I know that it is very simple to be happy, but I also know that it is very difficult to be simple.
– Lucia L. Ollie
Today is Monday, March 18, 2013.
I've always had a fascination with simplicity. It's probably no surprise, then, that I spent a lot of time in Japan in this lifetime – ten years, in fact. In Japan, my fascination for the simple was indulged every single day in some way.
While I was there, I was drawn again and again to ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging. I was privileged to make friends with a lady who was studying this art, and she would tell me all about it at her weekly English lesson. She always had a fabulous arrangement sitting on the shoe cabinet in the genkan, or entrance to the house. From her, I learned that there was a lot of thought that went into each arrangement, and there were a number of rules to follow. There were specific rules to follow for the length of each branch, the number of flowers and branches used in an arrangement, the specific angle at which each branch and flower is put into the vase, the types of flowers and branches used in each season, and the shape and height of the vase.
I wanted to study ikebana while I was in Japan, but I found out that it was really expensive to get lessons with a good teacher, and that students were required to pay for the examination at the end of each stage, as well. Still, I was fascinated by the vases, and managed to buy a couple of nice ones while I was there. That's when I learned one more thing about simplicity: it can be very expensive.
I've expanded my interest in simplicity into another area recently, that of sustainability and living harmoniously with the earth. I joined a group, called Unfolding Into Simplicity, that meets once a month to discuss all sorts of related issues. The meeting is divided into three segments. In the first two segments, we discuss practical techniques for gardening, making our own toothpaste or laundry detergent, survival skills, and ways to recycle items we use daily. In the third segment, we discuss the spiritual principles that underlie a sustainable, harmonious lifestyle. With the support of this group, I will attempt to do some gardening of my own this summer, something which is way out of my current comfort zone.
Recently, I've been reading a book called Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin. In the Introduction, written by Ram Dass, the idea of simplicity as it is practiced in the East is contrasted with voluntary simplicity as it is practiced in the West. In general, people who live simply in places like rural China or India do so not necessarily because they want to, but because they have no other option. Those who live simply do so because they are impoverished, and the traditions they follow do not encourage progress or growth. In the West, those who embrace simplicity are generally those who are better educated and better-off, financially. They live simply, not because they have to, but because they value a lifestyle that is less rushed, less affected by the culture of commercialism, more purposeful, and more harmonious. Above all, they live simply because they recognize this type of lifestyle as a path toward personal growth.
Voluntary simplicity is compatible with technological progress, with ecological mindfulness, and with spiritual unfoldment. These are all things that I want to attract into my life.
I agree that it is simple to be happy, once we begin to appreciate simple things. I'm not so sure it is particularly "difficult" to be simple, though. Rather, it requires mindfulness, discipline, and the ability to let go of the influence of popular culture. :-)