Sunday, April 22, 2018
A left-over from my walk in Spain this past September and October are thoughts about simplicity. For 35 days I walked. And walked. And walked.
Simplicity was thrust upon me. In the early mornings I didn’t have to make a to-do list; there was only one activity for the day — walking. As day after day of walking reinforced this tight focus, I experienced the letting go of much that contributes to the needless complexity of life.
I recognized then and now that life in this universe is complex beyond our comprehension. To pretend the complexity away constitutes what we call reductionism —“the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.”
Notwithstanding, I experienced thoughts and emotions along the El Camino path that led to a growing desire to experience my personal life at a reduced level in order to realize the greater essence of being.
Many of my thoughts and feelings about simplicity remain inchoate. Perhaps a continuing attention to the topic will advance what I know and experience regarding simplicity. Here in this note I propose to identify a few particulars that contribute to or detract from simplicity as I know it.
Millenia ago — and for period of about 2.5 million years — people survived by hunting and gathering. Because resources were widely scattered, the life of hunter-gatherers was, in most places, a life of subsistence. They had minimal ways to store food, so they lived day to day on what they could find.
Yuval Noah Harari identifies the shift to the agricultural revolution occurring about 10,000 years ago when people settled down to cultivate seeds and use animal help. Harari is quick to call the agricultural revolution history’s biggest fraud because of the many new demands and hardships on people. Yet this revolution gave the new opportunity for people to produce more than they needed, and in time to develop the hankering to have more and more. More and more of what? Private property, production facilities, food, storage know-how, on and on. Today we can add to the list of items that humans want more and more of. Cash, houses, yachts, cars and trucks, expensive furniture, elegant clothing, knickknacks from all over the world. In general, everything in such huge amounts leads, as in the Goodwill commercial, to clutter that falls out of our closets.
Today, many people on earth, particularly those who live in affluent lands can not understand the axion: “enough is elegant sufficiency.”
I learned as a child that time is money. I learned not to waste time. On El Camino the sentiment behind those sayings didn’t make sense. Time was the gift of another day to take a long walk. Nor did hurrying give the walker advantage. As I walked my mind meandered to our usual habits of hurrying.
Yes, some things require speed. A plane on the runway has to throttle up in order to rise. An emergency run may have to be as fast as possible. In many manufacturing and service jobs, “turn-around” may require nimble hands.
At the other extreme, sloths aren’t honored for accomplishment. Loiterers are not likely to make a dependable living.
In between the extremes is a moderate speed that is, in my opinion, slower than fast. I so admire moderation in velocity — in driving, in gardening, in speaking, in fix-up chores — because on too many jobs, I seem to be propelled in part by unfocused anxiety: “do it and do it fast.” Where did this speed demon come from?
The better quarter of my brain suggests that speed can quickly lead away from simplicity to complications of all kinds.
With deliberate persistence I would like to put together an argument for our making, or our seeking out, environments that foster simplicity. Behind this argument is the proposition that some places foster complexity, some places lend themselves to simplicity.
Vacations are meant to give people opportunity to retire to a place of rest and peace, but unfortunately vacations have been tarnished by both amount and velocity. It takes money to get there quickly. And to fill the vacation days to the point of exhaustion.
Undoubtedly people differ on what they would call a simple and renewing environment. I prefer a path in the woods to a blacktopped trail in the city. I prefer a small cafe to a large loud restaurant. I prefer a mid-volume concert from Minnesota Public Radio to hard rock on the radio. But these are idiosyncratic preferences. What I think important is to learn why a person such as Jesus goes off into the wilderness for a spell and what happens there.
I intend to peruse the library’s shelf of books on simplicity. Amazon will lead to other resources\s. Simplicity is elusive enough to require focussed and sustained effort. I wish I could join a study group on this topic.