Simplicity and ease used to tease me from just outside my grasp. I was constantly seduced by the new idea, the new friend, the next big thing, and just wanted to be in motion – that felt like really living. I said yes to almost everything out of enthusiasm and exploration, or maybe even out of a misplaced desire to belong. Now it seems that it was all an exercise in seeking clarity on what I really valued, trying everything on the menu so that later I could choose.
This had its cost: I struggled in keeping up with forms, compliance, maintenance. I have been known to run out of gas, run out of money, and pretty much constantly run late. Moreover, my day was often interrupted with emotional ups and downs, complex relationships, and distractions- an internal level of clutter that wouldn’t go away. Deeply frustrated with the inherent noise of modern life (such as time in traffic), I often felt alienated and diffused- like I was scattering my mental seeds across the planet and not tending them, not reaping healthy nourishing harvests.
In all of the busy-ness, there was a constant drumbeat- a longing for personal and professional simplicity: the easy effortless line on paper, principled living, clean forms, the swing of the bat, the long stride, the deep breath, the ordered home, the sense of things in place.
So I embarked on an exploration of what creates the elegant arc, and since then, have derived my own rules for simplicity, the things that have worked for me.
I know there are some long term movements to simplicity that are part of a larger cultural phenomena (such as the Voluntary Simplicity movement, a concept that has been evolving since the 1930s, and includes material simplicity, human scale living, self determination, ecological awareness and personal growth), but my exploration has been outside of any movement- solely the product of desire of wanting to feel better, to live a more beautiful, meaningful life.
I offer this in the thought that it may connect with someone, somewhere and make a difference.
1. Master your Mind: Simplicity is Fed By Awareness
Many years ago, I started a yoga practice, and a sporadic meditation practice came along with that. Over the years, I had those moments of awakening that come with great beauty, grace or even loss- hearing poignant music, feeling real love, seeing what words can do to people and shifting tiny bits at a time. Learning what feels good and what feels crappy. Meditation lets you come to understand who you are in no uncertain terms, and puts a buffer between actions and reactions, so that you can bear witness to and change unhealthy patterns. As a foundation, I have come to believe that mind mastery is required for the rest of all this to work.
2. Know What You’re About: It Simplifies Every Decision
To live simply, you must know what your cosmology is. What matters to you? What’s your go-to philosophy? You must know the few things that you are here to do now, and allowing that those may change over time, this clarity allows you to only say yes to the things that are tied to the important stuff. You can then put your time where your values are. If something’s not tied to that, and it keeps coming back again and again to your consciousness, then you might consciously raise its importance.
The corollary to this is to cultivate The Art of No, as your time is your most valuable commodity. Now that I know what I am here to do, It makes it easy to say yes or no to a project or opportunity. As in, “No, I won’t be able to stuff envelopes this Friday night.” “No, I’m not available to work on your gadget company’s project.” “No, although I love you, I’m not interested in supporting a charitable event to fund space travel.” That is SO hard sometimes, because I really like people, and am super curious about the world, but there’s only so much time in a day.
This also lets me think about time in relationship to values: if I say I love being with my kids but the last time I had a one on one outing with my son was 3 months ago, is my time where my mouth is? When the what I say doesn’t match the what I do, then its time for a reality adjustment.
3. Numbers 1 + 2= Straight Talk and Saved Time.
If you know your own thoughts, you can communicate clearly and directly, without blame or shame, even in conflict situations. This saves enormous time and avoids huge amounts of misunderstanding.
4. Make your Motion Meaningful.
Oh how this will grate on those that knew my frequent flyer ways. And I still love to travel, but I don’t run off on a moments notice, and I don’t run away. I trip combine, I get Gilbrethian (as in Frank and Lillian, motion study pioneers). I move because something matters, not because something is beckoning or demanded of me.
5. In Simplifying, Use Awareness to Turn Habit to Ritual.
The risk of knowing is that you might stop seeking to know- and then maybe you get stuck in a rut. Maybe you end up making your coffee exactly the same way every morning or brushing your teeth with the same strokes and walking an infinite loop in your home, beating the rug with footstrikes in the same places. Keeping things that really do work in your life is definitely a successful simplification strategy. But to keep habits that serve you from becoming rote and meaningless or unexamined, turn them into ritual, conscious of the motions, so that when they no longer sit well anymore you will be aware of it an thus you can move on.
6. Surround Yourself with Living Things and that which is Beautiful to You.
Keep green food, fresh water, blooms, circulating air and sunshine around you no matter where you are. Connect to the living planet, living foods, living creatures and community. Move like you are alive, too! Dance for no reason, walk out in all kinds of weather. It makes all the living in a society kind of stuff just fall away.
7. Follow Steve’s Rule of Stuff
My friend and branding guru Steve Beshara has adopted a new plan for stuff (another post on simpifying in business coming soon frm the both of us). It’s something we started doing around our house a few years ago out of both intention and necessity. Steve states it elegantly, though. Whether for you or a friend, simply cut out frivolous purchases. Steve says, “It’s just junk that adds no value or meaning to your life.” Steve’s 1st rule of thumb: don’t buy anything. If that’s not possible, then he asks, “Will I, or the recipient, cherish this artifact years and years from now?”
While I still have lapses, I am please to report that these practices are bringing ease, the internal conflicts have diminished, life is lighter, I have richer friendships, the quality of work and love is more satisfying and stronger then ever.
Where things are still clumsy and messy or full of friction, it’s because my practice of these personal rules of simplicity has lapsed and old habits have taken the hill again. Mostly, life feels like the easy arc I longed for at 25 or 35: many green things, big open heart- and the daily motion feels like a vigorous, rhythmic, uncluttered freestyle stroke in an 80 degree mineral pool under the Sonoma sun.
Hey younger me, can I tell you that it’s really cool?