Will You Walk with Me?

Since I started this Savor & Serve experiment, I’ve been running away from two hairy questions.

I look over my shoulder at them frequently, then, just as quickly, look away.

I don’t want to ask these questions.

I don’t want to write about them.

But you know what?

We aren’t going to ask them from the heavy “the world is on my shoulders” iron manacles of fear place. Nor from the Chicken-Little hyper-aroused must-save-the-world-now place either.

No, brothers and sisters, we will not do that.

Because when we ask with heaviness and fear, we hurtle into the abyss of despair and end up eating chips on the sofa and watching Hoarders or we get busy busy busy running running running and we forget we are part of the whole.

Instead, let’s walk together and create a better story.

C’mon on, walk with me and help me consider, with lightness and love and curiosity:

How much money do I want to give away rather than spend on things I don’t really need but I do really want? (and does that include the new rugs I want so badly?)


What is a truly sustainable way for our family to live? (cause if everyone alive consumed the same resources as Americans, we would need 9 planets)

Be in these questions with me.

How do we dance with our desires and face into the very good arguments Utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer offers?

(I don’t agree with Mr. Singer that we should give away everything we earn about $30,000. I’m not willing – how is that for honest! – and the world economy would nosedive and the very people who need help would starve faster. But I also refuse to ignore his ideas out of hand, even though he owns two houses.)

How do we live within the means of our planet? (Check out this info for a quick starter.

Can you walk with me while I consider these questions? Because community is the only way I see for us to create a better story.

Will you share with me what you do to live into these questions?

Will you share with me what you don’t want to do?

I would consider that a sacred blessing and a glorious way to savor & serve.

P.S. Please do not tell me global warming is not real and if you do believe in “abundance for all” will you please please tell me where the other 8 planets are going to come from? I really want to know.








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Jennifer Mackerras - June 22, 2011

Wow, what big questions!

Giving money away is part of what we do as a Christian family. Our income has just reduced, but I’m trying to cut down on our spending, not our giving. We’ll see how it goes.

What I do to avoid spending money on wants not needs: I don’t go shopping. I realised one day, when walking around my regional shopping mall, that looking at all the pretty things made me want them, and that the wanting made me feel sad and unfulfilled. So I stopped going to the mall, except when absolutely necessary (like when my son’s trousers are too short overnight!).

How to live lightly and sustainably: my family made the decision to shop locally as far as possible. We buy a lot of our groceries in bulk from a local co-op – it cuts down on the food miles and cuts out the supermarket for the most part. The downside is that our house is filled with sacks of flour and rolled oats!

What I won’t give up: the car. I know it pollutes. Fuel is ruinously expensive here in England. But I love my car. I love the convenience. I love not getting wet on the school run.

I can’t wait to hear new tips and ideas from others. Thank you for giving us this space to share.

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Jennifer these Are great and I’m with you on the not shopping! And also not reading magazines helps me.

Andi - June 22, 2011

Wow!  Discovered you through Twitter through Magpie Girl.  Love how you’ve written this.  I’ll be back in later to read more.  

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Thanks Andi.

Moyra - June 22, 2011

this is very poignant. sometimes it seems to be truly green we need to  – well do things like not use toilet paper or flushing loos  as they use up too many resources.  And I love travel too, and we all know that is bad.  I guess the answer is do what you can.  and also vote accordingly.  am proud to say that Brighton has the UK’s first ever Green MP.  And bless her she really does work at her job.  Lobbying like crazy.  Its hard when the ‘money’ is not at all interested and just thinks to look after itsself.  maybe you could buy rugs that are eco friendly?  Or you could consume more consiously.  see the beauty in simple things and spend your cash on greening your home?  anyway, i can see the difficulty, but I always think doing something is better than doing nothing.  in the very, very long run the planet will not be here at all and we are just a blip in time.  doesn’t mean you can’t try.  its always good to be a force for good in the world. and if you are not that strong or forceful, back up someone who is.

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Moyra thank you this is helpful. We are buying eco rugs and just did a lot to green our house but yes more to consider!

Rachelle Mee-Chapman - June 22, 2011

This is the nitty gritty question we need to start exploring for ourselves and our families, isn’t it? I talk a lot about finding a “right-fit’ spirituality for each of us. Figuring out how to live sustainably–with charity and equity for all — is a core part of that discovery process.
I totally admire people who live with 100 things or less, or who give up their salary for a year. But if that is the only model we have to follow, it can stop us in our tracks by its radical nature. You can tell by the way those folks glow that radical approaches are right-fit for them. But what is right fit for y.o.u.?
Experimentation helps a lot. I’ve learned a lot about my true needs by going a year without buying new clothes, living for a time without a car, and not buying anything new for the house for a season. These were challenging enough for me to learn something new, and to test my assumptions about “need’. And because they were time limted they didn’t feel scary or overly radical. Each of these experiments shifted my spending and giving habits toward a more sustainable way of living (environmentally, economically, and emotionally!)
I also like the old-fashioned idea of tithing. Even after leaving church, we still give a percentage of our income away. As our income increases, so does the percentage. (It’s called “graduated tithing.”) I have a chronic illness and can’t donate a lot of my time, so I compensate by giving financially — since that is an option for our household, and it’s ‘right fit’ for us.
I can’t wait to hear how others are finding ‘right fit’ ways to live sustainably and charitably! Thanks for starting the conversation Jen.

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    In.spiring and well said!

Elizabeth - June 22, 2011

I think about this a lot, often, it turns out, while doing something that involves water or driving. I think it’s because the things that would be the hardest for me to limit or restrict involve water and driving. The hard of the water is more that it seems to require a sort of mindfulness that I feel very far from reaching.

Dancing between need and want seems so tricky. There is so little I really need. At the same time, buying things I truly love that will add beauty to my world is also a way of supporting the people who create those things of beauty – and if I only bought things I needed, and we all did, what would happen to the people who create beauty? It almost seems like I need to think about what “need” means to me – for me, I think beauty is a need – and make sure that when I spend on needs, I am doing so consciously. And when I do things consciously, I spend a lot less, and give a lot more, and I am probably much happier. I guess it’s a practice.

(These are more fun to consider when doing so with lightness and love and curiosity. 🙂

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Thanks Elizabeth for saying beauty is a need – for me too but then I think that is not the same need as eating for someone else. then I think about exactly what you said, shat would happen to people who create beauty? Conscious aNd curious ND being willing to be uncomfortable is helping.

Tim Brownson - June 22, 2011

Wow that 9 planet stat blew me away. Delighted I’m not American so I can blame it on you guys 😉

Although if I’m being honest, I suspect us Brits are just as bad.

I’m so unmotivated by money it’s stupid. As long as I can pay the bills at the end of the month and afford the basics I’m as happy as that man Larry.

