Simple Living: The Journal of Voluntary Simplicity

Simplify Your Inner Life & You'll Have
More To Give To The World

by Janet Luhrs, Editor, Simple Living Journal
from the Winter, 1998 issue


A quote from Martin Luther King inspired Donna Miller to simplify her inner life, so she would have more to give the world. King said:

"No one has learned to live until they can rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns to the broader concern of humanity...

"In order to live creatively and meaningfully, our self-concern must be wedded to other concerns."

Miller, a therapist in Portland Oregon, realized that if she didn't get to know herself on a deeper level, she would not be able to help others. "Getting to know yourself points you in the direction of clarifying your values," she says. "The simple life is nothing if not about clarifying what your values are. It gives you information about where to put your energy.

"If your relationship isn't working, many other things in your life may not work very well either," Miller says. "Conflict and poorly functioning relationships can use up a lot of financial and emotional resources. It's like a slow bleed. It just makes sense for people to increase their awareness and skill level to keep that from continuing. Then we free up our energy to enhance personal satisfaction and productive contribution to what we value in the world.

"Knowing yourself simplifies your life because you know you have limited resources and you know that it's a waste of your energy being upset about something you can't do anything about. Getting to know yourself points you in the direction of clarifying your values."

In 1981 after a divorce, Miller began her personal growth work. "I had a growing awareness that there was a lot about me that needed to change," she says. Her personal work helped her to define her own values, and to free herself from society's definition of the good life. "Being in touch with my own vision and dreams, spending the bulk of my time doing what I love to do, and more and more aligning myself with a sustainable lifestyle are what is important to me.

"I've been fortunate enough to discover right livelihood for myself–a lifelong fascination with intimate relationships and conflict resolution."

Miller's fascination with conflict resolution was born when she taught at the Buddhist University in Viet Nam during the war. "I had a deep desire to foster peaceful relationships," she says. She became acquainted with the Buddhist Eight-fold Path to Enlightenment which includes right view, right thinking, and right livelihood. She returned from Viet Nam and integrated what she learned from that experience into a specialty in conflict resolution. She worked as a corporate trainer and workshop leader.

"Unresolved or poorly resolved conflict destroys our families, our infrastructure and our country," she says. "My focus is on educating people, organizations and families to improve their understanding and skills, and to motivate them to become masters at resolving conflict nonviolently."

Now, Miller is moving into couple's work because she sees couples and families as a basic unit of society. (Couples can be any definition of intimate relationship.) "It doesn't mean that I'm complete in my own growth, but that I've got 15-20 years working on my issues, and it feels appropriate for me to now grow into serving my chosen community," she says.

"When I die, my contribution to this planet is not that I recycled paper, rather, my focus is on helping people resolve differences in a planetary sustainable way.

"It may not seem that I am helping the planet, but I'm reminded of the words of a man named Thomas Crum, who uses martial arts to teach conflict resolution. Someone said to him, 'There are 40 wars going on in the world, and you might only reach fewer than 1000 people a year. How do you possibly think you'll make a difference?'

"He said, 'When I die what I want people to be able to say about me was that I was one of the people who was committed to turning it around.'

"That always struck me. He knew that in his life, whether it looked like an overwhelming job or not, he was going to keep trying. If I can have an impact on a few thousand people's lives, it's enough for me because those people are like yeast."

Miller hopes to help couples gain a deeper experience of loving themselves and others via a healthier relationship. That relationship, she believes, will free people's energy so they can contribute to society.

"I want to help people do the foundation work so more of us can move into that broader level of service," she says. "If your marriage is falling apart, or if you have emotional problems you've never tackled, your attempts at service are going to be stymied.

"Part of my work is helping couples and myself really dig into the daily realities of getting along with another person, of surfacing differences and working through life from the mundane to the large core issues that each couple generates. Work through what it really means to live with another person," she says.

In her couples work, Miller frequently sees the presenting issues of sex, money, parenting, household chores, and autonomy vs intimacy. The underlying issues, however, are people's inability to resolve differences without reactivity, defensiveness, avoidance, contempt, control and attempts to change and blame the other person.

"I am reminded of ancient Vietnamese folk wisdom that lays the four foundations for making the world a better place:

  1. Perfect the self. You can't save the world if you are arrogant, immature, inexperienced or emotionally unhealthy.
  2. Nurture the family. Family is any unit of people who live together.
  3. Serve your community. Community can be your neighborhood, the state, a special-interest group, whatever.
  4. And the world will save itslef.

"The message is very clear," Miller says. "Stop blaming others, stop living like a victim, stop thinking you can't make a difference. If you go out and serve your community but you haven't done your own growth work and nurtured your family, it will catch up with you.

"You can have two people doing something positive like environmental work, but they're screaming at each other because they have different ideas on how to do it.

"Throughout antiquity, Shakespeare, Thoreau and others have always said, 'Know thyself'."

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