A New Good Life

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell,” wrote Edward Abby.   The last couple of days, I’ve been reading the unbound  pages of a new book by John Robbins, author of the mega bestseller, Diet for a New America.    As many people in cyberspace know, Robbins was the heir apparent of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune. But he walked away from all that wealth and certainty to be what I have been thinking of as a kind of ’60’s Amercian Socrates.  I mean, he began to question very, very deeply the Baskin-Robbins slogan:  “We make people happy.”   He was driven to penetrate beneath the surface and connect with the source of happiness;  and he and his wife settled down to a demanding but richly meaningful life living off land (they grew and at so much kale they almost named their son Kale instead of Ocean).  To make the story very, very short, he and his wife and ultimately his son and grandchildren devoted themselves to living a consciously and carefully–not as consumers but as citizens of a planet.    Even after Diet for New America sold millions of copies, Robbins continued to live simply.  He took seriously the ancient advice about making decisions for the seventh generation…and a good and well-intentioned friend encouraged him to invest his money.

His new book , which is due out in May, is called The New Good Life (May, Random House).    We are going to be excerpting it in our upcoming “Life After Death” issue because it is about living beyond your worst nightmare.   John Robbins is one more good man who suffered great loss at the hands of Bernie Madoff.   But he has also come out of this dark night of loss with a message about the liberation that can come when we die to a life that draws most of its meaning and well being from consuming, from dreams of endless expansion.

Now the Christian world is in Lent, which comes from the Old English word “lencten,” which means springtime.  How interesting it is that a word that denotes the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, a period that means going without, comes from an ancient word for a new beginning.  Lent is also related to the word “lend,” which also makes inner sense since we are asked to dethrone ourselves from the center of our own worlds.  We are asked to give up, to become inwardly poor, empty, so that we may receive.   I think it’s time, don’t you?

15 thoughts on “A New Good Life

  1. Ah, new stuff to talk about. I was sitting in a class today on the Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ to John listening to my professor who wrote her dissertation on the same. It is a wonderfully complex book that has been massively misinterpreted over the millenia. It is of the apocalyptic genre, the only one of its kind in the Biblical canon, full of imagery and allusion. I am so glad I waited until the end of my MDiv to take this course because I can now better see the intertextual allusions to other books of scripture. What an incredible piece of literature, a completely different perspective on the true meaning of Jesus Christ.

    Central to the story is suffering, the death of many that follow the throwing down of the Dragon (Satan, the accuser) from heaven. Upon his defeat in heaven, he looses destruction upon the earth, killing wantonly and senselessly. But this is temporary for the lamb/lion king will defeat him on earth as well.

    What does this all mean? That suffering is a sign that victory is nigh. The way to the Cross was filled with profound suffering but it was merely the prelude to the resurrection. If it is all about the Cross, as it is, why should suffering not be a sign to us that great good is about to come.

    I find the Robbins story to be in the same vein. He rejected consumerism to embrace simplicity. But he really didn’t because he had a safety net. He didn’t REALLY trust in God that it would be OK. God, being who he is, took the final step of stripping away his last safety net and now he really is free of consumerism and the idolatry of a material safety net.

    Suffering comes before the final victory. Helps to put that bright light into some perspective, doesn’t it.


    1. Yes, Scott. I once heard there is always one last test–a person can a good man who has worked hard and liberation and here comes suffering–the final giving up. Also, Robbins and his son Ocean conveyed to me that suffering loss at Madoff’s hands caused him to realize that even though he was living a good, altruistic life, giving much of his money away, he was still thinking in an old way–and that we as a culture still think in terms of “economic recovery,” as if endless economic expansion is the way of the universe. I guess there really is just One ultimate expansiveness–and it doesn’t actually measure us by our bank accounts or our GNP.

      1. I just saw a nice news story about a family, in California I believe, who sold their residential monstrosity and downsized and took the $300,000 profit to give to the those he needed it more than they. If you saw the story, you would know that this all started with their idealistic 16 year old daughter. They didn’t bankrupt themselves but they chose to live simpler lives and to give away what they didn’t need. Wow, if we could multiply that by 100 million households!

