The Value of Simplifying
If we take cues from nature, the guidance is clear. Winter is a time to go inside. Not just to be cozy and snug inside of our homes but to rest, slow down and learn how to be with ourselves.
The last couple years have affected each and every one of us, likely a combination of challenges and blessings. In the midst of change and uncertainty, we often distract ourselves when what we need is to do the opposite - to cut out the distractions and simplify so that we can gain clarity, understanding and move forward with a feeling of alignment.
Perhaps, as with all difficulties, there is a deeper lesson to be learned - a gift, even - from the pandemic. Perhaps, now is the time to further investigate the importance of simplicity in our lives and the gifts that are born out of that space.
I have personally felt the pandemic’s effect within my life. Adjusting to new routines with family and home has had its ups and downs. Losing a certain type of connection with people has been difficult but I have also made new connections that I might not have otherwise. And the last few months, my longest and most intimate relationship has fallen completely apart. While loss and uncertainty are difficult to navigate, sometimes clearing out the old is the only way to bring in something new. Sometimes, as in the case of my lost relationship, if you put blinders on and keep yourself distracted from the essential truth, life will simplify things for you.
Let’s admit, simplicity takes courage. We become adept at distracting ourselves with new projects, bad habits or connections with people that don’t add meaning or happiness to our lives. It is like we are walking around encased in a thick fog of our own making. It takes courage to stay in close proximity to our values, to set and protect boundaries and tell the truth to ourselves. Simplicity is sincerity, and sincerity is living in accordance with the entirety of our feelings, thoughts and desires. If we choose the path of simplicity, we find authenticity within our steps.
Simplicity creates space that enables a certain kind of freedom. Freedom in expression, freedom in how we move through the world and freedom to live authentically. We aren’t bogged down by too much of something, and we become released from the tight grip of duty. This doesn’t mean that responsibilities disappear, but rather that responsibilities become easier as we shed the extraneous. Responsibilities feel less like obligation and more like weaving the threads of our lives into something important and light.
Simplicity also provides room to breathe and room to play. The more we have - thoughts, material possessions, responsibilities, toxicity, reactivity - the less time we allow ourselves for play. By removing the excess from our lives, we open ourselves to a different realm of time and possibility where we suddenly find we have room for enjoyment and satisfaction. When simplicity is present, clarity is present as well. It is easier to see things when they are out in the open. Less time is needed to find what we’re looking for. We expend less energy. What we need presents itself clearly - unobstructed and free of mystery - and we can stand in awe of our lives.
If you long to simplify, mindfulness can help you find calm, clarity, creativity and deeper connection.
When we are still and become mindful, we allow ourselves to cut through the heaviness of complexity. Life is suddenly looking right at us because we’ve removed the obstacles that often cloud our thinking and our judgement. Meditation helps us to be in the moment - uncomplicated, unfiltered. And from there, we can access the inner wisdom that is always there to guide us.
How Our Practice Helps Cultivate Simplicity
Meditation is a very useful practice for inviting simplicity into our lives. To begin, meditation helps us create focused intentions. Through sitting and simply paying attention to our experience of life unfolding, we get clearer and clearer on what is most important to us. It’s a magical process, really! As Lao Tzu plainly puts it: “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.” This clarity of intention helps us focus our energies into the things that matter most. Just as a tree or plant naturally directs energy to its most promising branches, we practice directing our energy into the core “branches” of our life, and the excess begins to fade away on its own. In time, we begin to discover a greater sense of freedom and spaciousness.
Meditation also helps us return, over and over, to the fundamental awareness that we are alive and breathing in this very moment. Our minds and thoughts create a lot of complexity – ping-ponging between future plans and past events and wishing things were different. Beneath all of this chatter is the remarkably ordinary experience of sitting here. Even now, as you read this post, you might feel the weight of your hands in your lap. Or sense the contact of your body pressing into your chair. You could notice any colors you see or sounds you hear right now. Can you feel the simplicity that’s here – patiently waiting for you to drop into it? If it’s comfortable, you could also notice that you are breathing. Feeling, for a moment, how your breath flows in and out. Resting with awareness of our breathing, as well as deep breathing, are two common practices that help engage our parasympathetic (or rest + digest) nervous system. Our heart rate drops. Our blood pressure lowers. We return our bodies to a state of homeostasis, and welcome our minds back to a baseline of simplicity in the here and now.
