Jizo 17[Happy November! It’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month, popularly referred to as NaNoWriMo. As I plan to participate in the awesome craziness of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, I have prewritten my blogs for November and loaded them to automatically post on the appropriate days. So they are not as immediately relevant to my life as prior blogs have been; however, they are just as true reflections. Enjoy and if you’re a fellow Wrimo – happy noveling!]

With the arrival of colder weather and the typical interpretation of Thanksgiving and Christmas as feasts, November always seems to me to begin a winter season that resolves around food. Therefore I will be diverging this month from the spiritual into some discussions about food. Of course, everything is interconnected, so there is actually a great deal of the spiritual in food.

One of my favorite cookbooks is More-with-Less. It is not a fancy cookbook; it’s certainly not as exciting as any of those written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. But when our kids move out, I will be giving each of them their very own copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook, something my son has already asked for because he’s leaned to do a lot of cooking from that unassuming little book, filled with Mennonite simplicity and big-family efficiency. The book offers more than just a wonderful homemade alternative to Bisquick, which can be used to make the very best pancakes and biscuits, more than just filling casseroles and stews. It contains quite a lot of thought-provoking text about how we can make our diets more reflective of the world reality, which is that most people live in state of not having enough to meet their needs. Its sister books, Extending the Table and Simply in Season, continue that conversation with advice on how we can bend our diets to match the realities of the natural cycle, rather than bending the entire world to meet our every culinary whim.

It was in More-with-Less that I found this question and answer posed by Doris Janzen Longacre. The question is one that haunts a lot of people who seriously consider whether the necessarily limited actions of one person can really help: “Does it do any good if I conserve?” The answer still resonates with me like a rallying cry: “Intricate reasoning on the causes and solutions of world hunger has its place. But there are times when the only answer is, ‘Because they have little, I try to take less.'”

Many times, the problems of the world seem overwhelming. Poverty, war, and prejudice fill the news and starkly differentiate the heavenly realm we inhabit from the hell realms all the world over. I may have taken the bodhisattva vow to remain in samsara until all sentient beings are free from suffering, but sometimes it’s hard to motivate myself to do the least little thing because the enormity of the problems dwarf my individual efforts. I see this reflected in my kids, who often think that using less water in the shower or opening the curtains instead of turning on a light won’t really make a difference, so why bother.

In the spirit of More-with-Less, we try, as a family, to discuss ways in which we can make changes that result in us “taking less” – everything from using reusable bags when we go grocery shopping to packing lunches, turning off lights when we leave a room, being mindful of our water consumption, and cooking more foods from from scratch. It’s an on-going effort intended not only to make a difference in the world, but also to make us all more mindful about the broader effects of our actions. If presented as a family value and challenge, the more-with-less philosophy can resonate with the entire family. Children comprehend complex issues if presented simply and they can be excited about doing their part. Hopefully, the values we share with them now will encourage them to be better citizens of the world when they grow up, which will in turn help to maintain and improve the world for future generations.

Do not take lightly small good deeds,
Believing they can hardly help;
For drops of water, one by one,
In time can fill a giant pot.
 – Patrul Rinpoche, quote from Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking by Sandra Garson

If we unbalance nature, humankind will suffer. Furthermore, we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy as, if not healthier than, we found it. This is not quite such a difficult proposition as it might sound. For although there is a limit to what we as individuals can do, there is no limit to what a universal response might achieve. It is up to us as individuals to do what we can, however little that may be. Just because switching off the light on leaving the room seems inconsequential, it does not mean we shouldn’t do it.

– the Dalai Lama, quote from The Pocket Dalai Lama

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