Simple Living, Simply Better.

November 30, 2009

Imagine a beautiful, modern home. Minimalist. Sharp edges. Clean wood finishes. Elevated ceilings. Large windows allowing natural lighting to fill the many wide-open spaces.
Sound inviting?
Now, fill it with clutter. Stacks of magazines. Newspapers. Dogs and cats running frantically here and there. Toys, clothes and other items strewn across the floor. No clear walking paths. Dishes and clutter littering every available flat surface.
Same home. Vastly differing perspectives. Now, try this.
Recall yourself as a child. Remember what it was like to busy yourself for hours with a single toy. Or a coloring book. A sketch pad. To contentedly walk through the woods. Play with friends. Not simply being with your friends, but joyously playing with them. Games. Sports. Fantastic adventures. Bold explorations.
Now, imagine living like that today. With abandon. Free of anxiety. Waking each day with feelings of contentment. Free of stress.
Give me the clean, minimalist home. Allow me the simple abandon of childhood. Now, realize that we have choices. Like that beautifully simple home, we can choose to free our lives of clutter. To enjoy each moment as might a child. Or, we allow layers of debris to accumulate until our lives are so full that our freedoms are diminished.
With age comes want. Want of money. Stuff. Recognition. Approval. Love. Happiness. Our egos whisper to us. Tell us to keep pace with the Jones's. Work harder. Get more. Join more. Do more. Have more.
And for what? So we can spend less time with family? Friends?
Within simplicity, one finds beauty. Lao Tzu told us, "Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you."
Yet, for all of simplicity's obvious virtues, she has a mortal enemy within each of us. Ego.
Our egos tell us that we need certain accomplishments to achieve contentment. We respond by working harder to attain the things we want - only to find that their attainment does not bring contentment. So we work harder. Attain more. Still, that lingering feeling, something's missing.
The ego, that whip-cracking inner critic, runs our daily lives. When we discuss what "we need," or "we want," or express that "I am" or "I should be," that is the ego talking.
Your ego reveals when you're not good enough. Lays out a laundry list of tasks to be accomplished. Possessions not owned. Failings. Shortcomings. Weaknesses. And blemishes.
It is the ego that causes one to feel guilty leaving work for a child's school concert. To despise a friend's promotion. Detest a neighbor's new car.
The ego thrives on comparison. Complexity. Clutter. And illusion. But, the ego is not you.
You are the Self. Which is deeper. More profound. The Self, explained Carl Jung, contains vastly more than the ego. The unconscious resides there. Dreams emanate from the Self. So does instinct. Intuition.
As writer and historian Steven Pressfield says, "From the Self spring visions, myths, archetypes. The self abuts the Divine Ground -- neshama in Hebrew, the soul."
The ego wants. The Self is. The ego envies. The Self admires.
Client conversations, focused on the attainment of financial autonomy, rarely indulge in discussions of envy, longing or image. Planning for one's financial independence rarely includes neighbors, friends or rivals. When individuals begin to seriously consider the requirements for long-term contentment, egos often vacate the premise.
Amidst a lifetime of accumulation, collecting, acquiring and planning, these conversations, including those with the most affluent, lean towards simplification. Letting go of the supplication demanded by the ego. Focusing on that which matters most.
Many clients talk of simplifying their lives. Yet, doing so can be difficult. Society conditions us to accumulate and collect. To volunteer. Sign up. Participate. Our egos call us insufficient if we're not running a million miles a minute. Tell us we won't be loved, happy, successful, or secure.
Simplicity entails the discharging of life's complications. Learning to appreciate what we are engaged in. At any particular moment. Instead of craving that which we don't have, simplicity turns our attention to the here and now. Helps us to connect on a deeper level. Helps you to appreciate yourself. To enjoy the full moon on a crisp spring evening, as opposed to obsessing over what need be accomplished tomorrow.
Suddenly, beauty appears where it previously had not been. Or, at least, had not been noticed.
Simplicity does not equate to the forfeiture of ambition, security and pleasure. Far from it. It cauterizes into the mind that which is truly worth living for. And working towards. It clarifies our truest priorities. Personally and professionally. Quenches our endless, material cravings.
By simplifying, we more intently focus on our vocations. As opposed to chasing every rainbow on the horizon.
Winston Churchill, one of the twentieth century's most ambitious men, was fond of saying that "A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life."
When life is simplified, we worry less. About what others have. Wear. Drive. And discuss. We approach peace of mind. With the world around us. Within ourselves. We realize that those worth knowing support us for who we are, not the images we convey.
Simplicity instills confidence. A deeper understanding of who we are. How we feel. What we think. And why.
People spend weeks dwelling on the rash remarks of others. Even after the commentator has long forgotten what she said. Simplicity can liberate us from the bondage of gossip, ego and distraction.
With simplicity comes fewer attachments. To what we own and have collected. To the opinions of others. To the societal litmus tests that bring so many to strive for the unattainable, unimportant bogeys that oft remain, maddeningly, just beyond our grasps.
Simplicity involves a recalibration of our world views. Our media manipulated mental frameworks are replaced by the objective vantage point of the explorer. That is, we see, then we decide. Only our values, choices and heuristics deign the means by which we view the world.
Living simply enables us to focus on the few important projects. As opposed to the constant pandering to our thousand-tasks lists.
This Saturday, I will exercise. Stop by the office. Coach my son's baseball team. Spend time with my wife and sons. Dine with friends. I will not wake to a multi-layered priority list involving 27 tasks by which their completion will determine the success of my day.
Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci said it best. "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
Steven Pressfield calls it "going pro." The decision to turn passion into vocation. To simplify. Focus. And endeavor towards the worthwhile.
For instance, our team has committed to helping clients engineer and accomplish peace of mind. Because peace of mind is the worthiest deliverable we can provide.
We cannot control the markets. The weather. The economy. Or the government. Yet, we can help clients establish their truest priorities. And then patiently, methodically and tenaciously endeavor towards those priorities. Day, after week, after month, after year.
Simplification is both a personal and professional endeavor. A holistic lifestyle decision. Simplification of your environment. Your possessions. Your psyche. Relationships. Preferences. Opinions. Objectives. Career. Hobbies.
Remember the analogy of the child. The joyful simplicity. Focus on the here and now. Tolstoy recognized it. Writing that, "There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth."
In a world that thrives on complexity, perhaps our greatest gift could be the act of simplification. One day, room, and relationship at a time.

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