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30 July 2005 | Uncompleted

Psychodynamics of Conscious Simplicity

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Although far from completed, of special interest here is the collection of references below

Rationale for voluntary simplicity in the 21st century

There are a number of interwoven reasons for clarifying and giving credibility to voluntary simplicity:

Challenge to meaningful existence

Clearly the pressures above may individually or in combination encourage, or necessitate, the exploration of simpler lifestyles. However, the question here is less the material implications of such lifestyles rather than the psychological implications. The argument is that it is the psychological implications which are the key to the sustainability of any material or social options.

What psychological challenges need to be addressed to ensure that materially "simpler" lifestyles become sustainable? Beyond the challenges taken in isolation, what pattern of engagement with daily reality is sustainable under such circumstances? Where are the clues to such patterns?

Can the quality of life associated with such patterns be enhanced and in what way? How does such a "rich inner life" get "composed"? What variety of forms might such patterns take and how can they be distinguished? To the extent that they may take a range of subtler forms, how are they to be distinguished and accessed? What is the likelihood that the keys to such patterns may be treated as secrets accessible only to secret societies and sects -- or made the subject of some form of intellectual property?

Will such patterns, in order to be made comprehensible, require the development of new kinds of language or notation? Will these also be used as protective devices to inhibit the ability of some to accede to them?


psychology spirituality
psychodynamics simplicity
conscious loneliness
voluntary solitude

Tangential perspectives

Voluntary simplicity


People who practise voluntary simplicity act consciously to reduce their need for purchased services or goods and, by extension, their need to sell their time for money. Quite often, this means that people who practise this lifestyle must do many things for themselves, such as gardening and cooking, sewing, and constructing or maintaining a home (DIY). However, it is important to note that money is not the major reason to practise this lifestyle. Reducing consumer choice also reduces the stress and anxiety of decision making. People practise voluntary simplicity to improve their quality of life in one of many dimensions: psychological, financial, spiritual, interpersonal relationships, family, etc.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, a number of fairly prominent modern writers (in English) articulated both the theory and practice of lifestyles of this sort, among them Gandhian Richard Gregg, economists Ralph Borsodi and Scott Nearing, anthropologist-poet Gary Snyder, and utopian fiction writer Ernest Callenbach. The modern version of Voluntary Simplicity was named in the 1970s by the seminal book of the same title by Duane Elgin. There are eco-anarchist groups in the United States and Canada today promoting lifestyles of simplicity.


Tangential perspectives: Psychology and Psychodynamics

Consciousness / Concentration

Isolation (spatial isolation)


Time (dynamic isolation)








Indicators of dynamic devices in the moment

Metaphors we live by





being a singularity -- being single

space / objects -- configure / channel energy / arrays

not so much product of reflection (fermets) but the dynamics of reflection

quality of interaction within the moment

composing a life / Bateson

metaphors we live by

filters / email

Opening and closing

chocie / limitation of reading

focus of attention

childlike -- associations

monks / hermits / recluses

bells -- dont have to think


village: petanque / Kant / patterns

pronounced significance of omens / signs


integrity / fundamentalism

cultivate a garden


periodic table

fusion reactor

not the what but the doing

degrees of attachment/detachment (concentric)


Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, University of Chicago Press, 1951 [text]

"Nothing is more instructive . . . than the psychology of solitary life. In solitude the Christian exercises the highest form of sociability; by delivering him from the impediments that lower systems of social relations involve, solitude disposes him to live more intimately in the communion of the Divine Persons and in the communion of the saints. As for the romantic seeker of solitude, he commonly indulges in bitterness and misanthropy. Yet his soul is filled with expectation. His real purpose is not to live in uninhabited wilderness; as he steps out of the society of men, he means to step into another society, whose members would be more reliable than human beings: the reliability of the things of nature is as complete as the natural determination of their operations. But loving fancy endows things of nature with the character of personality; they finally turn out to be regarded as thoroughly reliable persons. The meaning of romantic theism is sometimes uncertain because it is not always possible to decide whether the name of God, in romantic language, refers to the transcendent cause of nature or to a community of natural energies personified by the idealism of the solitary wanderer."

