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Reflections on Simplicity

A sadness fell on me over the weekend – I realized that I had reached the half-way point in my Eva Koch study scholarship. I had to remind myself to focus on each moment in the day, and not hook into the recognition that there must come a point when I leave.

It is an immersive experience being here at Woodbrooke. You are part of this loose but close-knit community, whose membership ebbs and flows as courses and conferences come and go. There is the constant backbone of the staff and tutor teams, alongside volunteer teams who help in the garden and in welcoming and looking after guests. I have met so many interesting people, including some who simply wanted a different type of Bed and Breakfast for a business commitment in Birmingham.

You feel like an old hand here when you have seen several changes in the rota of Friends in Residence (FIRs!). But the whole is held together by the rhythm of the days: a half-hour Meeting for Worship after breakfast, coffee and tea breaks with home-made biscuits, mealtimes with wonderfully wholesome and imaginative food and a bell to request a moment of silence for thankfulness, Epilogue in the evening where we enjoy fifteen minutes of silence and reflection.

The rhythms of this place remind me of Celtic spirituality; of the focus on the spiritual connectedness of work and nature and community.

There are four Eva Koch scholars staying here this summer. We form our own ‘community within a community’ and it is a joy to get to know others who are immersed in their own fields of study. We have got to the point where we can break down in giggles together and make risky jokes (not at all a Quakerly thing, surely?). We are knitted into our little research community by a support network of tutors and meetings. We will be sharing our work soon in an open presentation for those who wonder what these weird wandering researchers are actually doing with their time.

When I started this blog post I had intended to tell you a little about my work – about the research I am doing into the Quaker testimony of simplicity and what it means to people today. I find that the work is less important than the process, and that I am learning to listen to the leadings God gives me from within and to be patient in allowing them to come to fruition in their own time.

Along the way, my research has involved conducting one-to-one interviews with 26 people, and these, alone, have been a revelation. The connections I have felt, and the openness and honesty people have entrusted to me, have really moved me. Many people thanked me and said how much the interviews had shifted and opened up things in their own lives. It is a two-way process – this research, this simplicity thing.

Eventually I will have written six articles for The Friend magazine and to be used as blog posts later, and I will have designed workshops and a weekend course. People have shared with me things that have inspired them in their thinking about simplicity – books, and blogs, and hobbies, and podcasts, and websites, and poetry, and even cookery suggestions – so I will also have an inspiring Resource List to offer people. You may have guessed by now that I might need a little more than my six weeks here to complete everything!

It is a joy, being here, and I am trying to be truly present to the gift I’ve been given. I wish you similar blessings in your own lives.

MAD MOMENT…

Joining a wonderful Five Rhythms dance course and dancing the wave through ‘Chaos’ with calf muscles that felt like someone had tightened them in a torture device!

MARVEL MOMENT…

During the same dance course: the intense peace of a walking meditation through the labyrinth; dancing outside on the grass with the sun shining down on us; the simple and deep connection that I developed with the other participants on the course.

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© Anne de Gruchy

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Experiencing Woodbrooke in Photographs

So here I am, investigating the Quaker testimony of simplicity at the wonderful Woodbrooke study centre. I am deep in interviews and books and writing and research. I am also deep in peace and goodwill and greenery. So here is a quirky tour by photograph…

* The beautiful sculpture of a Quaker Meeting by Peter Peri. *

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* On the first evening we held a Meeting for Worship and vigil to uphold those in parliament who were making the decision about the renewal of Trident. We sat in a circle and these candles formed a centre and focus. *

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* The terrace alongside the garden lounge at night – there are wonderful words of wisdom etched on the windows and doors of the garden lounge. *

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* I don’t have to worry about missing my cat too much… *

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* The rose arch looks even better in the dark. *

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* A Friend-in-Residence allowed me to photograph her emerging flower arrangement. *

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* Wow! Looking back at the main building in thirty degrees of sunshine and flower meadow. *

