“The Virtue of Simplicity”
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
We are currently living is what can be easily called the busiest era of human civilization. The routine that surrounds and pervades our daily lives has never been so complex- so confusing, exasperating, or intimidating as it is now.
What makes us so frantic, anyway? Does it have to be that way? How many of us have taken the time and the courage to examine our deeper reasons for doing, and ask what makes me, or what makes Johnny and Jane run??? Could it be that we, as a culture, have allowed ourselves to get hitched to a treadmill or better yet, be placed on a gerbil wheel without being able to get off? Have each of us created our own feelings of being too busy to truly live- too worn out to enjoy much of anything called the good of living? Is there a different way?
It appears to those who would try to observe us- from political spin doctors to social scientists, from media moguls to contemporary theologians- that our culture, thrive on doing-going-working… Have we become the human form of the Energizer Bunny? Being active is fine, but to the point of exhaustion? No wonder so many people get tired and worn out! Did we have to get sick, as a person or a society before we will learn to slow down, relax, and find more meaning in doing less? Why it is as if our entire population has to find a place to go ….
That we have created a culture of mad-hatters-always rushed, pushing, constantly checking everything from their watches, their voice and e-mail constantly. As a culture, we all suffer from being overly committed to so many tasks, jobs, duties and extra responsibilities, that we can lose track of what else could be considered as defining a full and satisfying life. We have to stop and ask ourselves: Is there any other way?
Are there any other motives, values and outlooks that can constitute a life worth living? Are we so caught up in believing that fulfillment comes from the pressure to do more and more that we have to become robotic to complete it? Are we potentially afraid of standing still? Does any feeling of having spare, empty time threaten you? What about simplicity?
All too often, the word simple is linked with either being simple-minded, being dull or a sense of boredom. Or that being simple and practicing simplicity is someone one is forced to do- because, after all, isn’t complexity what life demands and to reject our cultural standards makes you into a some leftover hippie! My contrasting perspective comes from Thoreau: [That life is not defined or fulfilled by trying to keep pace with your companions, living fully means that you step to a different drummer- the tune of your soul.]
Choosing to be intentionally more simple in our approach to life can contain many lessons, insights and opportunities for wisdom. Simplicity is one of our most neglected virtues.
What is simplicity? It is an attitude that welcomes or invites a deeper consideration of life’s treasures. Simplicity has, as its primary goal the redemption of time. Simplicity ask us to cultivate an improved outlook on your intrinsic value as a human being, not as a human doing… As someone who honors their relationships with enough time and with sufficient attention; to be someone who has also made time for their creative, reflective, spiritual or deeper self- which is a greater step toward wisdom and integrity, especially once we reach mid-life and our mature years.
Choosing or electing simplicity is definitely is not what being a simpleton implies; for a simpleton is someone who follows a series of mindless routines without thinking or perceiving deeply…
Who knows, maybe being so caught up in the confabulated details of our culture is, in its operating realities, an ironic twist, because that pressure contorts us into becoming ethical simpletons… where we make up our minds too quickly, based on empty sound bites and slick media images- never giving ourselves the time to seek out or reflect on the meanings within the messages with depth or completeness…
To voluntarily choose simplicity as a guiding virtue or primary outlook rejects our dizzying cultural pace that works to threaten our harmony, and our tranquillity. Electing simplicity asks us to choose only a few tasks or priorities and then allow those choices to teach you daily, so that you can safely and securely avoid the enticing cultural traps of busyness which robs us of a more balanced perspective.
Simplicity asks us to set a deliberate pace for our lives- a pace, a rhythm, and routine that allows greater self-expression, caring, and dedication. Simplicity remedies the beleaguering intensity of life without accepting any of the opposite-a soul-empting boredom. Thoreau’s admonition to “Simplify, Simplify” and to live more deliberately, is not corny idealism, it is a creative challenge- it is the conscious intention to pay attention to our involvements and to choose our commitments and activities wisely and well.
Another understanding of the virtue of simplicity comes from the opportunity it creates to address those neglected or ignored parts of ourselves and our world. The practice of simplicity opens us up to discovering the gracious in the ordinary; the miraculous in the everyday, the wonder and the beauty found in nature, in a quiet pond, in another person’s face. Ask yourself: Why did I huff and puff to plant roses in my yard if I never have the time to smell them!? Only you can make room for beauty, for nature, art, or music…
If you are always “on the go,” you not only risk missing out on what are called the extras of life, you risk missing or ignoring life’s essentials.
Simplicity is a worldwide virtue. From by Buddhist studies and my introduction to the Oriental culture, the insights and depths of simplicity can be learned from the more Zen-like approaches to house holding: from sparse beauty of brush painting to Ikebana or simple flower arranging; to the decor of a singular Bonsai tree that is a graced by elegant stone and smoothly raked sand. Less is more because of the truths that can be found in a life that contains fewer distractions. There, the mind rests; and in the simplicity of design and decor, one can have the relaxing luxury to contemplate the completeness one can find there.
What about simplicity and all the rush and push of your daily responsibilities? If you remain tightly wrapped up in a complex cocoon of work, sleep, food and family, you might never allow yourself to spread the wings of your heart to appreciate any of them fully. Simplicity is an open, fresh and eager attitude that seeks to slow you down and seek to uncomplicate your life. At the same time, simplicity unfolds the roses of life to reveal a depth of opportunity, experience and understanding that offers us true civility- access to more artful ways; craftsmanship; gentility and politeness; and maybe the area most neglected- the need for true intimacy, friendship, or the depth of honest relating- that provides the heartfelt antidote to the unnecessarily tragic questions:
“if only I knew that was the way you felt…
Or I did not realize how much it meant to you …”.
Lastly, simplicity and sincerity, humility and authenticity are closely linked. In the various translations of The Bible and similarly throughout the texts of all the great Scriptures and traditions East and West, the authors will often use them interchangeably. When we read such poetry and allow time for its inspiration, we can contrast their message with the complex materialism and frenetic superficial concerns of our culture. As I see it, adopting an attitude or an approach that emphasizes simplicity will be an important step in our personal growth or in our spiritual development….
We can take a much deserved satisfaction in fostering and ascribing to our simple, questioning faith. We recognize that in its simplicity, we find its worth, and find its depth, for we are free to choose what we want to believe in, and how we use our time, and how we are to live. … We attest to the possibility that one can live a noble, useful, and compassionate life without any restrictive or complex creeds, doctrines or dogmas.
As Elaine St. James has recently written in her book about Living The Simple Life:
[People today are realizing that they have given up too much in the effort to have it all. The primary objective of most of them is to have more time for their own life dreams or for the people that they love, and for doing those things they really want to do.
[Simplicity] is about deciding what is important to us, and gracefully letting go of the things that aren’t. When you start slowing down, cutting back, creating time-real time for yourself- the important things become obvious. Once you simplify your life, you begin… you do your best work; and You can start… to live your best life…
So, if your life appears to you to be too busy, too strained, too hectic-then try simplicity! Reduce your workload in every superfluous or unnecessary way you can, but do not sacrifice your time for personal growth, for living out your values, or for committing to those essential activities you truly need to pursue. Simplicity as a virtue recommends that you seek to get more out of less in life, and stop adding additional burdens to your day. When you can, wherever you can, choose simplicity over complexity… Let no one or no demand in life take the gift to be simple from you, it is truly a path towards greater fulfillment and a more lasting, resilient sense of joy. So BE IT.