Utne Reader Visionary: Bo Lozoff

We need time to be deeper people

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For more than two decades, Bo Lozoff and his wife, Sita, have been carrying spiritual comfort into terrifying places: prisons. Their Prison Ashram Project helps the incarcerated reflect, meditate, and see the divine spark in themselves and each other. In line with the title of his 1985 book, We’re All Doing Time, Lozoff believes that people on the “outside” can be as hemmed in by “uncivilized” modern life as prisoners are by barbed wire. His Human Kindness Foundation and Kindness House community in Durham, North Carolina, promote simple living, hard work on others’ behalf, and spiritual efforts to become “deeper people” as pathways out of our real and metaphorical prisons.

“The responsibility of living a conscious life is to always be reflecting on the now, on what we need now. There’s a beautiful story of one of the Hasidic Jewish masters of the Middle Ages. After he died, somebody asked one of his disciples, ‘What was the most important thing to your master?’ The disciple thought for a minute and said, ‘Whatever he happened to be doing at the moment.’

“I think we are suffering terribly from being really deep, divine people and not acting like it, not structuring our society around it, not leaving time in our day for being deep, reflective people who appreciate the sun coming up and going down, and who cherish each other. The culture is constantly trying to bait people with the idea that time is of the essence, that you have to accomplish more; you need to be at your computer with headphones on learning that extra language, with a broom up your ass so you can sweep the floor at the same time. We have to resist that.

“To be civilized means to live a life that cherishes others and exudes gratitude and joy. I find that I hardly ever use the word joy without the adjective simple in front of it. At the same time, I think that the “new simplicity” movement is soon going to take off in a different direction from its current one. People will soon realize that they ought to cut down on their material needs and their work time in order to be part of the community and of all creation, not just to have this little enclosed feeling of selfhood that says, ‘I’m going to bike down to the bagel shop and get a baguette.’ Ultimately, that’s not much fun.”