The path of simplicity
MICHAEL LEWIN shares his experience and idea on how to bring simplicity into daily life, through lifestyle changes and practices.
My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe;
When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so
—Ryokan (1758 – 1831)
Before you started reading this, what were you doing? Where was your mind attending? Were you concentrating on one particular task, fully focused, giving your best effort? Or were you mentally elsewhere, distracted by a stream of fragmented thoughts, totally unaware of your lack of mindfulness?
If you are anything like me you are probably in the latter category, over-reaching and dissipating your energy, chasing after so many things.
Our preoccupation with doing and achieving is an anxiety that largely accumulates from our exposure to fiercely competitive, economic environments, financially driven market cultures (now increased to global proportions) that constantly strive to maximize material production, performance and consumption at all costs. In the process of busying ourselves with all these activities we can be lost, away from looking deeper into life and from asking those questions that can lead us into enriched understanding, deeper awakening and true liberation.
THE PATH CAN BEGIN THIS VERY MOMENT
Life gets difficult when we try to meet so many expectations, often imposed on us by us. We overburden ourselves with multiple tasks and end up feeling guilty when we do not accomplish the desired results. Leading a better life, a simplified, saner life, means letting go of so much that preoccupies us unnecessarily. Letting go of that, which we know deep within us, is not essential to our true being.
A new and spiritually enriched life that will take us off to deeper appreciation is only a choice away. So do we continue to cling to our acquisitive, materialistic values and allow ourselves to become over-stressed in a situation that is unsustainable for us, and for the planet, in the long term? Or do we follow the lead of Ryokan and try to simplify our existence to manageable proportions?
THE PATH CAN START HERE
Once, a self-confessed over-worked, over-stressed friend of mine was late for an important meeting. He dashed to his car and headed towards his destination only to find heavy traffic congestion all along the route. He tried to take alternative shortcuts, but to no avail. There seemed to be traffic jams everywhere. At a crawling pace, getting very agitated, he suddenly and for no apparent reason made the decision that he was going to be late.
I like that. He reframed his normal response of anxiety and denial and accepted the reality of a situation he couldn’t change. This marked his entry point into a whole new way of thinking, a whole new way of being in the world. His busy lifestyle of trying to juggle so many different things was in sharp focus like never before, and he knew he that he had to trim down his commitments in order to achieve more peace, contentment and easiness in his life. Soon thereafter he started to attend retreats and engage with the pragmatic teachings of Buddhism (Dharma).
To reduce our burden of over-achieving, over-reaching and over-stretching we must start somewhere, like my friend. We need to simplify whatever we are doing. This decision then becomes our starting point, our entry into a new life. Instead of making adjustments to keep up with the runaway schedules, timetables, performance targets of a fierce economic culture, the latter may be scaled down and humanized to meet our real needs and desires.
Our lives are precious, our time is precious – greater than the value of the Stock Market’s trading or the value of the FT Index.
THE PATH CAN BE MY LIFE, MY LIFE CAN BE THE PATH
We can travel a long way and do many different things,
but our deepest happiness is not born from accumulating new experiences.
It is born from letting go of what is unnecessary
and knowing ourselves to always be at home.
‘Being at home’ is what we should aim for.
A space that allows us to rest mindfully in non-attachment.
A space where contentment and deep happiness abide.
A space that allows healing and restoration to take place.
It seems that everything we touch today has now, now, now wired into it, and unless we challenge our mindsets we may just go on repeating the same old patterns of behavior. We do not have to be driven by turbulent thoughts, which tell us that we must be constantly doing; that rest is lazy and unproductive. On the contrary, rest can quite often be uniquely productive.
Take nature for instance. During the dormant winter months an apple orchard is at rest, but within every tree, right down to its deepest roots, there is a promise of what is to come: the full fruits of its creative cycle. Without that rest there would be no apples to harvest. The latter is simply a product of the former, all expressed in the natural cycle of seasons.
Rest nourishes growth.
The more we can quiet our mind of its restless and neurotic thoughts, the more we open up for a listening to take place. A listening so deep, so still, that we may never be the same again. In Buddhism this is known as yoniso manasikara, which means ‘wise attention’.
Letting go creates space for letting in. Ryokan was very much aware of this. That’s why he dedicated his life to the pursuit of simplicity, in order to be able to somehow touch the truth of his existence. How else can we start to touch our truth in a world that provides so many materialistic distractions?
Simplicity means living lightly, and this involves not only watching our consumption levels but also following Earth-friendly strategies for a more sustainable future. Then we can rest knowing that we have done all we can to make this world a better place. Living in harmony with the natural world, paying due respect to its universal gifts, is an imperative that we cannot afford to ignore anymore. And whilst we may not be able to influence global environmental policies, we can at least make certain that we are engaged and committed to doing what we can.
The deeper we venture into simplicity, the deeper we experience a knowing that transcends the rationalistic surface thought that we readily accept as normal. Simplicity helps to focus clarity of vision and insightfulness, bringing us the realization that less is often more. And within this knowledge lies sacca, or truth.
The mystery does not get clearer by repeating the question,
Nor is it bought with going to amazing places.
Until you’ve kept your eyes
And your wanting still for fifty years,
You don’t begin to cross over from confusion.
Journey well. Journey into simplicity.
Reprinted with permission from http://www.michaellewin.org/articles/simplicity/path-of-simplicity/