Mindfulness and Simplicity

Mindfulness and Simplicity

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Six years ago my wife Ann-Mari and I had a wonderful time hiking a medieval pilgrimage trail, the Camino de Santiago, from Le Puy en Velay, in the southeast of France, to the trail terminus at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. It was a walk of a thousand miles that took us eighty-two days.

There was a material simplicity to our daily lives — we carried what we needed in back packs. Even the minimum of things we thought we would need were pared down after a few days. We realized how much easier after removing as an extra shirt, tube of toothpaste, and book.

There was also a mental simplicity to our days. The Camino trail is marked with an abundance of arrows. Each morning we left our accommodations and went back to where we had left the arrows, which was usually at most a few minutes away. Then all day we followed arrows, though fields, villages, and towns, till arriving at our destination that night. And the next day, we did the same.

This week I was reminded of our Camino walk because I felt a bit overwhelmed and longed for the simplicity of the Camino.

My thinking about simplicity has been especially influenced by a 1936 essay, “The Value of Voluntary Simplicity,” written by Richard B. Gregg, a Quaker labor lawyer who worked with Gandhi in India. Gregg emphasized that in choosing simplicity, the focus should be on what one deeply wished to gain:

Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose. . . .

Observance of simplicity is a recognition of the fact that everyone is greatly influenced by his surroundings and all their subtle implications. The power of environment modifies all living organisms. Therefore each person will be wise to select and create deliberately such an immediate environment of home things as will influence his character in the direction which he deems most important and such as will make it easier for him to live in the way that he believes wisest. Simplicity gives him a certain kind of freedom and clearness of vision.

For Gregg, voluntary simplicity was about adding authenticity and beauty to our lives, not in suffering deprivations:

If simplicity of living is a valid principle, there is one important precaution and condition of its application. I can explain it best by something which Mahatma Gandhi said to me. 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."

This Thursday evening after our meditation period, we will reflect on what enables us or inhibits our deepest longings and share our experiences of simplifying our lives. I invite you to join us.

Excerpts on simple living by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh are below. “The Value of Voluntary Simplicity” essay is available online at: www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0304spiritpsych/030409simplicity/SimplicityFrame.html

Spaces are still available in the ten-week Smiling Like a Buddha class that will be starting on Monday, September 22. We would appreciate if you would mention it to friends, colleagues, and neighbors who might be interested.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

Learning to Be Happy

by Thich Nhat Hanh, from a Dharma talk on 18 December, 1997

In order to be happy, we have to learn to live simply. When you live simply, you have much more time and you can be in touch with the many wonders of life. Living simply is the criterion for the new culture, the new civilisation. With the development of technology people nowadays have become more and more sophisticated and they don’t live simply at all. Their joy is to go shopping. Even when we visit a new city, we cannot do anything else but go shopping. Shopping is a disease of our new civilisation. The criterion for being happy is to live simply, and have a life of harmony and peace in yourself and with people around you, without aggressiveness, irritation and anger. Those who easily get angry have to learn the art of mindful breathing. When you are easily irritated you have to go back to your breath right away and take good care of your conscious breathing, calming and releasing, so that your face will not be red from anger and irritation. We must learn to know what is our limit, how much is enough. It is the opposite of wanting more and more and more. You know what is sufficient, what is enough for you.


by The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, in The Path to Tranquility: Daily Wisdom

If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements. And finally, there is an intense delight in abandoning faulty states of mind and in cultivating helpful ones in meditation

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 18, 2014


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