For many years living in England, I felt my own sense of What Really Matters becoming more and more out of kilter with the prevailing ethic. As a person-centred therapist, for example, I was - and remain - shocked and angry at, and disturbed by, the ceaseless moves towards statutory regulation of the practice of counselling and psychotherapy. (If you want to know why, you could do worse than visit The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy and watch the video talk by Brian Thorne, who was my tutor and mentor. I can't put it better than he does. Never could, actually ...). As a restaurateur, I was saddened by the general belief that we must be motivated by, and in it for, profit ... and exhausted by continually having to explain that we didn't see things that way. I lost count of how many presumably well-meaning people told us how much more we could earn by opening on more days or for longer hours, or turning tables, or cramming more people in, or using wholesalers instead of small producers, or any number of so-called 'normal' trade tricks; explaining that we were simply interested in creating a life that sustained us and was sustainable usually led to (at best) disbelief and (at worst) pity. And as a person, the things that most inspire me - growing things, creating things, sharing things, community and communities, meditation, nature, creating space for people to be and discover themselves and others, living a simple but not a plain life - were certainly not those that surrounded me on a daily basis.
Here in rural France, and in particular in Ariège, I'm no longer counter-cultural. As everyone well knows, the French work to live rather than live to work; in spite of Nicholas Sarkozy's best efforts to get everyone to "work more to earn more", the nation remains singularly unconvinced: earning enough is what it's all about. Commuting is rare, and despised - a last resort, to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. Almost everybody grows their own vegetables. Credit cards are all but unknown: you want something, you pay for it, now. Houses are bought as homes, not as investments, and mortgages are strictly and legally regulated. The consumer society is muted: shops are closed for two hours at lunchtime, and on Sundays. Cars go on for at least twice as long as they do in the UK, other machinery even longer; there really is no pressure to have the latest equipment or the fastest PC or the trendiest trainers or spend the most on your child at Christmas or dress in the most stylish fashions (if you've visited a rural market and seen some of the clothes on offer, you'll understand what I mean and wonder why on earth the French have a reputation for being elegant ...). In spite of la crise, the essence of daily living continues to be dominated rather more by simple pleasures than by desire or by fear. What Really Matters here is living a life of quality not quantity; living well, and appropriately.
And so, blessedly and with a great sigh of relief, I find myself finally to be living an ordinary life, just one amongst countless others doing the same.