What Does It Look Like To Abandon the Big Life for The Good Life?

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You can start by reading this interview with Mystic Artists filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll about her latest film, "A Small Good Thing," a feature documentary that tells the stories of people moving away from a philosophy of “more is better” toward a holistic concept of work and well-being − one based on a close connection to themselves, the natural world, and to the greater good. 

The film helps many in the "wellness community" get their arms around the age-old question that haunts anyone following their passion: it looks fun, it IS meaningful and important, but how are you going to make a living? If we don't ask it of ourselves (of course we do!) then we hear it from our parents. "A Small Good Thing" offers inspiration and example: there are good people out there doing good work...Here's the filmmaker team's description of the project:  

This feature-length documentary is set in western Massachusetts in the Berkshires, long a destination for change-seekers, spiritual explorers, artists, and musicians seeking solace and stimulation amid the pastoral landscape — the perfect setting for a story about renewing personal and universal bonds.  The film follows innovative farmer Sean Stanton, social work student Tim Durrin and yoga teacher Mark Gerow, whose earlier careers in the armed forces have now shifted to service of a different kind; Jen and Pete Salinetti, a college-educated couple with two small children who have chosen to be farmers as a way to connect with their community; and Shirley Edgerton, community activist and founder of both the Youth Alive Step Team and the Women of Color Giving Circle.  What these people share is a deep desire to have more meaning in their lives, a closer bond with their families and communities, and a connection to themselves and the natural world."

A Small Good Thing also explores how it’s important to live in a more meaningful way not just here in one community in the US — traveling to Rwanda, we see how an organization working to provide lasting agricultural solutions to chronic childhood malnutrition in the developing world has created a community at Gardens for Health International where living a life centered around compassion, community and connection has improved the health and well-being of their families."

The film asks whether we can change our larger goals as a nation and learn from the rest of the world about the small truths that are the sources of human happiness. Can our dreams serve as a conduit for the developing world’s financial well-being? The film explores how working in small but meaningful ways, we can overcome obstacles to happiness – the isolation of suburban comfort as well as the despair of poverty – to create joy for ourselves and others."

Q: What inspired you to make A Small Good Thing?

A: As we entered this new century, many of our advancements over the last one hundred years have not necessarily made us more content, as individuals or as a society.  If you talk to anyone in any town or city in this country, you will hear a litany of woes:  people are tired, too busy, in debt, running from activity to work, to play, to caregiving,  to social media.  I felt it was time to look at a different way to live.

Q: How did you choose the cast for A Small Good Thing?  And why film in the Berkshires?

A: I was looking for individuals who were living a better way.  I wanted to find people who made positive changes in their lives through mindful practices, through a closer connection to the natural world, and through a stronger connection to the greater good.

The Berkshires has long been a place where people who want to live close to nature have come.  It has also long been a home to the arts, and artists are often people who envision another way of seeing the world and thus another way of being in the world. The Transcendentalists, who also visited and wrote in the Berkshires, were advocating a simpler, more connected way of living, one less focused on ‘getting and spending’ over a hundred years ago.  These notions of living with intention and paying attention and honoring our natural world are by no means new ideas.  They are deeply woven in the founding of and fabric of American society.

Stephen Cope from Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living in Lenox, Massachusetts, introduced us to cast member Tim Durrin, who was working at Kripalu at the time and through mindful practices (yoga, meditation, cycling) had been able to deal with his struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction.  I took a class with Yoga and Breathing Instructor Mark Gerow in Lenox and was very impressed with his story of how he used his yoga practice to overcome the personal struggles in his life.

Jen and Pete Salinetti from Woven Roots Farm are young sustainable farmers…rock stars really in their community.  I was impressed with how they were able to harvest 11 months out of the year in Western Massachusetts and with the amount of food they were producing on an acre and a half farm.  Also, we heard about Sean Stanton who worked on both his family farm, North Plain Farm, as well as managed Blue Hill Farm for the Barber family.  He was also giving back to his community as the Chair of the Selectman Board for the Town of Great Barrington.

