Saturday, August 16, 2014

Intentional living may be what saves us

In chapter 6 of The Green Boat, Mary Pipher gets tough. She overcomes her pessimism and decides it is time to do something about climate change. She writes, “Implied in the term, ‘new healthy normal’ is my assumption that it is not mentally healthy to sit idly by while the human race destroys its mother ship.” P.117 And I want to holler across the pages, “You go girl!”

Pipher then goes on to describe what she calls “intentional living.” She writes, “In my book The Shelter Of Each Other, I argued that if we just let the culture happen to us we end up rushed, stressed, addicted, unhealthy, and broke. I want to advance that argument by suggesting that we be intentional with our time and money not only for ourselves and our families but for the entire planet.” Pp.120-121
Most of us do not live intentional lives, but rather lives for any number of reasons we have lost control of and then we complain of stress, fatigue, and aches and pains. Even worse, we blame other people telling ourselves that we would be happier if only x would do y and z. We give up our power and delude ourselves into thinking that our happiness depends on what other people do in which case we only become more frustrated, disillusioned, and depressed. Relief seems to be available in alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, gambling, eating, excessive exercising, excessive working, surfing the web, getting caught up in drama on the internet, texting, etc. We begin to protect ourselves by compartmentalizing our lives and rationalizing. Pipher writes:

“In Western Culture, we have a tendency to compartmentalize the ways we earn our living from what we call real life. Many decent people learn to check their integrity and values at the office door at eight a.m., then reclaim them at five p.m. How they spend their workdays doesn’t connect to how they define themselves as people. For example, kind and conscientious parents can somehow find themselves making products harmful to children.

This kind of compartmentalization of identity, at its extreme, is what the Nazis did. In The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, R.L. Lifton interviewed Germans who had been involved in the slaughter of innocents. He concluded that many people would do anything with a relatively clear conscience as long as they could label it work. If they were obeying orders from a superior they would behave in ways they would never consider in their off-duty lives. In the early 1960s, Stanley Milgram learned this same thing in psychological studies.”  Pp. 124-125

People spit off, they disassociate one part of their lives from others, and play multiple roles which sometimes are quite conflicting and contradictory. In the 60s we had some wonderful expressions about people “having their shit together” or “not having their shit together.” When we met people who “had their shit together” we usually would get “good vibes” and when people “didn’t have their shit together” we got “bad vibes.” Pipher writes, “We could define the authentic life as one in which one’s values and behaviors are congruent. That is what the Buddhists call ‘right livelihood,’…” p.125

Intentional living requires that we slow down and don’t allow ourselves to be pressured by external circumstances any more than we have to. Pipher notes that a group at the Women’s Theological Center in Boston has a motto: “We must go slowly, there is not much time.” P.130 Pipher then tells a story about a developmentally disabled man who was a bagger at her super market who made a mistake when he was hurriedly packing an order which he then had to redo and said, “This is what happens when I get in a hurry. It always slows me down.” Pp.130-131 Pipher notes that we should slow down and “savor the world we have” instead of always wanting more, going faster, trying to get to a illusionary tomorrow when things will be better. 

Intentional living should help us achieve the sixth principle of Unitarian Universalism, a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Intentional living, in the last and deepest analysis, is about Love, Unconditional Love, which, while it cannot be defined, we can become more aware of once we remove the obstacles and barriers we busily create that prevent us from the awareness of Love’s presence.


  1. Wonderful essay! Just what I needed as I begin the weekend with activities I have overbooked myself with after an exhausting week. I am going to say "no" to a few things and slow down.

    Blessings back to you and the wonderful work you do here.

  2. Like Simon and Garfunkel sang back in the day, "Slow down you move too fast. You got to make the morning last."