Mary Reynolds Thompson



Desert toads slumber in the ground until flash downpours fill the ponds. Gila monsters store water in their tails. The kangaroo rat recycles moisture from its urine and returns it to its blood stream. After rain, the pleated sides of the Saguaro cactus expand, holding up to five tons of water.

Escape pod seeds, sometimes lying dormant for years, await the first generous rains to burst forth and bloom. Desert plants and animals have adapted to their surroundings by living simply: recycling, storing precious water, and waiting patiently for the growing season.
Most of us don’t have nearly the same knack of adapting to our environment or living according to what sustains us. We tend to demonize those who try to live the simple life, regarding them as lazy, witless or worse: as if a desire for fewer material goods was a sociopathic tendency.

Like the prickly cactus, which holds healing salve at its center, many older cultures live outwardly simple lives while cultivating an extraordinary inner spirit and wisdom. Our preoccupation with outer success blinds us to the wisdom of people who have managed to live harmoniously with nature for thousands of years. More disturbing still, we characterize them as savages precisely because they don’t conform to our industrialized lifestyle. ?This perception has been our sanction to destroy their lands, their languages and their lives.

Right now, people of the industrialized nations are living beyond their means to such an extent that the biosphere is in danger of collapse within this century. We may not always acknowledge the full truth of this, but it casts a dark shadow across our psychic landscape.
Believing happiness is synonymous with material goods, we don’t realize that consuming has consequences. We live so far removed from nature we forget that everything we buy or own requires the sacrifice of some part of the Earth. Just as our garbage and our waste end up polluting some part of it too.
Julia Butterfly Hill
, the environmental activist, reminds us that there is “no away.” Our trash doesn’t vanish, it’s relocated.

And yet, knowing all this, I still have a recurring dream where I go to my closet only to discover it full of beautiful clothes I’ve forgotten about. I feel like I’ve entered Aladdin’s Cave. All those new things to wear! My dream is just my ego playing games ­­­­–– it’s powerful, but ultimately not persuasive.

My childhood best friend was half French and even at age five, seemed to have an enviable sense of style. As we grew up, she showed me that it was quality not quantity that counted. I’d have a ton of stuff in my closets; she’d have a few beautiful pieces that made her look and feel fabulous. Simplicity doesn’t have to mean austerity –– quite the contrary. The desert’s wisdom to live more simply turns out to be the most wonderful, joyful way of living imaginable. ?

Like a spoiled child with an overabundance of Christmas presents — each new gift discarded for the next (and ultimately disappointing) one — when we overdo everything, we actually enjoy the fruits of our labor less. Do we feel happy when our credit cards are maxed out? When our mortgage is too large? When we can’t afford the gas for our oversized car?
On the contrary; the anxiety that comes from living beyond our means is painful. It wakes us in the night, causes untold stress, even affects our health. And even if we aren’t financially stressed, an over plentitude of material wealth can weigh down our spirits and clutter our lives.

The desert teaches us a new meaning of prosperity, one in which we live within our means –– or just more simply –– and relish all the goodness that comes our way.
If you ask people what they want more of, the answer is clear: time. Time to spend with their children, friends, family. Time to spend in nature, pursuing hobbies, or simply being. We could learn to be like those desert seeds, resting easily in the darkness until we are inspired to flower.

When we honor the teachings of the desert, we recognize every blessing of life as precious. We are neither profligate nor stingy. We live in alignment with the true state of both our inner and outer resources, and in doing so discover that simplicity is a pathway to true prosperity.

Mary Reynolds Thompson is a regular presenter for the International Women’s Writing Guild, founder of Write the Damn Book ( and Awakening the Eco-Soul (, and a faculty member for the Center for Journal Therapy. She has served on the board of the National Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy and is currently serving on the Board of North Bay Coaches.


Return to the September/October Index page