Throughout the ages, wise people from many cultures have espoused the philosophy of simplicity as the path to achieving harmony and contentment. Needless to say, that instruction has been as open to interpretation as any other edict passed down on how one should lead one's life.
Everyone claims to have discovered the path to simplicity and seems more than willing to share their secrets with you for the price of their book and maybe a course or two. Not only that, but there also seems to appear a multitude of reasons for living the simple life. Enlightenment, peace, personal wealth, spiritual wealth, closeness to the God of your choice; in fact you seem to be able to obtain whatever it is your heart desires simply by following the instructions in one of the books you've chosen.
What always astounds me about so many of these books is not only how there can be so many different ways of living simply, but how complicated so many people make it to obtain simplicity. Doesn't anyone else find it sort of self-defeating that it could take as many as 15 steps before you can attain simplicity? What's so simple about that?
Perhaps part of the problem is that they are trying to take a path that was designed to eliminate distractions between those who prayed and their god. It was a matter of divesting yourself of worldly concerns and material wealth and narrowing your focus so all your actions and thought were aimed at service to whoever you worshipped.
Almost every faith has those who adhere to something similar, and usually followers live their lives isolated from the rest of the world either through physical isolation or the taking of vows that restrict their participation in society. There are traditions among all the faiths that are geared to train the mind to assist in the development of that singularity of focus requiring years of study and commitment, if not many lifetimes. (Yes, that's a plural — get over yourself; it's their belief, let them enjoy it.)
To obtain that type of simplicity you have to have something you are prepared to commit yourself to as totally as monks or yogis commit to their faiths. You need a focus that commands the attention of as much of your mind, body, and spirit as is possible for you to surrender or you don't stand a chance.
Of course it can also work in reverse. Instead of searching for something that you can use as a focal point to coalesce your energies around, you have something that you want to become the centre of your attention. You want your life simplified to eliminate all the unnecessary distractions that you see as getting in the way of achieving that goal or fulfilling that purpose.
For me that focal point has been my writing, and I now realise that I have developed that singularity of purpose and not even noticed. Without much conscious effort on my part, my life has gradually evolved into two compartments: things that are part of my writing and things that don't have anything to do with it. As time has passed in the past 15 months, the items in column number two have gradually been reduced. The only thing that comes ahead of my writing is the well-being of my wife and our relationship. Without that place of core strength I wouldn't be able to write anyway, any more than if my hands were cut off. I'd as soon consider breathing as being separate from my writing.
Everything else either falls into the category of being related to writing or not related to writing. I've been doing a lot of reviews recently, books, music and movies, and I was beginning to resent them after a while because I felt like they were taking me away from my writing. But then I began to think about it and realised that was stupid.
First of all, anything that I read is beneficial because it exposes me to new ways of expressing ideas and different writer's styles. I don't even have to necessarily like what I've read or how the author's written it for me to get something out of it. (At the very least, optimism for my own work being published – boy I'm better than this, someone, somewhere is going to publish me.) Then there is the whole process of writing the reviews.
No matter what it is that I'm reviewing, I need to be able to write about it in an intelligent enough manner to interest the reader, while at the same time be able to communicate an informed opinion. There is also the challenge of coming up with a way of making the actual writing of the review more interesting for myself. All of those things contribute to my skill as a writer.
When it comes right down to it, any time that I sit down at my keyboard to write anything – a response to a comment left at one of my posts, a comment at someone else's post, or an email to a friend – is an opportunity to improve some aspect of my writing. It could be a simple matter of ensuring my spelling and grammar are perfect so that it becomes second nature to write with that in mind.
It could even involve taking that extra minute to proofread a casual email for typos and extraneous words. That way I get into the habit of doing it all the time. The more you care, the more care you take, and the more you'll take care of what is truly important to you. I suppose that's what they mean by being mindful, but when I worked in theatre we called it attention to detail.
But no matter how hard I try there are always going to be items in the not-related-to-writing column. Some people will probably consider me luckier than most because I don't have to go out and work every day as I'm on a disability pension. The downside to that is that I'm disabled, which limits the amount of writing I can do in any given day.
Some days I'm lucky and can put in a couple of three-hour stints at the keyboard in a day. Other days I'm lucky to haul my sorry ass upright to write long enough to post. So I'd say those two pretty much cancel each other out, the job and the disability.
Of course there are also the mundane details of daily living that can't be ignored: laundry, shopping, and housework all have to be done eventually. When the dust bunnies become dust buffalos and start migrating from room to room, even the most distracted individual is going to feel compelled to sweep.
You can't just ignore that stuff or in good conscience dump it on someone else when half the responsibility is yours. No matter what, there are always going to be things on the not-related-to-writing side of the ledger that have to be dealt with.
If you are like me and have only limited reserves of energy to expend on anything, or if your limitations are time related, the best thing you can do in either instance is learn how to best utilize the time you have at your disposal. For me it’s a matter of not doing too many of the things in the non-related column that I have no energy left to accomplish what I want to do.
In our world, living simply means being able to keep in mind at all times what is important to you, and applying as much energy as possible towards that goal at all times. It means narrowing your focus to the point where everything is thought of in terms of how it relates to that goal.
Unlike monks who have removed themselves from the world, I can only minimize the world's impact on my attempts to serve my purpose. The KISS rule (Keep it simple, stupid) serves as a reminder not to overly complicate matters or you find yourself overwhelmed and unable to do anything at all. I have this feeling that many of those ancient wise men would have appreciated the sentiment behind that thought.