OTOH, I didn’t used to be like that when I worked in sales. then it was all about the money until I realized that it actually didn’t make me happy at all.  I was lucky I got that message because I think most people go through their entire lives never fully internalizing the fact that money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Yes you Brits are. 🙂 and Tim what about those of who don’t care about making a lot of Money but still know we need to live far lighter, and give more? Any wisdom?

      Tim Brownson - June 22, 2011

      My ‘wisdom’ fwiw, is that we’ll will never change things more that superficially until we change people attitudes towards money and it seems that everybody ‘gets’ that money doesn’t buy happiness… they just get it for everybody else and not for themselves.

      When I see the NFL owners and players bickering for months over how to share $9,000,000,000 I lose a little bit of faith that we can change things any time soon.

      I hope we can, but I’m not so sure.

      Not so wise after all 😉

        jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

        I think that is wise. I spend so little time in the mainstream world, I really do forget how greedy and silly people are. Money is the fundamental shift! Or is it greed?

          Tim Brownson - June 23, 2011

          It’s neither, it’s fear.

          Fear that others will have more, fear that we’ll miss out, fear that we wont get our ‘share’ etc


          Evan - June 23, 2011

          I think desire and fear can both be unhelpful.  I also think some of the rules around money need altering – a recent financial crisis makes this plain I think.

    Michele Lisenbury Christensen - June 23, 2011

    Was just speaking about this with a client today, Tim:  in sales… and in many organizational contexts… where there’s inadequate intrinsic motivation around the work, the culture, the aim of the organization… where there aren’t enough strokes from one another or a strong enough sense that the work we do is Good Work that benefits others and the way we’re growing in the work is making us better human beings… The human tendency is to latch onto EXTRINSIC motivation – namely, money.  And that becomes its own treadmill:  I’m not happy in my job or on my team or with this company, but it pays well and it’d better pay even better, ’cause I’ve gotta get that _____ to compensate myself for the misery I go through every day.  But it doesn’t offer satisfying recompense.  

    Great leaders are helping their people (and I’m helping those leaders) unhook from the ego-velcro their salaries/bonuses provide, so that they don’t have to earn/spend from such a hungry-ghost, bottomless-pit kind of place.

    As a self-employed person, though, I find I often live simply for many months and then when I make more beyond those “basics” – it’s not just saving and giving that I devote the abundance toward… there’s some pent-up yearning I want to satisfy.  There ARE niceties that turn my head.  In a lifetime where contribution and easing my harshness with myself are twin stars in the firmament of my soul-work, it’s often difficult to discern the appropriate – the authentic, the most life-affirming – choice.  

    To your point, Jen:  when is the yearning for the rugs self-indulgent and when is it self-nourishment that can then be translated into more fulgent service to others (or simply, service through self-contained contentment)?   Heavy-handed black-and-white approaches (e.g.:  “I should give all I can and curtail my wants” or “I am entitled to all I wish and when my wishes are fulfilled, THEN I’ll be more generous with others”) have consistently sent me into wild oscillation, so I’m fumbling my way toward a sensitive, prayerful, wisdom-driven day-by-day approach to these questions.

    Thanks for the opportunity to wrassle with these immensities!

      jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

      You are brilliant. Will you write a guest post about this?. Please???

Charlie Gilkey - June 22, 2011

I’ve taught Singer’s ethics to many a college student. Few people – I believe, even Singer himself – get to the $30k mark, but I believe that it changes the way people think, for the better.

I’m much more in line with Thomas Pogge, who convincingly shows that it’s a 2% shift of resources from the richest 10% to the poorest 90% that will dramatically end world poverty as we know it.

2%. That’s not the rug. It’s not even a coffee day for most of us.

Yes, we could give more, but that’s what we ethicists like to call a supererogatory act: good, but not required. From my view, it’s better that we all give 2% than for us all to reject the notion that we should give 70% and do nothing.

Part of what we do is actively find ways to get rid of “valuable” Stuff and donate it to the resources that give to the most resource-impoverished. And then there’s donations, which we don’t talk a lot about for reasons I’ll not get into.

From my view, the biggest way we contribute, though, is through using our platform to spread awareness. Like here: http://www.productiveflourishing.com/teach-girls-end-world-poverty/.

$100 is nice. $100 + encouraging others to care and act in ways that fit them? Infinitely more valuable.

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    I knew you would know Singer. Okay, so does this mean we need to actively work to get 10% to give 2% of their total income? But in the meantime, we don’t want to fall into not giving more than our 2% just bec they are not, right?

      Charlie Gilkey - June 22, 2011

      As Americans, we’re part of the richest 10%. Even our levels of poverty – down to homeless people – live better than many of the poorest.

      But in the meantime, we don’t want to fall into not giving more than our 2% just bec they are not, right?

      Statistics aside, I think if we focus on the 2% plus more general advocacy, we’d be better off than say, you, trying to give 15% to make up for everyone else. It’s the collective pool that weighs in much more than the individual pool.

      Unless, of course, you’re part of the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people who own the majority of the wealth. You and I combined and multiplied by 1,000 wouldn’t get us in that list.

        lainehmann - July 7, 2011

        Where do we give it so it’s actually doing good versus causing more problems? 

          jenniferlouden - July 7, 2011

          Hey friend, great ? worth writing a few posts about me thinks. Miss you!

    Molly Gordon - June 23, 2011

    Yes! Much more do-able, sustainable, and realistic. Not to mention viral!

Laura Healy - June 22, 2011

I so want to create a better story. We are a one car family and even this gets dicey and hard to balance sometimes. We do everything we can to live a smaller is better life and are as green as we can swing in our community.

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Me too and glad we are in this together!

renee.cramer - June 22, 2011

Oh I appreciate these questions! They are things my family struggles with.  We currently tithe 2% of our income to two different organizations that help people in need.  This is the first time, though, in five years, that both of us have been fully employed, and … so tired from cutting things so close, we are joyfully using the little margin that we have, to buy some things we WANT.  We feel a bit guilty about it.  And we used to feel SO self-righteous about how we didn’t buy “slave labor” or only “shopped local” or “went without so others could have” you know, “lived simply so others could simply live.”  Right now, we’re simply trying to watch ourselves want things, watch ourselves get some of the things we want, and not get many of the things we want, meet our basic needs, help others financially and by opening our home and hearts to them, trying not to be either guilty or self-righteous.  Hoping that we will find ways to walk softly on the earth in solidarity with everyone else.  Open to that possibility, while also being unwilling, as you so bravely put it, to go to some extremes.

Anonymous - June 22, 2011

I will totally walk with you on this Jen. 🙂 We are having these very conversations at my house. Trying to include a 9 year old in them is a bit challenging but I think incredibly necessary (well, except for the 9 planet thing!).

Glad to know that I’m not alone on this journey. 🙂


Jen Lemen - June 22, 2011

i’d like to start with giving away $30K a year.  how’s that?

