I think I am a self-improvement addict. I find something new that is wrong with myself every day. If I don’t see something, then my wife does. It’s not like I hate myself, not entirely at least. I have just always been preoccupied with development. Personal development, professional development, spiritual development, athletic development. Ahhhh, growth is tiring. Being a perfectionist is exhausting and depressing. It’s almost like my work is never done. Self-improvement can quickly spiral into self-loathing, and self-destruction. At what point does chasing the next “correction” to your life become maddening? Sure, incremental change is happening, but shoveling dirt into a hole that has no bottom is infuriating…and diminishing.
“Complexity is the enemy of clarity.”-Andy Stanley
And clarity is what we all want. To be clear enough to see our way to having it all. I like many others grew up wanting it all. I needn’t elaborate, its pretty much a pre-packaged “American Dream.” The job, the house, the car, the vibe, the girl, the jet, you know, simple. Maybe it was for this reason I’ve always been so curious about Buddhist Monks. Their entire existence is the polar opposite of the so-called “American Dream.” When I was younger I had respect for their practices, but without any understanding of its significance in their day to day lives. Over the years I’ve learned more about Eastern philosophies for life, and spiritually, and my knowledge and respect of their beliefs has only grown. Confucius, for example, died in 479 BC and many of his philosophies are sagacious and incredibly useful today. Yet that wisdom was buried away inside of me for a day it could be mated to a complete thought.
The thought is that the complexity with which we view, categorize, establish expectations, measure those expectations and engineer almost everything in our world is creating a complexity induced fight or flight state. Those of us that are lucky end up fighting a seemingly neverending battle with sleep, nutrition, stress, and volatile mental states. Those that are not as blessed end up going into a state of flight. Where instead of staying just above water fighting, this state leads to withdrawal and increased downward pressure on the areas mentioned before: sleep, nutrition, etc.
What about a leaf from a tree, how much complexity could be found in a leaf? A horticulturist will inform you of the immense complexities and inner workings of what appears to be a simple leaf. The complexity of the leaf, however, is of no importance to the tree. Either they have a harmonious relationship, or they do not. The former leads to a long healthy life, the ladder leads to constant “stress” on the tree and a short unhealthy lifespan. Just a coincidence the actual term in horticulture for the degradation of the tree is “stress”. The leaf or the person that goes with the flow undergoes less stress. Meanwhile, the leaf or the person that has a less harmonious relationship with the world, whether people or aspirations, will undergo increased stress.
“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
But we must remember that a leaf, with all of its complexity, contains nothing extra. Functional complexities are just that, functional. The world we live in today is overly complex because we do not subtract, we only add. We add further complexity to everything in our lives, from relationships to diets. For fear of sounding like a broken record, it is profit yet again that stands in the way of clarity. Simplicity, when referring to anything other than streamlined product functionality is a dirty word in the West. Simple sounds dangerously close to less. Like less buying, and less profit. But there is so much profit in less, both financial and spiritual.
I have told my son, a young aspiring Engineer, the job of an Engineer in the future is easy. “Almost everything that we currently use is overcomplicated, and overly resource intensive. Just pick something, anything, and make it less complicated and less resource intensive.” This story lends itself perfectly to our topic. After all types self development and years of shoveling into a bottomless pit, it occurred to me that “upgrades” to my already complicated life has offered only a temporary returns. If you are in the business of self help however, the returns could be far higher. Its a multi-billion dollar business, $9 Billion in 2016 to be exact. So no one is going to stop selling books or booking seminars anytime soon. Self help absolutely can be found in books, and at seminars. But if you are looking for the best help it is found through simplification, and its everlasting. No purchase required.
More is better. The more the merrier. None for you, more for me. No! More is the problem. Less is the answer. Less of what? Everything. Our pain is our pathway to desire, and desire is the doorway to our own personal hell.
“Every desire degrades us, and makes us a slave to that desire.”-unknown
Yes! Over-complication brings about pain. The pain of lack, fear of failure, hurt of the past, worry for the future. Pain awakens desire, and our desires destroy and “degrade” us. Confucius said, “ life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” It is what it is. Not worried about it. It’s in Gods hands. This is some of the best advice we ever got. Simple, maybe so much so that there appears to be no substance. But, in lies a fortune cookie of wisdom. A deceivingly packaged advisability that is as old as time. The more I tinker with life, the more I find myself working out the bugs. Counterintuitive to our modern Western ways, the more I debase those things that have no intrinsic value in my life, the more powerful I become. Real power, a power that comes from clarity. The power to change. The power to make clear choices. Most importantly, the ability not to be steered by desire.
I know most people look at monks and ask how they can live with so little? Monks look at us and wonder how we can live with so much? So much fear, anxiety, hunger, disappointment, resentment, regret, and desire? Real power is not having dominion over things or beings or money. Real power is our ability to gain clarity and control of ourselves. The more we attach or add to ourselves, objects, people, desires. The less likely that we will ever reach what is our greatest achievement, an unwavering dominion over…… me.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”– Lao Tzu