On Simplicity

It seems that everywhere I turn of late, I am being bombarded by the overwhelming complexity of life.  From political problems that are so ingrained that it seems they will never be overcome to the ever present mound of ‘stuff’ that is choking the life out of our New York City apartment.  I joke of course, but I am sure I am not the only person to be overwhelmed by clutter, or to have been persuaded to buy some ‘thing’ that I did not require and to place said ‘thing’ in my apartment ready for the hour of need, which never actually came.

I have found it so very difficult at times to determine what is necessary and what is in fact illusion in life.  The tempting visual mirages of the life that I aspire to are so deeply pervasive in our society that I feel I can be forgiven for mistaking them for the real thing.  Even such questions as:  Should I get another qualification? or the never ending merry-go-round of things we supposedly need to do to be “successful” in life, that in truth turn out to be carrots on sticks, that remain just out of reach.

As our security both financial and political seems to circle the drain, I am finding there can be a surprising benefit, in that that which now exceeds our means, becomes suddenly and shockingly unnecessary.

I am not suggesting for a moment that we do not need to eat or provide shelter and heat for our families, but shoes for every occasion, the fancy shampoo and the house with a bathroom that could quite happily be half the size and still serve our needs very well are quite frankly, obsolete.

In times of challenge, we have little choice but to face our fears and all the extraneous stuff that has attached itself to our lives can be swept away.  Taking advantage of moments like these is key to stepping outside the mirage of the world we live in.

When the outer world becomes less ‘shiny’ and distracting to our senses we have the opportunity to delve deeply and explore our inner landscape.  When we have more time on our hands but can no longer afford cable TV or take-out, we can spend time with ourselves, reading, musing, meditating over food preparation and figuring out what is truly meaningful in our lives.  And even if we discover a significant dislike for cooking, we can at least know that when our circumstances change, take-out will be high on the list of things we’d rather not do without!

The need for simplicity is something that can be hard to learn, especially since most of us are so used to the complexity of our modern lives.  I recently heard a story of a man on an airplane where they had just introduced internet.  After a short period of time, they experienced problems and the service went down.  The man got angry and started complaining loudly.  He had forgotten that half an hour before he hadn’t even known the service was available.  How many of us when we fly, stop to think just how amazing it is to sit in an armchair, drink in hand, traveling hundreds of miles an hour whilst we’re thousands of feet above the surface of the earth?

The same analogy can be drawn in the rest of our lives.  How often are we grateful for our warm beds or a friendly face?  How often do we appreciate the sight of a tree or the rejuvenative power of a deep breath?  The things that cost us nothing are so often  the most valuable things to us upon closer inspection if we can but find the time and space to appreciate them.

I for one am learning to love the lean times. In some ways it’s like becoming a child again – I am revisiting the wonders of the world around me with new eyes, but this time with the perspective of a few more decades behind me. I am finding that it is possible to shake off the weariness and cynicism that had crept up over time, by letting go – of the stuff, of the expectations, of the habits that I thought I could not live without and I am finding that the seeds of joy live in keeping things simple.

© Vanessa Francis 2010

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