Predation     Symbiosis
Non-conscious     Conscious
Necrosis     Parasitism
Involun tary

Ruth Haley Barton. Invitation to Solitude and Silence

The practices of solitude and silence are radical because they challenge us on every level of our human existence. They challenge us on the level of culture because there is little in Western culture that supports us entering into what feels like unproductive time for being (beyond human effort) and listening (beyond human thought) … They challenge us on the level of human psychology because in the silence we become aware of inner dynamics we have been able to successfully avoid by keeping ourselves so noisy and busy.

John R. Yungblut. Quakerism and Jungian Psychology, 2001 [text]

For Jung access to the unconscious was primarily through dreams and fantasy. For Friends a third means of access has been contemplative prayer in solitude and corporate prayer in the context of the silence of Meeting for Worship. In these two ways that of God within, the God who dwells in the "thick darkness" of the unconscious, is given an opportunity to speak and to be heard. Quakers are not only admonished to answer to that of God in everyone, but by implication to answer to that of God in themselves.

Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. 1956,

When society is made up of men who know no interior solitude it can no longer be held together by love: and consequently it is held together by a violent and abusive authority. But when men are violently deprived of the solitude and freedom which are their due, the society in which they live becomes putrid, it festers with servility, resentment and hate."

T. Smith. Wilderness beyond... Wilderness within... Raccoon Institute, 1990.

In Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Doubleday, 1975), Nouwen identifies personal movement from loneliness to solitude (our relationship to ourselves); from hostility to hospitality (our relationship to others); and from illusion to prayer (our relationship to God). The often painful paths toward wholeness come in these movements. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life (Ave Maria Press, 1974) is his attempt to expand on the first movement. In this small and meaningful offering, Nouwen encapsulates his commitment to action and contemplation. In the tension of these two elements of the life of faith, Nouwen creates home, and invites us in to share.

Douglas M. Burns. Buddhist Meditation and Depth Psychology. Buddhist Publication Society, 1994 [text]

Our ever-expanding populations with their accompanying advertising, mass entertainment, socializing, industrialization, and emphasis upon success, sensuality, and popularity have produced an environment in which we are forever bombarded with an increasing number of sensory and emotional stimuli. The opportunities for solitude and introspection have diminished to the point that now solitude is often viewed as either depressing or abnormal.

Robert C. Solomon. Living with Nietzsche; What the Great "Immoralist" has to Teach Us. 2004

Abstract: This is a different kind of book about Nietzsche. It is about Nietzsche as a personal role model and a guide to a "rich inner life" and focuses neither on Nietzsche's biography nor on the usual scholarly questions about "what Nietzsche really meant" but on Nietzsche's effects on his readers and students. Nietzsche is an example as well as a promulgator of "passionate inwardness," a life distinguished by its rich passions, deep emotions, exquisite taste, and a sense of personal elegance and excellence. He urges us to embrace an unusually powerful sense of personal virtue and integrity, like that of Socrates and the ancient Stoics, who also focused their attention on that "health of the soul" that was more or less independent of external forces and fortune. But where the Stoics identified virtue and the health of the soul with a sort of peace of mind (ataraxia), Nietzsche rather urges us toward an energetic "Dionysian" life, filled with enthusiasm. A virtuous life is a creative life, a life of exquisite good taste. Since our modern world so celebrates the very opposite, "celebrity," fame and public display, vulgarity, and mass culture, many of Nietzsche's efforts make him seem like a snob, an elitist. But this is to misunderstand him.

William A. Henkin. A Union of Love [text]

Though many spiritual disciplines have terms for enlightenment or its recognition -- Zen Buddhist satori; Sufi fana; Pentecostal Christian rebirth; Hindu samadhi -- no two of these words of insight means quite the same thing, some words are translated to mean more than one thing -- for example, tao means both the Way to enlightenment and the ecstasy of enlightenment itself -- and arguably the words don't really even translate from their original languages except, more or less, as "ah!" Ah! may be the state of grace in which the scales fall from one's eyes, or the "one instant" in which St. Teresa of Avilla said that she perceived "how all things are seen and contained in God" (James, 1958, p. 315). According to William James, the turn-of-the-last-century German idealist Malwida von Meysenburg said its perception was "to return from the solitude of individuation into the consciousness of unity with all that is." (W James, [1902]). The varieties of religious experience1958, p. 304)*

William Young et al. Understanding individual decision-making for sustainable consumption [text]

decision making process of those who are currently undertaking some features of a voluntary simplifier lifestyle,

Acedia, Bane of Solitaries ---

Mark Satin. New Age Politics (1979)

articulates a politics focused on voluntary simplicity and humanistic psychology; builds on two important Elgin articles from the 1970s

