Friday Forum: It’s a Gift to be Simple
Today I was chatting with a good friend of mine. In the course of the conversation, the topic of simple living arose. The question of the week is Should we be seeking out simplicity?
Simplicity comes in all sorts of shapes and forms. I generally try to live a simple life by having little, wanting little, and enjoying much. But so much in life pulls counter to simplicity with the broad assertion that we should not be content with what we have. Additionally, my position comes from an understanding that I do have a wide range of choices both in terms of what I have and what I want. Not all people benefit from functioning choice in their lives.
Simplicity often means finding value where you didn’t see it before. Can a friend’s laugh be meaningful? What about a smile? What about simple eye contact? Pushing more and more into the minimalist representations of human life, we are tempted to scream “But that’s not enough!” And therein, I discover the challenge of simplicity. Right at that point, we have an intersection of our needs and our wants that calls us towards protest. Reconciling this protest, in my opinion, gets at the heart of what it means to be a joy-filled human being.
Different people have different reflexes around the questions of contentment. Note here: I am speaking about the issue in terms of contentment, not in terms of true need or in accommodating mistreatment from others. A good friend of mine Brian once declared that a rich man is a person who wants for nothing. A person can have all of the money in the world, but if he or she craves power, influence, material possessions or human relationships, then he or she is impoverished at some level.
Too often, our perceived needs function in the background of our consciousness. We do not tend to search them out actively and consider their general applicability. For most of us, there is simply no need to do so. As an object illustration, today I went shopping. I had a list, but I went shopping at a different grocer. I took my time to consider what was available to me and spoke to the needs I had reflected in my shopping list. Yet, shopping knowing I have to carry everything back with me definitely invites a different consideration than shopping knowing I can put everything in a car. Having to be more strategic in my food choices only stands to benefit me in a range of measures.
So many factors compete with simple living. I recently downsized my entire magnitude of possessions, focusing particularly on my books and my clothes. Yet there are so many opportunities to buy new things! I have to make rather concerted choices to maintain a simple way of life. The adage You can’t take it with you has been so helpful for me as I attempt to navigate some of these new challenges.
I like the way my friend phrased the question: be seeking out because it hints at the active nature of choosing a simple life. But like so many things, a simple life must be chosen, and then chosen again, and then chosen again. Everyday offers a chance at renewal.