By Annette Hinkle
Maryann Calendrille, who will lead “Voluntary Simplicity,” a five-week workshop at Canio’s Cultural Café offered through the Northwest Earth Institute in Portland, Ore. The program begins in late January,
How would you define Voluntary Simplicity and the goals of the program?
I’ve come to think of it as a kind of outgrowth of the Slow Food movement, but it’s more pervasive in that it calls for an intentional choice about how we’re using resources, how we’re consuming things and how we’re spending our time.
What’s the basis of the program and how does it work?
It’s based on a book by Duane Elgin that came out in 1981 and was rereleased in 2010 — that’s where the phrase “Voluntary Simplicity” comes from. It’s moving toward a way of life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich. It addresses the many aspects of our life — personal, public, work life — and how we’re now really called upon to make conscious choices.
The concept is any community group can come together — say 8 to 12 people — and it’s a shared responsibility to move the course forward. Each participant volunteers to facilitate for one night during the five weeks. It’s a very democratic structure. There’s no hierarchy, no experts. We learn from the readings and they ask high quality questions. There are action plans, suggested ways of putting theory into practice. I found it thoughtful and high quality material.
What are some of the wider issues you expect to address in the workshop?
In terms of helping to develop awareness about choices we make, one of the goals for this movement is to create greater equality all over the planet. We consume more fuel and food than anywhere. This “slow living” — my botched phrase — is to make us aware. If we’re buying strawberries in January in the Northeast, where were they grown and how did they get here? What’s the cost? Is it healthy? Or a $2 pair of socks from China — what were the costs of making them? How does my choice here perpetuate a system that leaves other people at risk?
Another goal is to connect with others who are making changes and figure out what we can do in our corner of the world. We may not be able to do everything we want, but we can become more aware and see where we can make a shift. This is voluntary. It’s not compulsory. You do within reason what’s possible and seems manageable.
The big picture is in terms of global climate change and the exploitation of finite resources around the world. We really need to be living more mindfully to create a sustainable future. When [Elgin’s] book came out in the early ‘80s it may have been kind of a fad. But more and more people are realizing this is a better way to live and absolutely vital to a more sustainable world.
On a local level, is part of the simplicity focus just finding ways to reconnect personally with others in the community?
I’m not sure if it’s a distinctly East End phenomenon, but really making meaningful connections is difficult.
I think a lot of people are feeling stressed out by the constant call to be connected either on line, or available 24/7 via cellphone. I think people are exhausted by it and are missing the one-on-one conversation. There are pockets of people saying this is unhealthy, this is not progressive in any way and we need to create some new way of being together.
The first session of “Voluntary Simplicity” meets at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29 at Canio’s Cultural Café (290 Main Street, Sag Harbor) and runs five weeks. There is a $30 materials fee. Call 725-4926 to sign up.