Want Happiness? Practice Minimalism

02/05/2015 10:24 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015
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There I was, standing in front of a famous Japanese calligraphy. It was a quote by Toshogu himself. Tokugawa Ieyasu (January 31, 1543 - June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan.

The quote says:

Life is like unto a long journey with a heavy burden.
Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not.
Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair.
When ambitious desires arise in thy heart, recall the days of extremity thou has passed through.
Forbearance is the root of quietness and assurance forever.
If thou knowest only what it is to conquer, and knowest not what it is like to be defeated, woe unto thee; it will fare ill with thee.
Find fault with thyself rather than with others.

And I unequivocally agree!

These past few years I have been feeling like a Henro - a traveling monk. 'Henro' is the Japanese word for pilgrim. The Shikoku Henro is a pilgrimage of 88 temples on the island of Shikoku, Japan. These walking pilgrimages are practiced for a spiritual reason such as to "find oneself" or "to soothe one's soul" or for personal training. Although the purpose of my journey was not to visit 88 temples, I was very fortunate to end up in dozens of temples in Japan. It was during one of those profound visits that I was standing in front of Toshogu's quote.

Like so many of you, I have traveled life's unknown roads, seen many peaks and valleys, weathered bitterly cold winters, welcomed glorious spring mornings, and yes, bid goodbye to dark nights with relief. It is only now, in my mid-40s, that I have begun to understand life's ebb and flow.

I am discovering the deep connections between minimalism and spiritual fulfillment. I am discovering that minimalism and spirituality also does not mean abandonment of career success, financial solvency, and other worldly ambitions.

The trick is to achieve balance.

The Link Between Minimalism and Spirituality

Minimalism is an old concept that has been practiced throughout the ages. 'Minimalism' living is a simple approach to life. It is a way to re-examine our values.

'Spirituality' is a state of being. It can be a catalyst for personal transformation. It can also be described as an awakening to the oneness and interconnectedness of all life.

Minimalism seeks to clear up time and space so that you may lead life in an organized, joyful manner. It helps us to determine what is meaningful to each one of us, just as spirituality leads us to find meaning and purpose. It is a path to finding inner contentment, just as spirituality leads the seeker inward.

Minimalism and spirituality both help us to assess our lives and determine what is really important to us, and to live our lives from the heart and soul, rather than from our emotional baggage. And, of course, it means different things to different people.

Here are a few concepts and practices I find helpful:

Just Be. In our busy lives, we are always doing something. We have forgotten what it is like to be still and quiet. There is so much to do that we have no time to just be. However, we need that quiet, still time for inner reflection if we are to discover our spiritual growth. The pursuit of minimalism can help us attain that state of being by removing distractions that limit our focus.

Less Stuff, More Time. Taking a minimalistic approach to life can reduce the amount of time we spend doing unnecessary tasks. By eliminating clutter from our surroundings and life, we can create the opportunity to pursue other aspects of our inner selves. We can meditate, practice yoga, read, write or expand our self-awareness. Much of what we do on a daily basis is so routine that we perform our tasks almost mindlessly. We follow these routines because that is what we often need to do to survive. The trick is to lift your mind above that. Only you can do that for yourself.

Know Thy Self. Spirituality is the path of knowing yourself. Minimalism can help clear that path. People who reach a certain level of spirituality understand the futility of solely pursuing materialism. They realize that everyone and everything is simply energy and that all is connected. They give up the need to compare with others and acquire more.

Positive Vibrations. Minimalism isn't just about reducing material clutter. It is about how we live our lives. Life is meant to be enjoyable. It is not supposed to be filled with stress and negativity. We run around trying to perform more tasks than we have time for and trying to be a multitude of personalities necessary to fulfill our various duties. This behavior often has us stressed, frustrated, exhausted and feeling ill.

Spirituality is about achieving inner peace amidst the chaos. We rarely feel that inner peace, because we are so filled with the stress of daily life. If we take a minimalistic approach to life, we can focus on doing only what we need and want to do. Being a spiritual minimalist also means not succumbing to the negativity around us. We may not be able to avoid all negativity, but we can limit our exposure to it.

Here is what I do:

  • Keep conversations short and sweet when in contact with negative people.
  • Limit myself when watching news and other negative programming.
  • Listen to uplifting music and read inspirational material.
  • Continue to search for people with positive, uplifting attitude.
  • As I continue to clear away the clutter and negativity in my life, I force myself to find the time to sit, do nothing and just be.

Sounds simple, but it's hardly easy!

"The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others, the happier he is.
The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is."
-- Lao Tzu

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Serial entrepreneur and author Faisal Hoque is the founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Shadoka Enables Entrepreneurship, Growth, and Social Impact. His newest book is "Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability" (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014). His upcoming book is "Survive to Thrive: Resilience for Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders". Copyright (c) 2014 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved. Follow him on Twitter @faisal_hoque.