What do you think of when you think of a day to live simply? Perhaps it involves relaxing on the beach, coffee and a good book, no work, a glass of wine and a good friend, or a walk in the woods with your dog. Whatever it is, it probably evokes peaceful, relaxing, calm joyful feelings.
While we dream of these scenarios, we’re resigned to the fact that most of the time, life is not simple, life is complex. Here are three simple things to prove my point: cell phones, television remotes and health insurance. Any one of those things is just about as bad, if not worse, than untangling the dreaded Christmas lights. And that is just the tip of the iceberg in the category of “life is complex.” Add relationships, jobs, feelings, and personalities to the mix and it’s like untangling a whole box of Christmas lights every day!
(For the full video version, click here.)
Mark 7:1-8 is a good example of how complex and complicated the Jews had made their religion. There are 613 laws that Orthodox Jews are required to follow including: wash your hands (in a certain way) before you eat, only eat certain things prepared certain ways, sprinkle your food before you eat it, wash your dishes a particular way, and on and on. When the Pharisee started in on Jesus because his disciples hadn’t ritually washed their hands before they ate, Jesus pretty much replied, “Seriously, that’s what you’re going to nit-pick about? Whether they follow a man-made precept? Don’t you really think God is keeping track of who washes their hands and who doesn’t? What God really cares about is what is in your hearts.”
In the same way, Joan Chittester, in her book, In the Heart of the Temple, also urges us to focus on what is in our hearts:
If we lack simplicity, if we fret at every delay, become miserable at every change of plans, become miffed at every imagined slight, become irritated at every lapse of deference, become despondent over every lack of gadget, then God has been replaced in us by a god of our own making. Then the simple life, the sanctity of the present moment, the contemplation of the divine in the mundane, the “purity of heart” that centers us on the eternal that is in the now, disappears into oblivion.
She goes on to say that no matter what we try to DO to make our lives simpler, it’s a false sense of simplicity if our heart isn’t in on the deal. So, how do we foster a simplicity of heart? Chittester gives us four things to work on that she says are essential in cultivating a simplicity within:
- Being unencumbered
- Opening to a consciousness greater than ourselves
- Serenity in the midst of chaos
She says honesty is the foundation of all of it. And that doesn’t mean not telling lies, it means not pretending to be something we aren’t. It means living with integrity and authenticity. We can’t have simplicity within if we’re dealing with the complexity of trying to be what everyone else wants us to be, trying to please everyone, putting on masks so people only see what we want them to see, or being self-centered and believing that having what we want, when we want it is the goal of life.
Chittester shares an Arab proverb that says, “We own only what cannot be lost in a shipwreck.” Whatever we own, all those things we cling to and put value on, are truly only temporary. Anyone who has had to clean out someone else’s house when they’ve passed away or gone into a nursing home intimately understands this. Yet, we acquire more and more stuff without getting rid of anything.
Let me be clear here… it is not the things that are the problem. They are a neutral party in all of this. The problem is our clinging, our attachment, our fear of letting go, our need for things to fulfill our needs and desires. Instead we need to cultivate an appreciation of the beauty in each moment regardless of what we perceive our lack to be.
Simplicity of heart understands and accepts that there is NO thing that can give us value, truly fulfill us or make us whole. So, we can take things, but we have no problem leaving them either.
OPENING TO A CONSCIOUSNESS GREATER THAN OUR OWN
Living with a simple heart means learning to walk through life aware of the Divine Presence, in and around us and then root ourselves deeply in the Ground of our Being so we walk gently, with kindness and compassion, unperturbed by the “clutter of the commonplace.”
Do you remember going to the park as a kid to play on the merry-go-round? If you sat in the middle, someone could spin you as fast as they could and you wouldn’t move. But, if you left the middle, the force of being spun gradually pulled you to the outside until you were handing on for dear life. Serenity is like sitting in the middle of the merry-go-round despite the way the world spins around you. Achieving true simplicity of heart, Chittester says, requires the ability to cultivate serenity despite the aggravations and agitations of life.
Mark Nepo, in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, has a slightly different take on this:
I’ve been listening way inside, where the Universe rushes through me like wind through a hole in an old door in a hut near the edge of a cliff. I’ve been going there and listening, on the inner edge of everything. There, I’ve heard two irrevocable truths: the truth of life, the very fact of it, how it comes out of nowhere like a strong breeze to lift our faces, how it goes on its way; and the truth of how life like a storm can rough up our hearts, how we have no choice but to feel that wind move through us and around us. Trying to give words to this is difficult. But the first truth can be offered as the truth of things as they are, and the second as the experience of being human.
We live in this challenging place between “the truth of how things are” and “the experience of being human.” Simplicity of heart is the “truth of how things are” – that God, the Universe, the Ground of our Being is intimately connected to our souls and that is the eternal, foundational truth. And the complexity of life is “the experience of being human” – where we’re faced with the storms of life, large and small, the agitations, the irritations, the fears, the dramas, the tragedies, the life-altering decisions.
He suggests that perhaps the path to dealing with this is not to run from the storms or try to shut them out (because truly even acceptance of the storm does not necessarily stop the destruction or the pain), but to learn to be a container for the peace that comes from simplicity of the heart and groundedness in the Divine, AND for the storms. To be a container for both simplicity and complexity. What happens then, I think, is that we sit in the center of our merry-go-round of life, bringing love, peace, patience and compassion to the chaos, until the spinning slows down.
So… live authentically, learn to let go, be consciously aware of and open to the Divine in the NOW (whatever that now may be), and strive for serenity, so that we develop a simplicity of heart that we bring to meet the storms in life.