When faced with Parkinson’s Disease, the Quaker writer John Yungblut wrote an essay entitled ‘On Hallowing One’s Diminishments,’ in which he described a different way of thinking he had developed about his progressively diminishing capacities. Rather than grieving over loss he decided to ‘hallow’ it – to make it holy.
Sharon Astyk has taken this idea and applied it to the environmental crisis. She has a blog called Casaubon’s Book, which she describes as ‘my explorations of our future, one that cannot but be shaped by peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I believe passionately that these crises are not the end of our world, but that they must be faced squarely, honestly and with integrity in the true sense of the world – the integration of our whole lives into our ethical principles’.
In an article on her blog (quoted and developed here) she explains Yungblut’s idea and then applies it to the coming diminishments she expects we will all experience as Peak Oil, Climate Change and the economic downturn really start to bite. She calls this ‘Hallowing the Descent’, and explains how Yungblut suggests we adopt a friendly rather than adversarial stance towards our sufferings or privations, which – since they won’t go away – will help us live with them more effectively. Yungblut points out how each diminishment comes with gifts, as Astyk explains: ‘the physical limitations that come with aging also bring with them ‘the reconversion from earning a living to cultural activity’ – that is, there is time to talk to others, to think, to devote to the outside world as we retire and age’. We could add ‘to devote to the inner world too’.
Yungblut then talks about the ultimate diminishment – death – and how accepting its inevitability is the most effective strategy.
I’d like to suggest another phrase which helps me apply this idea to my own life: ‘Hallowing Limitation’. Born in the post-war years, and growing up in a liberal society, I have spent most of my time immersed in a culture that has constantly pushed against limitations and restrictions. Go for gold! The sky’s the limit! This has been the message, not only of consumer marketeers, but sadly of motivational psychology and much of New Age popular spiritual psychology.
But now we need to accept that we may be entering an era in which we will need to limit our ambitions and desires. The mind is a wonderful tool, and with the power of a good idea we can change the way we experience our lives. If rather than feeling punished by them, we are able to hallow the limitations we might start to experience, they can become our allies rather than our enemies. This of course is the way to happiness taught by most spiritual traditions since time immemorial: that of limiting our desires and expectations, so we can open to the blissful awareness that exists beyond the desire body.
If this is too esoteric for you, here’s a down-to-earth image that illustrates the gifts that limitation might harbour – imagine losing access to the television!
Hallowing the Descent, Hallowing Diminishments, Hallowing Limitation – it all boils down to opening ourselves to the gifts that ‘Less’ has to offer: the gifts that silence can bring, that Being rather than Having or Doing can bring.