Sign up to be notified of new posts and comments.
A thing to be simple need only to be true to itself in an organic sense.
-- Frank Lloyd Wright
Much has been written about simplicity as a guiding concept for life. In our consumer world, which is focused on the material, much advice has been given on how we should and can make do with less, which makes the idea of simplicity sound like deprivation. But there is another way to look at it.
My dictionary gives many definitions for the words simplicity and simple, but the one that stands out for me is “directness of expression: clarity”.
My favorite book about simplicity is Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity by Catherine Whitmire. In this book, the author speaks of “plain” living as being an alignment of one’s life to “that Center which is the source of life itself”. Early Quakers called this “staying close to the root”. The idea is that when one is focused on the expression of that which is true about oneself, one then has no desire for extraneous activities and possessions that are not about true expression.
Simplicity, for me, is no longer about reducing material goods in my life, but rather about true spirit expression. It is about getting down to that which is essential about anything and everything, including myself. In that process, anything that isn’t true and essential gets eliminated, whether it is superfluous clutter, thoughts, emotions, or activities.
Simplicity is not so much about what we own, but about what owns us. If our lives are about the acquisition of mountains of material goods, then our attention is not on being our best selves. If our attention is on our spiritual self-expression, then it will become clear exactly what is needed for that expression in the physical world and we will be delighted and satisfied by what we have. The question here is not about quantity, it is about meaning and fulfillment.
At a Quaker meeting, it was stated that “Simplicity, when it removes encumbering details, makes for beauty in music, in art, and in living. It clears the springs of life and permits wholesome mirth and gladness to bubble up; it cleans the windows of life and lets joy radiate. It requires the avoidance of artificial or harmful social customs and conventions, but it opens wide the door to cultivate and express to all sincere cordiality, kindness, and friendliness. This sort of simplicity removes barriers and eases tensions. In its presence all can be at ease.”
In 1936, a Harvard-educated disciple of Mahatma Gandhi published an essay called The Value of Voluntary Simplicity, in which he wrote of a conversation with Gandhi. “We were talking about simple living, and I said that it was easy for me to give up most things but that I had a greedy mind and wanted to keep my many books. He said, “Then don’t give them up. As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.”
One Quaker application of simplicity I hadn’t thought of before was the idea of plain speech, which is, essentially, “speaking so as to mean when we say.” To speak with honesty and integrity, to illuminate and inform. To communicate completely what is necessary and nothing that is not.
And so, about simplicity, enough said.
I have read many books on this subject, but, in my opinion, there is nothing more that is needed to know on the subject than what I have stated above. This is the essence of simplicity.