      2. That’s a beautiful story, especially since it was considered generosity, i.e. what do we really need? Robbins story touches that also. It inspires me to really think about what I truly need, to live more simply, and also with less shame and anxiety about having/not having money and stuff. I can’t speak for the planet, but I’m too old to worry about accumulating stuff anymore…I never was much good at it anyway. May it become beautiful and cool to do with much less!

  2. I finally have a faint understanding of why Gurdjieff urges us to practice conscious labors and intentional suffering. Intentional (conscious suffering) is a means of escape from my identification (indulgence) with all the various forms within me; whether they be painful or pleasurable. Because in consciously not giving expression to the wrong functioning of my emotions, intellect and body they become intensely obvious to me. It is a struggle, a sacrifice. And under the light of Attention something miraculous happens. They become transformed. A part of me dies and at the same time something new is born. The forms within me whether of hatred, greed or indulgence in pleasure which I inhabit over and over are both the Devil and God. The devil in that they are alluring, God because it is the very friction which I need in order to understand both what it means to be enslaved and what it means to accept that the forms are a part of me which have their place when I am not asleep within one or other of them.

    We do have to give up our sleep. But the matter, the materiality of my various selves cannot be discarded at will. That is an illusion that can only be broken when I see that I am not one of my thoughts, I am not one of my emotional postures, I am not one of my body movements. And the Seeing is seemingly by way of a very special Attention that requires what I usually believe to be myself to be quiet.

    In Beelzebubs Tales to his Grandson (G.I. Gurdjieff), Beelzebub was cast out because he interferred in what was none of his business to the point where he almost brought about rebellion on a universal scale. He was exiled to a very dark and distant place, our solar system. There he began to study humans. Eventually because of his conscious labors and intentional sufferings he was allowed to return to ‘the center’ as he had obtained almost the highest level of reason possible in the universe. This story of Beelzebub is in stark contrast to the view of the devil most of us have.

    1. More and more I begin to see how important it is not to judge what I see, how important it is cultivate equanimity.

  3. Pardon me, but I’m a poet. I understand that today that means something very different than what it must have meant to us in the beginning. We groan now when someone says that. But in my mind, poetry’s the most expressive word to convey meaning, is language at its zenith, but unfortunately it is also at the same time the easiest form of writing to pick up and play with, and now with the Internet making publishing as easy as to press ‘send,’ it’s being published in phenomenal quantities. Quality has all but flown from the field. More and more magazines, especially ones of a spiritual bent, are declining to even consider the art submitted by someone from the public at large. Your magazine for example. But it might very well be that you have closed a door that at least needs to be cracked open a bit, and I’m not sure how you would do that without having to read through so much chaff. If it is true that silence does indeed speak, that there is something within us that knows the up of things, of all writers who would hear that better than the poet? Is there an opening in Parabola to capture that? Let me apologize again for commenting on something not related to this current post, but it seems to me that here a reply would be more forthcoming than if I tried elsewhere. I did however enjoy the post. Thank you.

    1. Donny,

      Thank you. Just yesterday I was thinking about relating something, transmitting something and realized that words very inadequately convey one’s experience. Then I read what you have to say about poetry and have a new appreciation of what poetry was ‘meant to be’.

      Ad to your comments about Parabola needing new breath, I am in agreeement. Listen up Tracy.

    2. I’m sure I understand your comment. Parabola does consider work submitted by the public at large, and we do publish poetry. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. New breath? Who gets published in Parabola?

    Looking at Profiles of the latest edition of Parabola I see Barbara Helen Berger – author, Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, editor translator…..well the list continues in the same manner.

    What about the voices who are rarely if ever sought out and heard? I know very little about traditions other than the one I follow but I am certain within each there are people who have something to say in a way that is not heard from the well known personas.

    I am remembering an article in Parabola some time ago in which a woman weaver and sheep grower was interviewed. It was a wonderful interview.

    I enjoy Parabola and purchase each new issue but I mostly skip the frequent contributors. I already know what they have to say.

    1. Thanks for your input, artxulan. We do want to include more voices. In fact, this very blog is one small step in that direction. There will be more.

  5. Ten years ago, for Lent, I gave up wanting more than I already have. Every Lenten season since I’ve tried to reinforce/strengthen this pledge.

    Daily, I remind myself to expect nothing of others, only of myself.

    Daily, Earth’s beauty proves to be miraculous.

    If nothing else, help others to see the surrounding beauty.

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