Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Milly Molly Mandy

You hear the term everywhere: simple living - but what is simple living? As with most things, I'm not sure there is a set definition or list of rules. Let me illustrate. I have neighbours who consider their allotment garden to be a big part of their approach to simple living. Yet a vegetable garden, with its constant need for TLC, would surely have me biting my fingers to the bone. No one's fooling me: I've read Nigel Slater's Tender, I know how much work goes into a fruit 'n veg patch. My point is that simple living means different things to different people.  It's quite a personal affair. So all I can do is try to explain what it means to me.

At the beginning of 2011, I found myself in a constant web of stress. I had baby daughter N and three-year-old son S and had just started working again after a period of pregnancy leave. Although to the outside world I seemed to be functioning well, my inner world was one of chaos and turmoil. I felt the weight of responsibility pressing down on me at all hours of the day and night. People seemed to be tugging at me constantly, at home and at work; there was no getting away from it. In short: life was complicated.

Something I'd always loved doing was reading in bed before turning out the light. But with my mind so exhausted, I found myself unable to read novels. Then by some stroke of luck I picked up a book I hadn't laid eyes on since childhood: The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook. What ensued was some secret reading in the early hours of the evening. I felt that if I mentioned to anyone that I was engrossed in a children's book they would think I was losing my marbles, but the truth is I was simply drawn to it. A lot like magic. It was as if the book was urging me to read it so it could teach me something.

And teach me something it did - because believe me, if ever there was a children's book about simple living, Milly Molly Mandy**is it. First of all, it put me back in touch with feelings I had long forgotten. Feelings of nourishment. Of calm and safety. I was seeking shelter in M-M-M's world, where joy is found in the simple and ordinary. In baking, in visiting a friend or a great-aunt in another village, in sitting by the stove in your pyjamas eating a jacket potato, in helping thatch a roof (really), in making jam. I was reminded that life is not only something to be coped with, but something to be enjoyed and savoured. I knew I still had a long path to walk, but that this book was pointing me in the right direction.

So what then, is my definition of simple living? It is appreciating what is here already and not constantly desiring more. It is in seeking moderation in all areas - including work. It is in doing my best to be present in everything I do. It is keeping the craziness of our consumer-oriented society at bay. It is seeking contentment in small, daily things. In short: it is being in sync with who I am and what I do.

To be clear, I have by no means mastered the art of simple living. There are times when I make a jolly mess of things - usually when I do or want too much. But I'm working at it and enjoying the journey. Like everything else in life, it is a work in progress.

Enough said: let me turn off my pc, put on some sturdy shoes, go for a walk and do a bit of bird-watching.

**For those of you who are not familiar with the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, Sue at The Quince Tree has a lovely post on the book(s) very much worth looking at.

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