Simplification, at first glance, appears to be the antithesis of almost every western personal development process and training which advocates the expansion of knowledge and awareness with a view to gaining more.
More is good and less is bad. You know you’re doing well if you have more knowledge, more stuff, more love, more awareness. Likewise, if you have less of anything then you’re failing.
In stark contrast, simplification and minimalism tell us that through the elimination of excess, we can have more clarity, a greater understanding of ourselves and our lives, less stress and improved engagement in our own 85-odd year journey as humans.
Advocates of simplification include Tim Ferris who, in the ‘Four Hour Workweek,’ mentions the importance of being selective as to how much information one absorbs, (only that which is useful) and in the superb ‘Zen in the Art of Archery,’ Eugen Heregeld tells the story of his master giving him a bow.
“…when you have passed beyond it (no longer need it), do not hang it up in remembrance. Destroy it, so that nothing remains but a heap of ashes.”
Once the bow had finished serving its purpose – note, the core purpose, not being an emotional crutch – it should be burned to honour both it and the master. To many eastern civilizations, keeping reminders of time past is a strange and even disrespectful practice.
How many things do you own as a macabre reminder of a time that has past?
The process of simplification, not unlike the journey towards Zen, is more about the attitude of the individual than any technique or strategy. Once one learns that they are not objects, possessions, the number of friends they have, the value of their bank account or the number to trips they take, everything falls into place and the process explains itself.
In the same way that you don’t need to explain the importance of not eating meat to a vegetarian, you don’t need to tell someone who has removed the shackles of material and spiritual accumulation why they don’t need a new pair of shoes.
Remove something from your life. This doesn’t mean ‘having a spring clean,’ or throwing something out. Find an item that you’re holding onto for no good reason – it is no longer useful in that it no longer serves its core purpose; just like the master’s bow.
If it needs to be honoured (not just thrown in the trash) then burn or bury it. Give it back its dignity. Just as the bow – as a weapon of war – wouldn’t want to spend its life on the shelf as an ornament, neither should you force anything but the most trivial objects to such a destiny.
Now, feel the gap that it left in your life. But don’t experience that absence as a sense sadness or loss – understand that you now have mental space and increased freedom (if you really need to experience having more of something). Looking backwards holds us in the past and demonises powerful memories, making them mental prisons rather than joyous memories.
Free yourself and change your life.