Practicing does not always mean we end up in a state of bliss. Sometimes becoming aware is an unpleasant journey. But if we stay on the path, we notice our load becomes lighter as we shed what no longer serves us. And if we are mindful of our thoughts and behaviors, we eventually find that we are living in a state of responsiveness vs. reactiveness. And nothing creates more clutter than reactivity.
How Routine/Ritual Helps Us Simplify
You may be asking, how does one find spaciousness and simplicity in the flow of daily life? In the midst of overwhelm, bills, work, family, moments of joy and suffering, and balancing it all?
If we observe nature, we see cycles and rhythms everywhere. Just as the sun rises and sets at predictable times, so should we. Just as seasons flow from a time of hibernation to a time of rebirth, so can we. Routine helps us follow the wisdom of nature, providing structure and creating predictability in our lives. Even if we thrive on unpredictability, we can recognize that having some structure (the beginning and end of a work day, for example) helps to maintain a sense of simplicity and set boundaries so that we can create space for playfulness and joy.
Routine helps to preserve our health. By regulating certain activities, we utilize energy when we need it most, rest at regular intervals to recharge and start creating healthy habits that naturally build on one another.
Routine also helps to create peace. Predictability can relieve anxiety, as it inherently simplifies our mental load. Often anxiety is a response to fear - fear of the unknown. If we can put a few guard rails up around our daily tasks, we may feel less worried and more secure. We move from a feeling of chaos to one of peace, while allowing more room for satisfaction and freshness to enter.
Routine doesn’t have to be…well …so routine. It can become a ritual. A meditation practice is the perfect way to experiment with this concept.
Pause in the transitional moments of your day. Simply sitting in quiet meditation for three minutes can reset your entire being, bring you into the present moment and create the space you need to move to whatever’s next with clarity and intention.
Start your day with a simple gratitude practice. You don’t even have to get out of bed! When you wake up, think of one thing you are grateful for and take just a minute or two to close your eyes and really feel gratitude. If you’re like me and not quite awake until you shower, do your practice in the shower!
Create a special place in your home for meditation or reading. Hang a beautiful picture in the space or make sure there are candles or special objects there.
Light a candle at dinner. Candle gazing is a lovely, meditative activity that is calming for the mind (and also great for the eyes) – if you have children, let them light the candle.
A Few Tips to Simplify
Pay attention to the questions that arise for you. They are arising for a reason. Each week (or daily if you can find the time), spend a few minutes in silence thinking about your questions. Allow yourself to write freely, just three lines of thought, answers, direction, whatever flows naturally. Come back to your questions regularly. Over time, you will witness your questions clearing out of your mind.
Most of us live with such abundance. Many of us have become immune to the bounty that surrounds us. Take time on a regular basis to clear out your material belongings or create a practice to let go of something as you bring something new into your home.
Spend time alone. Meditate. Be still. If you have the luxury, devote one day each month to silence.
Clutter of all types is a distraction. If you are connected on social media, look at your connections and weed out the ones that are not in support of your values. And then connect more with those that are.
Think about what is worthy of your time and attention. Is it necessary to have a set of 12 dishes if you live alone? Or do you just need a few? Is having more worth the time it takes to care for those things? How can you simplify?
Create a space in your home or your office that reflects simplicity for you. Spend time in that space daily, if you can, and notice how you feel.
Take some time to gain clarity of your values. Once you have a clear vision of your values, you can use these as guiding principles to move through your life. If you value simplicity, allow simplicity to inform your decisions. Will adding this to my life help me achieve simplicity? Or will adding this disrupt my value of simplicity? Try to identify three values (remember, keep it simple and stick to three) and allow an unfolding.
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If you would like support on your journey to simplify, we strongly encourage you to check out our upcoming 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.
Nicole Rush is Pause's Community Manager and an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor. Meditation is like digestion for the mind, guiding us to a place where we are able to let go of what no longer serves us, we can recognize the true self within, always there to guide us.
Our days are filled with activities that sometimes feel less than extraordinary, such as cooking dinner, doing the laundry or walking the dog. But, if we pay attention, we will recognize the richness and abundance in the seemingly mundane. We don’t have to wait for a special day to find joy and happiness — it’s available now.
In 2018, Nicole traveled to the mountains of Kathmandu to complete her yoga and meditation teacher training. She also holds a Yoga Nidra certification and a Bachelor of Fine Art from Marylhurst University. Outside of wellness practices, Nicole finds joy in poetry, knitting, long walks, French films and her ever-vibrant family.