Interruption Nico - June 22, 2011

I do not feel I can answer the question concerning how much money should we give away with a certain amount or a certain percentage.  While I do believe we should all give something, it will be different for each individual/family.  We need to look into our hearts and give from the heart.  If what we think we can give monetarily does not seem to be enough for us, then we can give of our time and service, which are also greatly needed for all charities.  There is a saying that ‘charity begins at home’.  Some of us are facing the problem of having adult children who cannot find a job or have been layed off from their job.  In this case, I think we need to focus our charity on them, so they can get back on their feet. 
We all need to learn to live within our means and not have the mindset of instant gratitification.  It seems to me that the younger generation has a sense of entitlement; also a sense that they want ‘all’, now.  They want the big home, the nice cars, etc.  It was different when I left home.  We started off poor and worked our way up. 
Sorry  to  be rambling!! 

Susannah Conway - June 22, 2011

An hour ago i put my recycling box out in the street ready for it to be collected tomorrow morning, and I was pleased to see that all my neighbours had done the same; it gives me hope that we are all trying to do our best, even in the little ways. if everyone does their bit we can make great change happen; it all starts by being aware of what we do, moment-to-moment. Living more *awake*

I live in a small flat and don’t own a car; i try to do as little damage to the world as possible. My wee business is supporting me, and being able to pay my bills without sweating about it is such a joy — and a relief, because it hasn’t always been this way. I give to charities i believe in, and i enjoy sharing my money with my family (i’ll admit it — i spoil my nephew :), with my friends (lunch is on me!) and reinvesting my earnings into other small businesses by supporting fellow artists and writers. I try not to buy “stuff” just for the sake of it — 80% of the furniture in my home is vintage/secondhand.

I guess my greatest indulgence is book buying, both paper books and ebooks for my Kindle. My new idea is to give away a book each time i buy a new one, either to a friend or to a charity shop. i like to think i’m recycling wisdom

FaberUna - June 22, 2011

Wonderful discussion. We are who we choose to be, even if we can’t control everything about our existence.  When I decided to downsize, I realized that my contribution may seem small, but the ripple is huge. My love for the earth and for my fellow man cannot be diminished by the selfishness of others. While I firmly believe that human governments cannot and will not solve our biggest problems, I refuse to believe that my contribution is meaningless. 

Roxanne - June 22, 2011

Jen, your talking about living a better story reminded me of one of my favorite books on the intersection between life and storytelling: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I think you’d love it if you have not already read it; it is the story of a writer who has to turn his book into a movie and, in the process, realizes he needs to both tell and live a good story. 

I am pondering your questions and will come back to answer them. Thank you for always asking the difficult and important ones.

jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

Thanks Kylie for walking with me. There isn’t an answer for sure and it’s so vital to feel safe. If we aren’t safe and resources we cant do much. Thank you!

jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

Thank you yes yes yes!

jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

Jane, thank you! This is so helpful – honest and messy and yes, it involves living with other people. Huge part Of this. Thank you for raising these questions.

jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

Beautiful and yes I’m with you on libraries and farmer’s market and yes feeling free and in alignment so important.

jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

I love you baby.

Pace - June 22, 2011

Hi, my name is Pace, and I am an addict.

I am addicted to central air.

I am addicted to video games.

I am addicted to ready-made meals.

I am addicted to many of the comforts of Western society.

As anyone who’s dealt with addiction knows, you don’t break an addiction by saying, “What you’re doing is bad.” You heal an addiction by showing someone a clear, concrete path forward, and then stepping back and letting them take their own steps.

That’s what I’m attempting to do, both personally and on a larger scale, with the Connection Revolution. If you connect with yourself, connect with others, and connect with Spirit, you won’t need to connect with those addictions as much any more.

I’m loving myself and giving myself permission to not heal in the blink of an eye. I’m playing video games and eating pizza in my air-conditioned home.

I’m perfect just the way I am.

AND I want to heal.

AND I want to help others heal.

    Christa - June 25, 2011

    Love that you said And rather than But.  This is wonderful… thank you.

Jacqueline - June 22, 2011

Thanks for sharing those great thoughts and asking such important questions. I asked myself the same lately and decided to do something about it rather than ponder how I could help give more in my life. I made a decision to do one thing every day for 365 days to give back to the world. It includes recycling, donations, picking up garbage, helping a friend or neighbour, volunteering – the list goes on. I am on day 255 today and my views on how you can give have completely changed from when I started. I haven’t given away tons of money I don’t have it to give but I have found ways to give $1.oo (philanthroper.com) that with other peoples $1.00 make a difference. I have learned that sharing a special note (The Note Project) can effect the person you write it to and yourself. Random Acts of Kindness work as do Small Acts. You don’t have to give all you have away but you can give every day. Find what you can do in your own life. Give every day or every other day but give something of yourself to another person, our planet or an animal and see how your life changes. If you need help or ideas check out what I do every day. http://www.365give.ca

gwyn michael - June 22, 2011

I am walking with you Jen and so proud to do so. As a visual artist, someone deeply concerned with the health of the planet and diminishing resources, and now threat of economic collapse I became very frustrated. How can I justify earning a living selling material goods even if art?

So, I have decided to take on the label Environmental artists and focus on finding ways to inform and inspire conscious living through my art. I am spending this summer exploring how that will take form and rebranding, rebuilding my website.

I feel that by creating art along with spreading a message I can feel OK about what I do.

I am currently earning next to nothing but I give 3% to American forests to plant trees.

Beyond that I live as greenly and consciously as possible, but it not easy. I have quit shopping but I have way too much stuff. This summer is also the summer of purging 🙂

I think in the end it is by walking and talking together that we can do our best. I used to hesitate to say what I really think about the survival of humanity on this planet, but I have found the more I talk about it the more others feel the same.

Saving the world alone is too much. Let’s do it together.

Heather Plett - June 22, 2011

Oh yeah, this raises all kinds of issues for you. For the past six and a half years, I lead a team responsible for engaging people in conversations just like this – about social justice and hunger in particular. For all of those six years and more, I felt the same tug at my hear that you’re feeling… am I doing enough? Am I walking the talk? We used to have a lot of discussions about it at the non-profit where I worked, especially since we wanted to cut down on fossil fuel usage, and yet were in a line of work that required staff to fly all over the world. All kinds of moral dilemmas.

Sometimes I get overly cocky when I show up at my daughters’ soccer games on a bicycle when many parents arrive in not just one but two SUVs. But my self-righteousness isn’t serving anything either.

I think personal change is important, but even more important is large global change. We need to walk the talk, and then talk the walk. We need to serve as advocates, speaking out against governments and businesses that make choices that run counter to our ethics.

We need to use our influence however we can in whatever forms we can. One of the things I did in a past job where I was responsible for a lot of promotional products (hats, shirts, mugs, etc.) was to start investigating where all of those things were produced and how we could ensure more ethical production and purchase.  It may not have made a huge difference, but I was able to educate our suppliers, our donors, and our staff by being intentional about it. Each of us has influence in some way, even if it is just in our own homes.

    jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

    I can so relate to self-righteousness! That probably puts off more people than anything. If w all have to become pious, no one will join our revolution! Thank you!

