From a sermon given March 2000 at the Spring Equinox Worship Service
Back in the dark ages, when I was in my late 20s and beginning to focus on my spiritual development, I had a teacher who said to me once, Eileen, you do understand, don’t you, that simplicity is a spiritual concept? I remember looking at her with what I’m sure was a puzzled expression on my face, tilting my head to one side and just listening. With all the new information to which I was being exposed about how the world of spirit works, listening was often all I could do in those days. Really, I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about then. I knew what she was saying sounded right, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell myself or anyone else why.
In those days, I was still revealing in the freedom of a life I was creating entirely on my own, beyond what I had known for so many years in my family of origin. I was filling my life with new experiences, some constructive, some destructive, but all ones that I craved–experiences I had not been able to have living with my parents. I was stacking my days with places I had never been allowed to go, activities that I had never done before, relationships with people who sometimes weren’t the kind of people my parents would approve of, joining groups that were beyond my family’s and sometimes even society’s norms. It was all pretty thrilling. Sure I was exhausted, chronically sleep-deprived, emotionally unstable most of the time, financially irresponsible, but I felt alive! I was living the loca vida and it felt great.
It probably was a good thing that I didn’t have the words to respond to my teacher talking about simplicity, because the words might have been the unproductive, argumentative kind. Because for me, at the time and place in which my attention was first drawn to the concept of simplicity, what simplicity really meant was boredom. A simple life, in my immature view, was one that was devoid of meaning, one that didn’t have much going on, a state of deprivation.
I tell you about my earlier view on simplicity because I think it is one shared by a lot of people, particularly in American culture. Of course, young adults often have the need to explore the external world in new ways beyond what they have known in childhood, and this is a legitimate developmental phase. Each new generation has a tendency to accuse the last one of being insulated to the point of being boring. But it’s not just youth that equate simplicity with boredom. I think many people believe, at least on some level, that simplicity is for fools, for people who can’t get it together enough to create an interesting life. According to this view, the simple life is for those who are dull by nature, fearful, or who simply don’t mind being stuck.
On the other hand, there are many people who believe the opposite. On Planet Earth, we like to learn through dichotomies, so there are also a great number of people running around who believe that simplicity is not only a good thing, it is the solution for all of life’s woes. These are the people who are nostalgic for the “good old days.” The idea here is that life used to be simple, and now it is not, and a great deal of what is wrong with the world would be corrected if we could simply go back to the time when things were simple. I am always amused by the capacity we have as humans to idealize situations which were not really ideal. Returning to one’s childhood which did not have the responsibilities we face as adults, but usually had other more invisible responsibilities equally challenging, is not the solution. And as a society, returning to times when technology was at a minimum, is not the solution for our collective problems. As you all are probably aware, you can only truly solve problems from present time. You can never really resolve anything by living in the past.
What I find particularly interesting about the “nostalgia” view of simplicity is that it is generally not grounded in reality. I don’t think that life on Planet Earth has ever been simple, at least for the vast majority of people. Of the 800 to 900 or so generations of human beings that have passed through this plane, nearly 700 of those generations have lived in caves, and have been preoccupied during nearly every waking minute of each day with the task of gathering enough food, clothing, and heating fuels to survive. There’s nothing particularly simple about a life in which it takes enormous concentration to bring down a mastodon with wooden spears tipped with flint, or wander to the right area that may allow you to scratch out edible roots when you don’t have any solid information about geography, upcoming weather patterns, or how to stop the bleeding if the mastodon catches you before you catch it.
And what about our last few generations, when we have had increasing amounts of technological information at our disposal? Are our lives now simple because we have more information about how the physical world works? You can find people who tell you that technology has, indeed, made life much simpler. And you can find people who insist that technology has made life much more complex. For the first time in human history, there are large numbers of people in the world who are not solely and totally preoccupied with survival. We actually have something called “leisure time,” which has only been around for less than a hundred years or so. Now that many of us can choose how we want to spend at least some of our time, is our life more simple, or less simple? And even more fundamentally, does it matter? Should simplicity be the goal? Is living a simple life a virtuous thing, is it simply settling for less than is possible, or is it different for different people? And what is simplicity, anyway? (So, now we’ve come full circle in this discussion).
All I can do is tell you a little about my experience, as a person committed to using meditation as a means of connecting with my inner world with the creative force that lives within me, as it does within us all. As the months have gone by in which I spend more time acknowledging what is going on within me, I become less driven by the world around me. My outer world still interests me, in some ways more than ever, but I am less hooked by it, less attached to it. As a result, lots of material things, certain experiences, and even some relationships that used to command my attention, have simply ceased to be important to me. They’ve just fallen away. And other things, experiences, and people in the physical world have become more important to me, but somehow in a way that is effortless.
I’m actually busier now than I’ve probably ever been in my life. These days I have more businesses going, clients, personal friends and projects that I’m working with than I did in my entire 20s and 30s. To an outside observer, my life looks very hectic. But in actuality, I’m getting all the sleep, rest and leisure time I need, and I feel at peace most of the time. Because the people and the resources just show up when they need to and the experiences happen as they happen, and it is all very simple. My life is very simple. My lifestyle is extremely complex. If you can understand how those two things can both be true, than you are well on your way to understanding why simplicity, true simplicity, is indeed, a spiritual concept.
Copyright 2002 Rev. Resa Eileen Raven