal. For Mahel, the answer was obvious and simple. He believed he had power to bring about change. And he succeeded.
So what does Mahel’s story have to do with the message of living more simply? For me, the moral to Mahel’s parable of the buffalo calf is the key to successfully creating intentional changes in our life-styles: we are as helpless as we believe we are.
It is clear that in this generation, as we cross over into a new millennium, we face a pivotal time in human affairs. There is increasing consensus among diverse groups of professionals, scientists, and activists that current levels and patterns of growth are simply not sustainable. Let’s look briefly at several broad global projections, where three driving trends illustrate our dilemma:
- Within a generation (roughly by the year 2030) we will add another 3 billion people to this planet’s population.
- By that time, world reserves of cheaply accessible oil are expected to be completely depleted.
- In addition, the climate on Earth is expected to become even more variable due to such things as the greenhouse effect.
Without cheap petroleum to provide the pesticides and fertilizers that support high-yield agriculture, and with the prospect of disrupted food production due to climate instability at the very time that we have increased our population by 3 billion, the likelihood of massive famines and global civil unrest looms large. When many other known trends are factored into this equation—such as ozone depletion, rain forest destruction, massive loss of natural wetlands, soil erosion, pollution of the planet’s saltwater bodies and fresh water fisheries—it becomes clear that we as a species simply cannot continue on our current path of growth and consumption, but must fundamentally restructure our way of living and consuming.
This may all sound just a little overwhelming and discouraging, but it is not my intention to incite fear by passing along these projections. Just like Mahel’s exchange with the Himalayan villagers, I strive to allow the struggling baby buffalo calf to be observed, and then I ask: “Why don’t we do something?” So many times, the villagers up and down the West Coast respond to me, saying, “There is so little we can do that will make any difference now. By the time our children are grown, it will all be gone. It will be lost. It is so very sad.”
But I truly believe there is hope. I am unapologetically an idealist in my work to reduce consumption and reconnect individuals with true meaning in their lives. I believe that each of us can take steps to live in balance. We can take steps to walk more lightly on the Earth—while at the same time giving more back to humanity and achieving a deeper sense of personal fulfillment. We can learn to take no more than we need, and at the same time, give fully of ourselves. I believe with all my heart that when individuals change their lives, they collectively have the power to change the world.
All blessings to you as we journey together, Fellow Travelers.
Carolyn Berry lives with her family in Salem, Oregon. She is a multi-faceted speaker and presenter with a passion for teaching workshops on life simplification and authenticity. She can be reached at (503) 391-1922 or by email.