Sandra / Always Well Within - June 22, 2011

I appreciate your grappling with these important questions.  But you know, I think it’s a mistake to imagine the economy would nosedive if we follow Singer’s suggestions.  Not everyone will do it and not everyone will do it right away.  So there will be a transition period and adjustments will occur.  Life would be different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  At the moment, my life is relatively simple and I’m wondering if it could be more simple.  So I’m grateful you are asking these questions.

    jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

    Sandra I thought of that. It is possible, we could have a vibrant healthy world where people lived far far less. We need to educate liberate people from greed. It
    S possible!

Karly - June 22, 2011

Dearest Jen,

Thank you for being willing to write about the questions that were on your deepest heart. I love that about you – your willingness to dive in! It inspires me, and I can tell by the comments here how it has inspired others.

I have to agree with the comment on minimizing media/advertising that feeds on the myth of “more.” I feel centered in my values and more centered about my own self worth
when I’m consciously using media.

I stopped reading/watching/using most magazines, catalogs, radio and TV several years ago. I can’t share just how much this did for my well being. When I do pick up a magazine or am bombarded by commercials, I feel pretty queasy inside as I notice how much I am being sold that who I am right now is not okay — and how much I need to either buy a better body, a better wardrobe, a nicer house, be a better mom, have better sex, have newer gadgets etc. to be okay. And how much time, money and life energy I need to spend to achieve that! Yuck.

The other word that comes up for me is awareness. The more in touch I am with what is going on inside – the needs, thoughts, feelings and more that are arising in me – the more I consciously live according to my values and purpose rather than according to my fears, insecurities, anxieties or rote habits.

I notice this in small ways — for example, how my desire to buy my dad a Father’s Day gift that I couldn’t afford wasn’t about him, but about my own insecurity that my homemade card wasn’t enough. I notice it in large ways – how much a nice house equals being a successful person in the recesses of my mind, and how this insecurity can lead me to buy more than I can afford.

What do I need? How much is enough? Those are powerful, valuable questions. To that, I would add Mary Oliver’s:  “What do I wish to do with my one wild and precious life?” May that question guide my choices, my time, my life energy, my consumption, my spending, and more….

In love, Karly

    jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

    Beautiful Karly! I so agree and you said it so poetically. Thank you!

Leahowell - June 22, 2011

Wow…interesting that these are the “hairy questions”….when I started scrolling down, had no idea what was coming up!
For me, the idea of giving is easy…much easier than the idea of “giving up”. However, this year, my husband and I have seen the benefits of both! Not only that, but in the giving, we realized that we always got something back….sometimes we got more of something else!
We gave up the “perfect jobs” that were anything but perfect, and gained the opportunity to begin again with new jobs….a leap of faith, but our preparations prior to that allowed us to have the summer to seek jobs that inspire  and grow us……not demean and devour us! We gave up one vehicle….and gave our daughter a chance to own her own vehicle, and grow some responsibilty! We moved back into our house, (after renting it out for 3 years for only half the payment, to give a friend help she needed)….but all the while had the peace of mind that we were helping someone out, who loved and took care of our house! We gave up eating out to save money, and gained time together preparing food and eating out on our patio together. We gave up our old mortgage, dropped 3 years off our lease term, and saved ourselves the same amount of money each month that we are paying out in credit cards….which we also gave up this year! We will be doubling our payments soon…….and we are giving up our debt, which will give us the money that we were trying to make by taking those “perfect jobs”!!!

May be simple….may not be real philosophical…..but it is real, and until we started giving, we didn’t realize how much we had!!!

Now, if this same principle is applied to other areas of life…..I believe that it will yield the same results!

    jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

    Lea, brilliant! That is a brilliant example of finding a way that works for your fAamily in so many ways. I Also think, in most cases, if we don’t have our own house in order, we can’t do much for others. I am so enlivened by your story!

      Leahowell - June 30, 2011

      Thank you Jen…it is a work in progress!!

Jude Spacks - June 22, 2011

Walking with you, too. Appreciating this clear-eyed, open-hearted post and the comments.

Guilt-tripping ourselves cuts down on response-ability, even though it might seem like it could increase it. But my experience, guilt contracts and adds to fearful reactions. (And I’m not implying that you’re guilt-tripping, Jen, just asking honest, important questions).

So what’s an alternative?

When I remember to, I might ask what I want the rug etc for–what do I expect it to bring me? Say it’s a beautiful serene home.  I go inside to find where that is already mine, those qualities are already here, rug or not, inside of me. I don’t need something external to create them, and I might still enjoy something external that reflects them.

Or, there may be something other than spending that will activate and express more of those qualities in my life. Or there may be something I want to spend on more–like a beautiful, serene choice of giving $ away–with no sacrifice experienced.

It is easier for me to discover what I really want when I pause from looking outside for anything. Then I’m moving from a cup overflowing, and I trust the unpredictable actions that come from that awareness. 

On one level either/or thinking about resources totally makes sense. In physical reality there are not 8 more planets, as you so eloquently point out. There are limitations, and consequences, and a Newtonian cause/effect way to understand things. But there are other planes of understanding where both/and makes much more sense and are not woo-woo denial speak.

Framing choice in terms of sacrificing our spoiled-Westerner wants for the sake of others’ more urgent needs may create a false and painful dichotomy. What if there is no sacrifice, only finding out more deeply and honestly what is wanted, truly wanted?

    jenniferlouden - June 22, 2011

    Can you write a guest post about this saying morz? This is so incredibly brilliant. Please.

    Lisa Baldwin - June 23, 2011

    “I go inside to find where that is already mine, those qualities are
    already here, rug or not, inside of me. I don’t need something external
    to create them, and I might still enjoy something external that reflects

    Exquisite. Thank you, Jude.

      jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011


Sophie - June 22, 2011

Jen, we’re already walking together, but we maybe didn’t know it.  You, me and of course my dog.  I mention her because she has more than many people out there.  They (probably) wouldn’t want her collar or lead, but her regular meals, a clean bed, and a spot in the sun in which to sleep are all untold luxuries for far too many of our human family.

Seonaid - June 22, 2011

This is exactly the pair of questions that have been haunting me for the last several years. I spent a couple of decades studying engineering, and then engineering education, trying to figure out how to change the conversation about technology from that side of the table. (You know that Leonard Cohen song that starts, “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom for trying to change the system from within”? Yeah. That was me. I didn’t get it until I finally gave up.)

So, I said, “Let’s move to the country, somewhere that the expectations are lower, and see how we do with getting self-sufficient.” Chickens, gardens, DIY, and philosophy. You know the deal. Because I really still wanted to know, “Can we learn to be happy with less?” (We didn’t have much to start with, having spent our 20’s in graduate school. Even after the kids were born.)

