Simplify

As you simplify your life,

the laws of the universe will be simpler;

solitude will not be solitude,

poverty will not be poverty,

nor weakness weakness.”

-Henry David Thoreau

I just came from Camiguin, to visit my husband’s 97-year-old grandmother.  If there is one thing to learn about this trip, it’s that simple living, in an island where the grass is green, the skies are blue, and the birds are still singing, is the elixir of youth.

I am not about to sell or give away all my material possessions and live in a nipa hut by the sea (actually, that’s a wonderful idea).  However, a glimpse of life without the trappings of modern city life, made me realize that we tend to over-complicate our lives with a lot of non-essentials, when we do not need much to survive.   Living simply means “a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich.. [i[t is about living an examined life — one in which you have determined what is important, or “enough,” for you, discarding the rest. [Duane Elgin, “Voluntary Simplicity.”]

We seem to be conditioned to be more, work more, amass more, have more.  It is as though worth is equated by the ownership of certain material possessions or living a certain life.  We are stuck in a merry-go-round of “having.” “I have to do this, have to buy this, have to get that.”  We live by the standards set out by those outside of us, then get overwhelmed by it, because simply, we are not living our own life. Worse, many of us are stuck in a cycle because we yearn to possess more, to feed the gnawing feeling inside us, to fill a bottomless void.

I fear that I am in too deep in this trap of modern life, that I have to keep living “for others” to fulfill the expectations of the world of men/women.  But then a simple trip to the province has ignited that spark in me, making me see that indeed, simple living is the key and that it has immeasurable rewards.  Living to live up to society’s expectations is living in a façade.  The empty gnawing feeling will never be filled so long as I live a life without purpose, as I overwhelm myself with things and tasks that I have to do, forgetting to breath, and too busy to figure out my own destiny.

Many of us are overly busy, stuck indoors, and over-burdened with chores or tasks that we become disconnected with our soul’s stirrings, nature, or our real purpose.  However, I have only to look at my grandmother and life at the country, and see how simplifying one’s life gives way to contentment.  Having less, makes room for the time and space to do what you really want to do.  I believe that once you have discovered what you really want to do, you can continue living a simple life, as your purpose overrides any of those things that complicate life.

Additionally, we should always remember our deep roots in the natural world.  It’s hard to do so in the city where buildings obstruct sunsets and the sky has turned ashen gray instead of blue.  But just be mindful of nature and you can still see a glimpse of natural miracles everyday. Find time to get outside with a reverence for nature and you will find a little serenity, remind you of simple pleasures and give you a taste of life’s rich bounty.

I am a long way from a simple life, farther even from contentment.  It’s difficult to rehabilitate oneself from the addiction of modern life and its excesses.  It is difficult to dissociate myself from society’s standards of material living. It would take a deliberate and conscious leap for me to live simply.  But I am certain it is possible, and the rewards, priceless. I have a friend who used to be so vain, she would obsess about her outfit for our class, more than studying for recitation, and would recite with her newly manicured nails in midair, afraid she would ruin her perfect nails. Believe it or not, she no longer wears make-up, does not care about fashion and is planning to move to the country!  Yet, I have not seen a more content person, whose everyday is filled with constant joy, not the momentary bursts of pleasure we often have.  I have made an inner resolve to take that arduous leap, eliminating all but the essential (will try :o)), finding time for solitude, and spending time doing what is important to me.  As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify.”

*While reading about living simply, I found the Simple Living Network, an online network for conscious, simple, healthy and restorative living. I also found some great tips on Simplifying from a book by Elaine St. James entitled “Simplify your Life:  100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things that Really Matter”.

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