Rites of Passage Council. Psychodynamics of Fasting, Exposure, Solitude and Wilderness Safety Procedures. In: Ceremonial Healing / Vision Quest [text]


R. Andre. Positive Solitude. Harper, 1990.

C Andrews and C B Holst. The real meaning of "inwardly rich". Journal of Voluntary Simplicity, 1998, May 28

James H. Austin. Zen and the Brain: toward an understanding of meditation and consciousness. Massachussetts Institute of Technology Press, 1998

Helen Angelyn Bales. The Meaning of Solitude in the Lives of Creative Writers. Dissertation Abstracts International 60.7-B (February 2000): 3551.

Ruth Haley Barton. Invitation to Solitude and Silence

C. Basescu. The Call of Solitude: alontime in a world of attachment. and Private matters -- in defense of the personal life. Journal of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 2000, 36, pp. 543-547 (Book review)

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi:

J. A. Belzen (Ed.). Hermeneutical approaches in psychology of religion. Rodopi, 1997 (Fourteen essays that depict the contribution that the hermeneutical approaches -- contrasted with positivistic, statistical approaches currently dominating the field -- can make toward the psychological understanding of religion.)

Ester Buchholz. The Call of Solitude. Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 98 [text]

Ester Schaler Buchholz. The Call of Solitude: alonetime in a world of Aatachment. Beacon Press, 1995 [review]

Douglas M. Burns. Buddhist Meditation and Depth Psychology. Buddhist Publication Society, 1994 [text]

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. Perennial, 1991,

J. Cumes. The Human Mirror: the narcissistic imperative in human behavior. 2000 (Comments on the negative effects that narcissism has on ourselves, our religions, and our cultures.) [text]

P. De Silva. An Introduction to Buddhist Psychology (3rd ed.). Rowman and Littlefield, 2000

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Robert C. Dykstra. To Be Boring or To Be Bored: that is the question. Inspire (Princeton Theological Seminary),  2001, 5, 2 [text]

Wayne Dyer. Seven Primary Ego Characteristics. In:Your Sacred Self. [text]

Duane Elgin. Voluntary simplicity. William Morrow, 1981

Duane Elgin and Arnold Mitchell. Voluntary Simplicity. The Co-Evolution Quarterly, Summer 1977 [text]

Jacob Feldman. An Algebra of Human Concept Learning [text]

P. Fergusson. Architecture of Solitude: Cistercian Abbeys in Twelfth-Century England. Princeton University Press

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Erich Fromm. You shall be as Gods: A radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition. Holt, 1991. (Reprint of Fromm's 1966 work)

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Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Scribner, 2005

Franz-Peter Griesmaier. Simple Minds: A Cognitive Account of Theoretical Simplicity and the Epistemology of Human Understanding. University of Arizona, 1997

Mary Harrington Hall. A Conversation with Charles Schulz or the Psychology of Simplicity. In: M. Thomas Inge (Ed). Charles M. Schulz: Conversations. University Press of Mississippi, 2000, pp. 45-62

Sue Halpern. Migrations to Solitude. Vintage, 1993 [review]

W. W. Haythorn. The Miniworld of Isolation: laboratory studies. In J. E. Rasmussen (Ed.), Man in isolation and confinement. Aldine Publishing Company, 1973, pp. 219-240

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Steve Hollenhorst, Ernest Frank III and Alan Watson. The Capacity to be Alone: wilderness solitude and growth of the self. In J. C. Hendee and V. G. Martin (Eds.). 1994. International Wilderness Allocation, Management, and Research. Ft. Collins, CO International Wilderness Leadership (WILD) Foundation, Tromso, Norway. pp. 234-239. [text]

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C. R. Long, M. Seburn,  J. R. Averill and T. A. More.. Solitude Experiences: varieties, settings, and individual differences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 203, pp. 578-583.

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Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1956

Miyuki Mokusen. The Psychodynamics of Buddhist Meditation: A Jungian Perspective. Eastern Buddhist, ns10-2, 1977, pp. 155-168

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Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government, University of Chicago Press, 1951 [text]

T. Smith. Wilderness beyond... Wilderness within... Raccoon Institute, 1990.

Robert C. Solomon. Living with Nietzsche; What the Great "Immoralist" has to Teach Us. 2004

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Jacques Vigne:

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