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Monk Notes 16 - The Cost of Simplicity

The dominant narrative in western culture is one of pursuing more.

An unfortunate side effect to this is that we often end up with more. More stuff, more choices, more things to protect and consider. The pursuit of progress directs us to increase our options — but this means more complexity. As the noise of life, and our decisions increase, so does our difficulty to make out the important from the unimportant. We find ourselves in cluttered environments, with cluttered minds, and cluttered goals and desires.

There has perhaps been no other time where it has been as difficult for a human individual to arrive at simplicity. If we aren’t overwhelmed by the deluge of information coming at us each day, we find ourselves overwhelmed by our own inability to make sense of what is up and what is down.

As a result, a hallmark of the modern experience is complexity, and its resulting feeling of inner conflictedness. Complexity emerges as the number of items that demand our attention increases. To arrive at simplicity means to move in the opposite direction — to reduce, to eliminate, to delete.

While it may sound simple, reduction is remarkably difficult, a truly heroic feat. We live in a time and place that values the accumulation of material things, of security, and of options. So to move toward simplicity we must run in the direction of less amidst a culture that values more.

Simplicity manifests not in theory, but in practice, and it costs us something. It requires us to limit our options, our possessions, and our interests. It means changing how we approach life in fundamental ways. The main barrier to simplicity is not the difficulty of the task itself, but rather the psychological barriers that surround it. Simplicity is a path of letting go, a thousand small deaths of what could be for the sake of supporting the things that are truly important.

Many are attracted to the simplicity of monks, but far less are attracted to adopting the necessary means to this simplicity - a lifestyle that favors less possessions, less options, and less information. But the only way to simplify is to reduce. Not in abstraction but in actual lived reality.

Simplicity requires courage.

All the best,

Steven Lawson

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

- Rumi


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Featured Art: After Bathing, Joaquín Sorolla (1915)