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* The anti-torture garden has a beautiful statue, and wirework… *

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* …with flowers winding through. *

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* The walled garden is full of vegetables, and fruit, and herbs, and… nasturtiums.  Three watering cans make an imaginative water cascade. *

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* I met a member of the gardening team carefully clipping the Cloud Hedge.  There are so many beautiful trees – even a dead branch brings beauty. *

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* Stepping stones across the stream – exploring the woodland beyond the lake. *

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* Word Labyrinth in the Garden Lounge. There is a grass version you can walk outside. *

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© Anne de Gruchy with thanks to Woodbrooke

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Saturated in Simplicity

Recently I have been saturated in simplicity.

You may remember an earlier blog post of mine where I looked at the challenges that the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity posed in my life. Check out: https://annedegruchy.co.uk/2015/12/07/the-challenge-of-simplicity/ if you are interested. As Quakers we are encouraged:

Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?

Quaker Faith & Practice – Advices & Queries 1.02.41

‘How should I act?’ I asked myself in my previous post, as I pondered my ownership of more than my fair share of the earth’s resources.

Of course God listens to us, and, because I try to listen to what God is giving to me, I found my answer. The very next day after my blog post, a Quaker Facebook Friend – someone who I have not met personally – posted a link to the Quaker study centre at Woodbrooke in Birmingham and their Eva Koch Scholarship programme. ‘Could this be for you?’ she asked.

I checked it out: The opportunity to spend six weeks over the summer in the beautiful surroundings of Woodbrooke researching a topic of interest and benefit to Quakers; the chance to be part of the Woodbrooke community and to form a small research community with the other Eva Koch scholars for that year; the possibility of applying to study simplicity in an imaginative way and to share the outcomes with others.

‘Ah but,’ the niggly part of my brain said. What about dad? What about looking for a job? What if you actually get a deal on your new novel and need to go and visit agencies or publishers? What if you are depressed and can’t cope with the work?

‘Listen; be still,’ the better part of me said. And it was clear to me that this was something that I should apply for.

Since then, I have been reading and thinking a lot about simplicity. I have begun to find the connections between spiritual simplicity and the more obvious questions of ownership and stewardship. I have spoken to many people for whom these issues chime and challenge and who are keen to talk to me further. The implications of simplicity spread wide – from the need to pay attention (to be mindful) in everything we do, to the management of time and possessions, to the question of how to reduce the complexities of technology in our lives. Then there are other people to consider – our families and friends who may be affected by our choices. It is not a simple thing I have got myself into!!

And yes, I was successful with my Eva Koch Scholarship application. I feel like God’s hand was there guiding it along the way. My sister assured me that she would be available to dad during the period of the scholarship, and my assigned tutor has been very supportive and understanding that dad’s needs might disrupt my time of study. It is beginning to feel real and I have already conducted some interviews with people. I can see that the time will go very fast.

It is also a time of change for me. A pivotal point in my year between the completion of my third novel and the possibility that I may need to look for paid employment again if I am unsuccessful in placing it.

What better way to refocus than through the eyes of simplicity? As North Carolina Yearly Meeting said in 1983, simplicity ‘…must still be seen as a testimony against involvement with things that tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity.’ (Quaker Faith & Practice 20.27).

Let’s vote for lives of meaning and richness instead.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: Quaker Service Memorial      annedegruchy.co.uk image: Simplicity Carving

MAD MOMENT…

The Channel Island connections keep on coming! One of the people who kindly volunteered to provide accommodation in London for me during this year’s Yearly Meeting (Quakerly business gathering) was born on Jersey where my father’s family has its roots. My surname is always a giveaway and starts many a conversation.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Attending a special Meeting for Worship to remember conscientious objectors at the Quaker Service Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum. Sunshine, the sound of birdsong, rustling trees, and a deep sense of calm.

© Anne de Gruchy