I think that the *best* thing I did to lower my impact was to move to a place with a lower average income (that was on purpose). This meant that the house cost less, we were able to get land, and our family income is necessarily less than it would otherwise be, reducing our ability to consume. I joked the other day about having accumulated a reasonable collection of furniture, but it would be mockable by most urban North American standards, having largely been obtained through thrift stores, freecycle, or final-markdown (one piece!) Around here, though, that’s just fine. Everybody’s just getting by, so doing without is the order of the day. It’s much easier to give things up if everybody else is doing it, too.

The challenge for me as my children get older is to deal with the expectations around activities. We don’t have a vast collection of consumer electronics, they’ve lived without cable their entire life, blah, blah, blah… and then I almost completely erase ALL the other improvements we’ve made by driving them back and forth to town to go to lessons, visit friends, go to the library, the playground (there are disadvantages to living rurally) etc., etc.

A couple of months ago, I had just about decided that it wasn’t worth it, that we should give up and move back to town, and just accept that the system is so far beyond our control that we can’t fix it. And in the midst of despair, I realized. We can’t do this alone. We can’t all become independent homesteaders, and we can’t just be the one who becomes stoic and watches the world burn around us. That way madness lies. (Trust me, I’ve tried it.) We need to have *exactly* this conversation, so that we are working together towards something else, so that we don’t feel so alone, so that we don’t abandon hope, and so that we can still find meaning, love, beauty and possibility.

Which is a really, really long way of saying, “Thanks.”

Terrie - June 23, 2011

My dear Jennifer,
Once again you open reality in such a loving way, allowing me to peek into my own, without fear and loathing.
My life circumstance has me in a situation that allows me a place to live, 
$200 per month for food, and $200 per month for expenses.  My health care is also covered.  I spend a lot of time in therapy and I eat for nutrition as much as I am able.  This has all come about in the last 4+ years and I don’t know how long it will continue.  
My lesson has been learning Acceptance.  I think we desire new to fill a need other than what we know on the surface.  Many of us could, in all practicality, live with what we have now for most of the rest of our lives. I believe we must question what it is we really want, and why.  I have been pleased to be able to live happily on much less than I ever thought possible.  What I do have matters, what I desire really needs to prove its value before I spend money on it.
Bless you for bringing this to the fore of our attention.

Marilyn Webster - June 23, 2011

I wish I could tell you  where those other 8
planets will come from.  Instead I will offer a piece of my struggle.
 I am one of those creators of beauty that Elizabeth mentioned.  And
I agree that beauty is a basic human need.  When I sit at the loom and
weave, my doubts and worries fall away.  I know this is what I’m supposed
to be doing.  I know deep inside that beauty makes a difference in people’s
lives.  It’s made a difference in mine — both in creating it and in using
beauty that others have created.  And then I move away from the loom and
the worries surface.  I wonder why I am making a product, something that
might clutter up people’s lives.  So I try to hold on to the belief that
as people embrace beauty, as they chose beautiful handmade objects rather than
mass-produced ones, they will embrace their own beautiful, their own
worthiness, and that can help heal the world.

    jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

    We do need beauty and happy people! We must not turn these questions into don’t do your thing! And we can’t just do our thing, if that makes sense. I’m so glad you commented very grateful,

Marilyn Webster - June 23, 2011


I wish I could tell you  where those other 8
planets will come from.  Instead I will offer a piece of my struggle.
 I am one of those creators of beauty that Elizabeth mentioned.  And
I agree that beauty is a basic human need.  When I sit at the loom and
weave, my doubts and worries fall away.  I know this is what I’m supposed
to be doing.  I know deep inside that beauty makes a difference in people’s
lives.  It’s made a difference in mine — both in creating it and in using
beauty that others have created.  And then I move away from the loom and
the worries surface.  I wonder why I am making a product, something that
might clutter up people’s lives.  So I try to hold on to the belief that
as people embrace beauty, as they chose beautiful handmade objects rather than
mass-produced ones, they will embrace their own beautiful, their own
worthiness, and that can help heal the world.

Mahala Mazerov - June 23, 2011

I’ve been walking with you, actually sitting with you most of the day. Turning over the questions, inspired by the growing comments. The timing is not lost on me at all. 

I’m sitting because I’m packing for a cross country move. A move that will be vastly better for my health. I think of the costs and the increased rent and people who are stranded by war and economics. 

I look at the stuff I’m ready to let go of, make peace with the fact that it’s not a good exchange of limited time and energy to try and sell things off. Viewing them as offerings helps a lot. Then I find myself thinking “I want my things to go to people who really need them, not just want them.” I catch my bias, my wish to determine who I will be generous to.

Sometimes I’m oblivious and other times I struggle with everything I spend money on, thinking it could better serve someone else. I imagine someone suffering and she is thinking “don’t you know what is happening to me? why aren’t you helping me?” as I buy fresh organic produce at the local farmer’s market.

The more I write here, the more thoughts come up. I’ll finish by saying I don’t think the answer is not to buy a rug. I think it’s more about treasuring everything and everyone. Letting love guide generosity.

Love you Jen for diving into such heartfelt concerns and gathering such a thoughtful community around you.

    jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

    Thank you dear wise heart for grappling with me. I don’t believe for a minute you having a better place to live and organic produce has to take something from someone. And I will get to see you soon!,

jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

Hey friend thanks for this! Can you share with me some of the carbon footprint websiTes? Hope to see you soon!

jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

Let’s decide it’s enough for today and for this week And just see how that feels. Not sure why but seems like A fun idea to play with. That is, appreciating what you / we are doing. Thanks for walking with me.

jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

You ae brilliant, thank you for all that learning! I am so with you! God I have been saying this for so long – why is the model growth?? Every time I hear a news report about the GDP I think No! It’s so harmful, like a cancer, and also so 18th century.

    Mstillman - June 23, 2011

    when capitalism was invented there was a) not a lot of capital and b) lots of nature. As well as not well understood or accounted for value to nature (precisely because of its abundance).

    now we are in the opposite case. Astonishing amounts of capital and much less nature and the nature we have is already being spent and allocated for future use.

    Besides a-growth in the West and changing our economic paradigms we must now investigate Naturism as our economic future. Capitalism fostered capital. Naturism will hopefully do the same.

    thanks for the kind words on my comment.

Anonymous - June 23, 2011

I love these hairy questions. I don’t think our individuals answers matter nearly as much as that we are willing to ask them, and then keep asking them as our situation changes and as we unpeel new layers of them.

I could tell you all about my approach to these questions, but really my answers are just that, mine. They are the truths that have emerged for me given the experiences I’ve had, the gifts I’ve been given and the values I hold dear.

My answer matter less than that we all keep asking “What is right for me, now?” “Can I be more honest, more brave, about this?” “Can I be more clear, more compassionate, more curious and more courageous?” And then we rinse and repeat.