Finally, I heard about a woman in Pittsfield, Mass. who was doing amazing community work with young adults who performed all over the state with the Youth Alive Step Team.  I met Shirley Edgerton for coffee and found out that she was really guiding young people to a life of purpose.

Q: How long did it take to make this film?  And how did making this film influence the happiness in your life?

A: We began--in 2011--researching the film for over a year focusing on the recent happiness studies and the science behind yoga and meditation.  We also did a lot of research on how living in closer connection to the natural world also positively impacted our well-being.   

We began shooting in the Berkshires in 2012, and continued for over a year.  The first edit, which took another year, was flat and disjointed.  In December 2013, I made a decision to close down the production.  I just didn’t feel that the edit expressed my original vision.

After four months, I found a new energy to complete the film in a new location with a new editor, T.C. Johnstone.

In the making of this film, I learned that living an authentic life is not easy…it is hard to be vulnerable and to make mistakes. But, this is the path to living a life that is meaningful and full of purpose.  Like Shirley says in the film, “…the true success in life is you finding your purpose and your passion and you living it out.”

Q: How does watching these small stories about individuals transforming their lives help us to transform the world?

A: Our culture is more invested in comfort than in truth.  Our planet is suffering from our consumer driven way of life.  Although we have more connections through the internet and social networking, we as a society have become more isolated and lonely. We have more material wealth, but we are not happy.

These stories show individuals who are making small changes in their lives that have a big impact in the world.  Jen and Pete Salinetti use only environmentally sustainable practices at Woven Roots Farm.  Also, Sean Stanton feeds his livestock a natural diet…his cows are grass fed and his pigs and chickens are raised on pasture and eat all certified organic grain.  Farms that use these types of regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought.  Also, the agronomists tell us now that you can produce more calories per acre on a small farm than a big one.

Studies show that mindful practices such as yoga and meditation relieve our stress:  blood pressure goes down, heart rates drop, negative emotions decrease, and positive ones increase.  Tim Durrin and Mark Gerow have overcome the struggles in their lives by applying these mindful practices everyday.  And in doing so, have learned that by exposing their struggles to their community, they feel less isolated and more blessed.

And finally, Shirley Edgerton is guiding her young adults to live a life of purpose.  She is teaching them at a young age, “that if you leave yourself open that you move with the universe [and] that’s where you blessings coming in.”  This is how we can live in a more engaged way…a way that helps us to develop empathy and compassion.

Q: What is the message of A Small Good Thing?

A: The message of the film is that happiness and fulfillment come through knowing one’s purpose and living it.  It goes back to Aristotle’s “Know thyself.”  Another aspect of happiness is that it is less about acquiring things or people or status, and more about finding what we are best at and doing this full out.   We are happier when we live with purpose, with a sense that our lives affect others in a positive manner.  We are happier when we share our lives and our talents with others in an authentic manner. And happiness does not necessarily mean an easy life.  In fact, a feeling of well-being often comes out of struggling with adversity, stumbling, falling and picking oneself up again.

A Small Good Thing also celebrates the human need to connect authentically with each other and with the natural world.  The film reaffirms those needs in a time when--across the world, across nations, across those suffering from having too little access to goods and services and those having plenty of access to them--our world and all the people in it are suffering.

Of course, throughout history, humans have suffered, but with the growth in population and with the growth in Internet connectivity and technologically sophisticated weaponry, the chance to do huge harm to each other and to our planet has never been greater.

How do we contain those threats?  "A Small Good Thing" argues that living with an open heart and compassion are some of our best strategies. Once you know another person's story, it is difficult to consider them an enemy.

"A Small Good Thing" is a call to people everywhere to be reminded that our greatest strengths are compassion and care. Care for our natural world so it may continue to provide future generations with a home--one where clean water and air and nourishing food are available. Care for each other despite our differences.

In the best of worlds, we are all connected; we can not live without the other creatures on this planet; we need to take great care of our home, the planet, and great care of each other and of ourselves.  Life is hard.  We are soft little creatures and we fail often. But, we get by best when we rely on each other and on this truly beautiful home of ours called earth.


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