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A simple life

Turning complexity into simplicity.


I’d like to start this week’s article off by paraphrasing a story of two Zen monks on a journey across Asia.


At some point along the way the two monks come across a woman trying to cross a river, but is unable to do so. So, one monk picks up the woman, puts her over his shoulder and wades through the river to the other side before putting her down and continuing on his merry way.


A significant amount of time passes before the other monk says, “our code forbids us physical contact with women.” The monk replies with, “I dropped her off at the other side of the river and yet you’re still carrying her.”


We can have a grave tendency as humans of making something complex out of something very simple – which I feel the above illustrates wonderfully. How merely helping a fellow person out in a simple task – which probably meant a great deal in actuality – was turned into a dishonourable act of violating a sacred oath. Also, notice that it wasn’t the doer that held onto this alleged wrongdoing, but it was the monk who didn’t. The monk who carried out this simple act of generosity thought nothing of it whereas the other monk was plagued with a complex internal struggle.


There are other morals to this story, such as not allowing dogmatic rule following get in the way of the common good, but it’s the simplicity angle I wish to focus on.

It's a peaceful life single player games

As I venture through my life, I find myself aiming towards a peaceful, simple life. No doubt I’m the first one to advocate not reducing problems/issues to a single cause and allowing for a more nuanced view of our largely complex social, economic, political and environmental structures. A simple life still allows for complexity where necessary; the absence of thinking is not inherent to a simpler existence. It usually takes a great mind to turn something complex into something simple, and a sign that they actually know what they’re talking about (as opposed to wrote-learned jargon, let’s say).   


I’ve written elsewhere on celebrating the ordinary life or praising the quiet life, along with why so many of us are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and how a compulsory pitstop is required. I strongly recommend reading these if you haven’t already, and if you have, perhaps a re-read is in order. Really super pieces of writing those articles and I couldn’t agree with me more on that one.


A simple life is not necessarily one without hardship nor difficulty. We have a tendency to romanticise a simple life as one that is care free and without stress or worry, but the truth is anything but. A simple life is more about cutting out the noise, losing the excess, trimming the fat, letting the immaterial become immaterial. I feel watching “Clarkson’s Farm” is a great example of this. Jeremy saying, “life’s shit, but I’m loving it”, sums it up really. That, and the fact Gerald is the most contented man I’ve ever seen, bless the man.


Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should start to run a farm and all’s well, but carrying so much around with you, making mountains out of molehills, trying to control what’s out of your control…none of this – by your own definition – is doing your sanity (nor the sanity of those around you) any good.

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