The answers to each specific scenario will keep changing, but a deeper truth will emerge – and my suspicion is that that truth is about connection, our connection to ourselves, to others and to the planet.

Thank you, my sister, for walking with me.

Hiro Boga - June 23, 2011

Jen, I love that you’re honoring these essential questions. Thank you for inviting us to share our responses to them.

Your second question — what is a sustainable way to live? — informs so much of my  life, especially as I get older and my inner ecology shifts in unpredictable ways.

Your first question leaves me feeling uneasy. Stories with a dichotomy at their center — either this choice or that one — contract my heart, which tells me that there are other stories, other possibilities that are left out of the frame.

True Desire is one of the great gifts of incarnation, and emerges from our souls. It’s not whim. It’s not indulgence. It is the voice of the soul saying: This. This is what you are to attend to now.

When I pay attention to that voice, it leads me into wholeness. Wholeness serves the whole.

It fills me and my inner ecology with the qualities of wholeness.

Abundance. Safety. Appreciation. Gratitude. Prosperity. Generosity. Among many others.

That fullness then flows out into my world in ways that are in harmony with my soul, with my incarnation, and with wholeness.

Those carpets? Once I’m filled with the qualities of spirit, my true desires become apparent.

It may be that I no longer want the carpets. If that’s the case, I will respond to my inner guidance about what to do next. And, if my true desires still include the carpets, I will buy them if I have the means to do so, knowing that wholeness will bless everyone involved in the process in ways that I can’t foresee, predict or control.

There are many kinds of poverty.

I grew up in a country — India — where the material poverty was heartbreaking. It stunted lives, cut off possibilities, and brewed a toxic stew of suffering, hunger, disease and death.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in North America. We have — and consume — a large proportion of the world’s material resources.

And, there’s a less visible kind of poverty here. Yes, there’s hunger and homelessness. But also loneliness, isolation, spiritual poverty, disconnection. A paucity of love.

Ultimately, my soul tells me who I am to serve, and how. Money is one resource I can and do share. There are others that are equally valuable, equally necessary. Blessing, healing, transformation — these are essential to the well-being of the world.

Sharing them brings me into right relationship with the whole. Which is the only sustainable way for me to live.

    Jude Spacks - June 23, 2011

    Oh, yes! Fully, exactly so.

    See how abundantly your invitation gives to assuage ‘loneliness, isolation, spiritual poverty, disconnection’ How loving it is, Jen, to start such a rich conversation.

    Bahieh - June 27, 2011

    Been enjoying reading your reply Hiro.

    Especially this part:
    “And, there’s a less visible kind of poverty here. Yes, there’s hunger and homelessness. But also loneliness, isolation, spiritual poverty, disconnection. A paucity of love.”

    Often we forget that the Western world is also full of suffering, poverty and despair. As much as we think Europe and America are “privileged”, I think they are lack some essential elements of happiness.

    I wish we could see each place on this planet for what it has to offer. The world is such a rich mosaic and each person, each culture, each country both has something to offer and some needs to be served by others.

    Living for 9 months now in Latin America, I see how much wealth there is here. I have been from a country where I could have made a good 5000USD a month to living with about 500USD the first few months I was here. I would have never expected to live such a rich life. 

    I am now closer to living with a comfortable 1000USD a month (and some generous gifts) and am learning to savour with no guilt. It is easier on some days than others but am getting there.

    I have had no choice but to live simply and am immensely grateful for the lesson. I feel lighter. I had always wanted to live by the saying: “Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live.” but found it tremendously hard to in Europe. So I bow my hat at your who are living in developed country and wanting to go against the current trends… That alone is worthy of respect.

    And when it comes to the first question Jen poses, I don’t know. I admire the courage in being honest about it and can somehow relate but am without answers of my own. So I am hoping to learn from you all.

    That was kind a long reply, I didn’t expect to have so much to say 😉

    ps. How freeing to talk about money, isn’t it??

mussare - June 23, 2011

All good questions and essential dialogue.  There is so much to unpack here: if growth is
not a model, how do we all contribute, and to what do we want to
contribute?  What aspects of current
international monetary policy are detrimental to common community goals?  What *are* the responsibilities of concerned
citizens regarding communities that are not directly their own?  What roles and/or responsibilities can/does/should
the idea of a nation or country play? How do we create those webs, where, how
and do we want to?  Lots to think about,
but in the meantime…


Two things struck me in reading the comments.  One is how hard it is to remember that our
otherwise formidable human brains have only one scale, and we re-size all our
experiences to fit.  The other is the
bipolar axis that dialogue such as this often seems to happen on: “bad,
(over)consuming Westerner vs good, opressed Other” (the comment about
“ever seen a Malaysian car?” twigged me particularly, because there
are, in fact, *two* Malaysian car companies). 
This kind of set up and the accompanying assumptions can be very dangerous…
if for no other reason than it makes it impossible to think of all of us being
in the web of global community with there is an Us/Them polarity.  It also removes all idea of agency from
developing nations.  Contrary to what
often seems to be popular belief, it is not American multinationals that
control all resource extraction, etc etc. 

There are many Malaysians (I’ll stick w that example, having
lived there) who are active in cheerful participants in environmental practices
we would consider abhorrent because it has enabled them to provide a better
material life for their families. 
Friends of ours own a plywood factory that destroys orangutan habitat,
but he has bought a house, his children go to the best schools, and he has the
land rover he has always wanted.  He
tithes 10% of his income, volunteers and goes to great effort to ensure that
visitors to his part of the country are always made to feel welcome and cared
for.  To engage in conversations about
environmental practices around forestry management (palm oil plantations being
another popular one) will usually result in a brush off: “You in the West
just don’t want us to have the same comforts and standard of living as you, how

Consumption remains a primary goal of most of the world’s
population, usually at the expense of others, whether that is animals, or, for
another example, other people: One of my girlfriends who lives in India was
recently horrified to discover that she is an anomaly in allowing her servants
full access to their clean, purified water to take home to their families.  This on top of her despair that water in
general is being so horrifically mismanaged for the gain of a very small few
(both domestic and international) in the country she currently calls home. 

Then there are the governments of India and Thailand, among
others, which continue to encourage the import and use of asbestos as a
building material (my rage and shame at Canada being a primary miner and
exporter being a frustration for another day: without those jobs a few thousand
families in Canada would be absolutely destitute.  Where does the responsibility lie in creating
new opportunities?), despite knowing what the long term cost in lives will
be.  In these kinds of large scale
matters of interdependence, we can make choices… though boycotts and similar
naming and shaming often hurt only those lowest rung workers who were having a
rough go to start with. 


Trying to think out all the possible repercussions from my
choices will often work me up so much that I don’t make a choice and/or
purchase at all [recall my recent dilemma with how to package my new products
and create the largest possible nr of opportunities for those in my community,
a process on which I am still stalled and feeling guilty for *selling*
something in the first place]. 

