In the world of unbelievable confusion in which we live, this consumer-oriented society, which has managed to make most people believe the pathetic and preposterous proposition that happiness depends on things and piling up experiences rather than being, it is so important to stress the deep healing power of simplicity.
There is an order, depth and power in the simple life, which has to be experienced to be believed.
By the simple life, I do not necessarily mean materially simple, although that evidently helps a great deal. I mean a life trimmed of all inessentials, a life uncluttered by the noise of needless desires, wants and ‘me centeredness’. I am thinking of a life that is totally and harmoniously focused and ordered toward a single, overriding aim. This life has a direction so sure and clear that all the gales of fear and wanting and striving for more, the nightmares born of keeping up with the latest hits, fads and fashions, a life of reaching for more or better, of ‘tomorrow maybe’ and ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ just falls away like an old tattered cloak.
Every instant has meaning
This simple life is centred and focused; it is strongly grounded because every single instant has meaning – a meaning rich and full and ripe like the grapes from Samos Island, famous since antiquity for the exceptional wine they produce. In such a life, there is no possible loss of energy, because its whole reach is governed by this overriding aim – hence the fullness of the present moment, expressed by a lovely story about St Francis of Assisi. He was raking the leaves in the garden when a group of brothers came up to him and said ‘Francis, if you were told you were going to die in half an hour, what would you do? ‘
‘I would continue raking the leaves,’ he replied.
Such is the inner serenity of the simple life. Psalm 23 becomes one’s autobiography.
When I met my life companion 25 years ago, we knew we were not uniting our lives for ourselves, but to strive for a common goal: a world that works for all.
This has been the cantus firmus (base melody of a Bach cantata) of our lives. As in a Bach cantata, this basis enables the counterpoint to develop infinitely because all is held together by this melodious undercurrent. One learns to let go of absolutely everything – one’s time, money, energy, marriage, relationships… to serve one’s aim. Life becomes so beautifully simple – a bit like Shaker furniture: only the absolutely essential remains. Everything falls into place, naturally, harmoniously as one learns to live from the organizing centre of the circle – one’s main goal. The centre of the wheel may turn very fast, while remaining always poised, serene and stable.
The centred and simple life becomes more and more consistent and coherent, almost effortlessly. Unimportant things just drop away. This inner coherence and consistency, which comes from living in accordance to one’s values, brings with it a quiet inner power that withstands all storms.
In 1936, Richard Gregg, a friend of Gandhi, wrote an article on this theme in which he stressed that the simplicity implied both a singleness of purpose and the avoidance of exterior clutter and of those possessions which were not needed to support one’s life aim. ‘It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and desires,’ Gregg wrote, ‘a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose.’
One could not say it better. The simple life this article describes is a life of incredible abundance. This simplicity is not accepting less, but making room for the overflow the prophet Malachi was thinking of when he described the cosmic Mother, divine Love, saying ‘Prove me now herewith, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.’
True wealth is an inner state of the heart
A simple, clear and practical book for someone wishing to pursue or deepen the path of simplicity is Timeless Simplicity , by John Lane. I love his leading statement that simplicity is about ‘the restoration of wealth in the midst of affluence in which we are starving of the spirit.’ Despite all the talk about progress, we live in societies where we are regressing in many areas. Simple living enables one to return to basics and to (re)discover that true wealth (as opposed to the accumulation of things) is ALWAYS an inner state of the heart.
Personally, there is not one minute of my life which is not packed with meaning – and what is more important to live the good life than meaning? How many among the rich and wealthy commit suicide because they have absolutely everything and more, but no meaning?
‘Attach your chariot to a star,’ wrote the American thinker Emerson. That star, dear friend, will give inner consistency to all you do and, one day – it’s a promise – you will reach the green pastures, for they are… inside you!
May the gentlest blessings descend on you.