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The Simple Life

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"You're such a complicated person."

"This is a complex deal."

"It's complicated. You wouldn't understand."

In our speed-and-greed anti-culture, the words complex and complicated, and the nuances and layers the words evoke, have reached a kind of cult status. Being complicated means you have depth, smarts, education, your fingers in a lot of pies, many people in your life, prospects and more than a few pots on the burner. The people our media adulates, and thus the folks many of us look up to, are people with complex deals in the offing, complex living arrangements, complicated travel schedules, complicated contracts and options and complex choices to make. They are our celebrity entertainers, our politicians, our queens of fashion and our captains of industry.

A complicated relationship is, despite the suggestion of unrequited love and underlying angst, the kind most of us have with our loved ones, or those we would love. A complex career is the one we want, as it is more likely to provide future opportunity and multiple income sources, is more likely to make us feel, or be, indispensible and irreplaceable. A complicated mind is one that produces ideas on many fronts, one that is able to spew out, if not take in, various data in an efficient and organized way. As science reveals our universe to be far more complex than we thought, complicated new theories have arisen (string theory in the new physics, for example) to explain how things work. Complexity, it seems, is the rage of the day.

And yet there is no spiritual tradition that advocates a complicated life. People who have calmed and quieted their mind with meditation and mind/body practice know that it is simplicity, not complexity, that leads to deep thinking, pure awareness and clear perception. Such practitioners know that the complicated behavior we call multitasking is just doing many things poorly, and none of them well. They know too, that an overly complicated life, one that keeps a person endlessly busy, always plugged-in, available and aimed at ticking off one more entry on their to-do list, can also be a life full of addiction, avoidance and disquiet.

Certainly we can say that the pace of modern life, increased and supported by our technology in general and our personal electronics in particular, has resulted in a short attention span and an addiction to the influx of information. A mind so conditioned has little opportunity to think critically, and even less chance to experience life deeply by being in the present moment. A complex life with complicated activities, relationships and commitments implies a reflexive busy-ness that supplants true thinking and feeling with knee-jerk reactions. It is a life high in stress and light on substance, at least in the spiritually meaningful dimensions of being.

Are you aware that your life has become too complicated? Are you always rushing to catch up? Do you find yourself doing so many things at once that you barely remember the day, barely recall what you've accomplished, don't remember thinking hard or feeling anything especially keenly? Do you feel you are stressed by all the "shoulds" of your life, by the countless material things you must keep track of and care for, by the endless commitments you've made, the formidable list of titillations you find yourself unable to ignore, the responsibilities you have shouldered in order to feel more substantial, more a contributing member of society, more an important personage? If so, it may well be time to simplify your life.

Start with the easy part. Attack your garage, your closet, those kitchen drawers in which you dump everything. The number of things you call yours is likely the number of steps you are away from enlightenment, and a materially cluttered life just gives you more excuses not to think about life's important issues because you're too busy pottering around with your stuff. Throw things away, give them away, sell them. Thin out. Simplify your stuff.

Work on your ability to say no to invitations, suggestions, more commitments. Look hard at the reasons you're afraid not to go to dinners and parties even when you're tired or in the mood to stay home. Ask yourself why you think you have to be everywhere all the time, what you're worried others might think of you, why you care so much. Remember, time spent simply and quietly, no matter what your age or station in life, can benefit you by giving you the peace and quiet you need to bring your body and mind into harmony. Simplify your schedule.

Simplicity is purity. It is facing the true nature of things and embracing it instead of ducking and weaving and dodging, instead of filling a hole inside you with chaotic activity or an overabundance of stuff. A simple wardrobe, a simple routine, a simple home, a simple lifestyle, simple, straightforward, meaningful relationships, these words describe freedom, not limitation, intensity, not distraction, focus, not mental fog, a life fully lived, not a life of lack. A simple life is a deep life.

Years ago, trend watchers began to say that less is more. Today, it's clear that simple is simply better.

For more by Arthur Rosenfeld, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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