Right now, I give to zero-overhead charities that I believe
in, put in unpaid overtime in my work as a public safety officer and buy local
in most senses of the word whenever possible… whether that means going out to
eat at the restaurant owned by my neighbours, shopping at the band store when I
am working in a First Nations community (another huge thing to unpack in
itself) or donating funds to my ratepayer’s association or having lunch at the
Legion café to support the veterans who live there.


Hm, I guess you rather twigged a nerve there Jen.  Thanks for the thinking space and fine
company here, as always.

Kelly Salasin - June 23, 2011

Thanks for asking this of yourself, and of us–and for putting it out there, Jen.
There’s lots of waking up we need to do, and I’m not quite as far along as you in the “action/platform” department, but those same questions/dichotomies bubble up in me, more and more lately.

I’ve begun to look at charity differently. It confuses me that we live in a world where others have to depend on
charity–from individuals or organizations or governments–just to get
by.  It just doesn’t make sense. It seems backward; like we’re putting
all our energy toward the symptoms instead of the problem.

Another striking dichotomy  I see is with regard to how much energy people give to fundraisers for example–like for breast cancer or raising money for a child’s leukemia treatment.  Yet we live in a world that we continue to pollute,
creating all kind of health issues.  Think of Japan. Think of DDT.  Think of plastics from China. Think of pesticides.

Recently, I listened to the Conscious Partnering Series on the web, and was struck by the work of one of the presenters, Riane Eisler, who spoke of a “Caring Economy”; one in which we place value (and dollars) on traditionally female roles (no matter who they are done by.)

It’s this kind of deep shift that I think is necessary. It’s this kind of deep thinking from which our actions must come.

I  so appreciate all those, like  you, who are exploring The Way.

Kelly Salasin - June 23, 2011

Thanks for asking this of yourself, and of us–and for putting it out there, Jen. There’s lots of waking up we need to do, and I’m not quite as far along as you in the “action/platform” department, but those same questions/dichotomies bubble up in me, more and more lately.I’ve begun to look at charity differently. It confuses me that we live in a world where others have to depend on charity–from individuals or organizations or governments–just to get by.  It just doesn’t make sense. It seems backward; like we’re putting all our energy toward the symptoms instead of the problem. Another striking dichotomy  I see is with regard to how much energy people give to fundraisers, for example–like for breast cancer or for an individual child’s leukemia treatment.  Yet we live in a world that we continue to pollute, creating all kind of health issues.  Think of Japan. Think of DDT.  Think of plastics from China. Think of food contamination..Recently, I listened to the Conscious Partnering Series on the web, and was struck by the work of one of the presenters, Riane Eisler, who spoke of a “Caring Economy”; one in which we place value (and dollars) on traditionally female roles (no matter who they are done by.)It’s this kind of deep shift that I think is necessary. It’s this kind of deep thinking from which our actions must come.I  so appreciate all those, like  you, who are exploring The Way.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.—Carl Jung

Molly Gordon - June 23, 2011

Yes. I will walk with you. I will walk with you in the question of how to empower the healers and creatives on the planet to earn more while also ending hunger and disease. There is something about both that calls us to wake up. To be response-able for our well being and that of other beings.

In 2001 i declared to a room full of North and South American coaches who convened in Puyehue, Chile, that I was no longer willing to settle for being a guilty white woman. That story is old and tired, and it has not served anyone for a good long time–if it ever did.

For my part, I believe in making micro-loans through Kiva to equip emerging entrepreneurs worldwide to become self-sufficient. I also believe it is in teaching and empowering women and children that real change will be made.

jenniferlouden - June 23, 2011

I love your eye rolling and how your ideas spread forth from one another from 1 kid (my choice) to big families are often good At sharing. I am so relieved to have you sAy it’s not easy to figure how to figure out the best way to use our resources. Is anybody talking bout that in a way that helps with life / business decisions? Oh, I’m so glad you are going to hVe your organs harvested first! 🙂

Mary - June 24, 2011

What if we all started driving a max of 55 mph, since we know that’s when we burn fuel most efficiently?

Tammy - June 24, 2011

i cannot walk with you on the giving amount part since i live on $25,104 per year. but i do my part by living a very happy and simple life and helping however i can. 
i do not buy “things” as a form of entertainment.  i value light and space and fresh air.
i pay the bank a mortgage every month to own my own home which is 1000 sq ft and just a cozy little minimalist cottage.  i plant trees. i use nature’s resources sparingly.  i recycle everything that’s possible, i.e. plastic, cardboard, paper, etc. (while using as absolutely little of these items as i can).
i use very little gasoline.  and am always amazed to see a big SUV sitting with its engine just idling in a parking lot…
i do not consider myself poor.  i feel i am rich indeed.  i have all my senses and a sound mind and body.
i am a vegan, because i find the way we torture-raise animals and then slaughter them in horrific conditions just so we can over-feed ourselves and waste their lives (many times as literally food thrown into the garbage) a true crime against nature and the meaning of life.
i am obviously not as intellectual as your other commenters but my message is simple and heartfelt.  the change we want to see has to start with each one of us.
“Bless the beasts and the children.  They have no choice.  They have no voice.”
if we all only remembered that . . . we could make this place a better world.  

meg boone - June 24, 2011

One day at a time…

A year ago ….we decided no more chemicals in our bath products it took us nearly six months to slowly change out each product. In fact we ended up have to make a lot of our products and as a result will be making them available in a small etsy shop to others seeking sometime soon… A day at a time.

two years ago….  to eat almost completely organic but we are still working on it getting closer and closer, buying our own herbs to grow ourselves eliminating meat from some of our meals, being coicious of where our food comes from and even in our apartment trying to figure out how to garden.

6 months ago….We stopped using fabric softner and only use all natural detergent, now I am looking to make our own.

1 month ago… I switched my bottles of water I refill and bring with me daily all to glass (with ‘upcycled’, fancy word for socks with no mates, hugging them and keeping them from breaking each other in my cooler.)

I don’t believe we have the power to destroy this planet that is an arrogance I think is misplaced, however I do believe we have the power to live in harmony with this planet, be good stewards of what we have been given and open ourselves up to a source we cannot access except through connection to our planet.

How can you connect to anyone or anything you are knowingly damaging and hurting?

oh I am probably at 2% but it is my hearts calling to get to %10

” The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today”   -proverb

Kathy - June 25, 2011

I will walk with you.

Funny about the rugs. I have wanted a rug for our living room for years now, a modern shag. But we don’t ‘need’ a new rug nor do I have the extra funds to make and justify that purhase. So this week I moved a rug we’ve had in the dining room over to the living room and creating a new living room just by re-purposing.
Where I spend money is on good quality food.  I know I can cut our grocery bill more. My goal is to use my bike more this coming year and use the car less. I’d love as a family to get to one car eventually. Thankfully we live close to town and can walk easily to our coop and farmer’s market and other shops. We eat in more than eat out, way more and this feels so good.  I love the challenge of spending less. I notice our spending ebbs and flows. We tighten and loosen the money strings as we go.
I give to a couple of charities each year as I can. We have donated and raised money in collaborative ways for various relief organizations but I would like to make this an integral part of our family that is to create a giving project each year.

