Mother Earth is in a continual process of birthing a new consciousness. In this laboring, her rate of change can at times seem beyond our ability to cope. Thus it seems many of us are recognizing a need to simplify our lives. As more of us initiate this shedding process, we learn to release what we cannot control. As a result, more genuine relationships emerge between people as well as between us and our possessions. A few key steps in helping us lighten up and scale down include:
Living in the Present
Living in the Present: No one describes this better than Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now. We live in a physical body, and this body can only exist in the now. The mind, on the other hand, seems obsessed with past and future scenarios. Its main function is problem solving, and without a problem to solve, it functions just like a computer, scanning the past and projecting into the future in order to keep itself busy.
Keeping ourselves mentally occupied is endemic to our culture. From an early age, we are praised for our intellect and a college education has become necessary to competing in today’s job market. We memorize at first to pass courses, seeking knowledge to the exclusion of better understanding ourselves and our place in the cosmos. Eventually we lose our sense of wonder and may postpone this deeper journey until a crisis helps precipitate it.
If we can honor our body’s need to be present in the now, accessing the mind when problems need solving, we will experience more wellness in our physical universe. Our bodies will be energized and our minds, without the constant pressure to solve the unsolvable (past) and the unknowable (future) will actually sharpen, no matter our physical age.
Prioritizing: Most of us can’t do everything we’d like to in a day. Expectations often exceed our ability to accommodate them. What’s really important? What can wait, forever if necessary? If we can learn to exist in the eternal now, priorities will become evident as they arise. We will quite naturally begin to slow down and pace ourselves. Most of us, however, are not as fully present as we might wish. Our inner and outer worlds seem in conflict, and others we live and work with may not appreciate or honor our diminishing regard for clock time. Sifting out what is essential while remaining functional in a family or work environment can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Families can adjust when changes are made slowly over time. Start with what is most important and go from there. Learn to say no. Release control over others and offer guidance instead. You’ll find there are other, healthier ways for them to get their needs met. At work, set realistic daily goals and inform appropriate others. Work to live, don’t live to work.
Making lists is helpful in relieving the mind of its constant scanning, and eventually we discover much on these lists which seems superfluous and can be discarded. List making frees the mind of clutter, enhancing its overall usefulness. If we reflect on how much our day-to-day lives have changed in the past 100 years, I’m sure we can all agree that life has become far more complex than we ever dreamed possible. Reducing the complexities of life to what we are able to accomplish and/or learn in a day keeps realistic priorities in sight, as does a soul-searching look into what is truly important.
Unburdening ourselves: Simplifying our lives while locking hopes, fears and emotions inside simply cannot be done. We might manage downsizing into in a smaller house with less clutter, but our minds will continue seeking ways in which to keep us busy and distracted. Being present in the body requires that we stay in touch with our feelings. If we have lost awareness of feelings, it may take some time to sensitize ourselves to them once again. Many of us have remained out of touch with feelings since early childhood when we were admonished not to cry, get angry, or express any “negative” emotion. Finding a safe way to unburden ourselves is key. Sharing our imperfections with others not only validates our suffering but gives others permission to do the same. Learning to communicate effectively and safely can enrich the lives of those we touch. Secrets can be lethal. Unburden the soul.
Defining boundaries: For some, boundaries become fences that lock others out while keeping us locked inside ourselves. Boundaries that benefit us are those in which we discover what is ours and what needs to remain with another. For some, this can be as simple as designating a private physical space, sacred to oneself alone (my room, my journal, my drawer, my half of the closet). We can also reach deeper into defining psychic space. Taking on the pain of another in order to transmute the pain in the world can be beneficial if we are Buddhists practicing tonglen. Yet for too many, the assumption of another’s stuff translates into codependence, where pleasing others comes at the expense of our well-being. Sensitive people are especially vulnerable to the dissolution of boundaries when we sense pain, need or suffering in another. If you question whether you fall into this category, Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person is a helpful read.
If we desire a more simplified existence, we must first define what that means for us. We each lead a lifestyle particular to our own needs and circumstances. For some, scaling down might mean moving from a home we raised our families in to a smaller, more manageable space. For others, creating time for simplifying our mental space might be paramount. In all cases however, we can benefit through a practice of mindfulness and present moment awareness, leading us into the only place we can experience true simplicity: the eternal Now.