I know we can live a little closer to the bone and make choices about cutting back more. We do talk about this with our recently turned 8 year old about where we make choices with our family money. We talk about what it means to really ‘need’ something. Most often, I think I can come to the place we don’t need so many extras. 
There’s more practice for us here to be sure but we are on the path and aware.

Thanks for raising these questions.

Clare Mulvany - June 26, 2011

Thank you for asking honest, raw and open questions Jennifer. 

In so many ways they are knitted with your overarching themes of savour and service. The first, about how much money we should give away.

I see money as an exchange of energy. Unless energy is coming and going, flowing, there is a blockage, and where there is blockage there is pain. Like money, service too is an exchange of energy. When we give our time, love, commitment, and when we reach for a wider cause, something bigger than us flows. If giving away money is an appeasement or a ‘guilt’ substitute, for fear of engagement with the wider issue or cause that we are hoping to serve, then that too can be a form of blockage. There are so many cases of aid programmes, donor initiatives and corporate social responsibility that have been packaged under ‘charity’ but really have political or personal motivations behind then. Many fail because true ‘service’ was not at the heart of the offering. In this case money was the blockage. But when money is given with the intention to be a genuine service, when the needs of the people or the cause come first, then this is a powerful form of philanthropy and can shift radical change. Money becomes an enabler and game changer. 

Rather than asking ‘how much money can I give away’, I often try to ask, ‘how much service can I leverage’, ‘how much energy can I commit here’ or ‘what is the best use of my resources- including my time and talents- that I can muster to have a greater impact’. Often this results in getting involved in deeper issues, raising awareness or using my time to try to create ripple effects which in the long term have a more lasting impact than if I simply made an initial financial offering. However, when I ask myself that question and the answer I come up with  is a monetary response, then that is the most appropriate course of action – and so I give. 


Your second question is about living sustainably. This is a HUGE question. And I think in so many ways impossible to answer. Our current global systems-  from food, to energy, to politics, to trade-  are deeply unsustainable, so in a sense, when we live within an unsustainable system it is impossible to live a sustainable life. However, recognising this is very different to being cynical. The questions then become, ‘how can I live more sustainably given the system I am living in?’, and ‘how can I start to work on the system to shift it to sustainability?’.

Both aspects of this question are massive and can seem so overwhelming at times. But starting by asking easier questions about lifestyles (do I really need this thing? Why? Why difference will it make to me? – things can become more approachable. Then, simple actions can start to shift things too- Can I cycle rather than take the car? Can I recycle this?

In terms of wider system change, there is no quick win or easy answer. What is clear though is that this will require massive collective action. Which is why each of us need to learn how to ask the question, ‘how can I serve best’, and then learn to listen to the response, however uncomfortable or beautiful that may be.

Sarah Flick - June 26, 2011

Wow, so many open and brave questions…yes I will walk with you, too, Jen. I also struggle with needs and wants, sometimes especially for my daughter and husband more than myself. The wisdom that has spoken most clearly to me is the counsel of St. Bonaventure to “follow our deepest desire.” The desire (not plural) that lives most deeply within our spirits often turns out to be, at least in my experience, to know the freedom of being all we are created to be, to know love at its core. So, when I can remember to follow that deepest desire, other desires loosen their hold and I can sometimes open my hand and let go.
In terms of giving, I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that took giving seriously. Giving to the church, but also to the local symphony, to Habitat for Humanity, to the library. giving not just money but time and energy and often simply sustained attention. My husband and I have done our best to travel this path ourselves, searching our hearts as we discern how much to give and where to give. We could always give more. But whatever we give often brings peace to my heart, and that can sometimes open me again to that “deepest desire” where Spirit lives and breathes.
It is not easy to look at these questions…but I will do my best to walk with them and hold them like pebbles in my pockets, learning from their very feel how that which we savor can become the door opening to how we serve.
Thank you so much for lifting these questions for us…sending love and blessings!

    mjg - July 3, 2011

    wow I read this last night while grapling with going somewhere by train or flying. I decided on the train – its 10 hours longer but 1/3 cheaper and infinately eaiser to live with in terms of my carbon footprint. I decided that  I wanted to live an expression of my beliefs and I feel great about my choice. I also hate rushing and the idea of doing ‘slowtravel’ is much more my thing the journey not the destination. Re the rugs. I’d buy them I spent my entire 20’s and 30’s depriving myself and it didn’t make me a better person. I  now thinking taking care of yourself helps you to give in an open hearted way.

Bahieh - June 27, 2011

So many thoughts about the topic… more keep flowing…
a very hairy topic indeed!!

If I wanted to buy said rugs I would ask myself: does having these rugs help you Savour more and in turn Serve better??

If yes, by ALL MEANS go get them!!! That question always helps me decide.

Another point is that we can derive some kind of sense of moral superiority from giving more, serving better, recycling madly. And we should be wary of that. 


Megworden - July 7, 2011

Fantastic post Jen. This is a brave and important conversation your having and I’m all ears and action. Will definitely walk with you.

I believe mindful eating can have a powerful effect on planetary health and economics. Whole, organic plants keep money on small farms and out of industry that poisons the soil. Healthy people also drastically cut healthcare, mental health care and costs of incarceration. (Yep, diet being linked to all sorts of sadness and chemical imbalance). 
I spend money carefully, constantly re-evaluate needs vs. wants, support local, walk whenever possible, and am constantly looking to create more space internally + in my home environment. What can I do without? What can I not buy? Given up newspapers and magazines. Rarely shop at all.

Even with regular donations, it seems like there is always more to give. Giving is an extremely powerful act when we are in the mind frame of  there’s not enough. 
Like the 2% is better than scrapping the overwhelming 70% for nothing…there is always something we still have to give. If not money then food, clothing, time, compassion, prayers.

Thanks for asking these questions. For calling us all into awareness and accountability today. 

    jenniferlouden - July 7, 2011

    Such a great point re: food eating totally agree. My sweetie fed me the first snap pea from the garden tonight!

Laya - January 12, 2012

I live in a spiritual practice that says to give away 10% of what I get. So I do that. It adds up. One piece that I don’t see often in the US is that people usually only hang out with those of a similar income bracket. So if someone has “plenty” they can’t comprehend that there is another reality of “hungry.” The darkness of the pain in this world can be overwhelming. Still we can take it to a personal level and know that we make a difference in one more life. It matters.

I love what you write and the way you share yourself and inspire. <3 Thank you.

    jenniferlouden - January 15, 2012

    Laya that is true, we have a lot of “siloing” in the U.S. maybe even more so since the internet’s rise. 🙁

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