We often make life complicated for ourselves even though we yearn for simplicity. Living simply can be a challenge in this complicated world. Our culture doesn’t provide us with much instruction or support. And our brains are hardwired against simplicity, constantly churning out stories that we are not enough, we do not have enough and that there is always something better to attain. So our brains may require some retraining. But first we have to remember what we really want and then we need to pay attention to where we direct our energy.
Life’s complexities tend to show up in sneaky and underhanded ways and they can be good reminders for us to pay attention. My recent reminder has been a faulty garage door opener. My husband did his research when it was time to replace our garage door opener. He chose a reputable company with a salesperson who convinced him that it was time to upgrade to a Wi-Fi system. After all, there would be an app on our phone that would allow us to check and change the status of our garage door any time, any place. Perfect safety, security and efficiency, so we believed.
It didn’t go down so smoothly. After the installation, we found that we couldn’t consistently get the garage door to open or close on one click, or three, or ten. Sometimes, the only way to get the garage door to budge when sitting in the driveway would be to open and manage the app. We had the company come out three times. They replaced the lightbulbs (twice), the clickers (twice) and then the entire system. After the second system was installed, the technician clicked the button ten times without the garage opening. “Nope, doesn’t work,” he said. The whole thing was odd given that our previous non-Wi-Fi garage door opener had no problems for 20 years.
After working through the refund process, my husband went to Lowes and found the simplest non-Wi-Fi system he could find. No bells or whistles. No apps. And guess what? It purrs like a kitten. We lightly press the button now rather than using all of our weight to press non-responsive buttons. We’re learning to trust again that we don’t need to carry a phone with an app or unlock our storm door to feel like we can safely get back into our house after taking a walk. The garage door simply opens and closes as it should.
It was an innocent mistake on our part. After all, technology can offer incredible benefits. But it was also a reminder to keep it simple.
I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity as we approach the holidays. This season inevitably highlights how complicated we make our lives. In the midst of it all, I’ve been savoring my own simple moments despite the crush of last-minute deadlines and an uncomfortably long to-do list. Burning incense every morning to usher in a new day helps me to feel grounded. Taking breaks to look out the window at the squirrels or trees in the back yard helps me to feel recentered. Pulling juicy seeds out of the pomegranates that are in season this time of year helps me feel grateful. These small moments add up.
It's easy to lose track of what truly nourishes and keeps us grounded, centered and grateful. And this is where mindfulness comes into play.. "Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally" (as Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness), allows us notice and feel all that we are carrying and the complexities we are unknowingly accepting.
One of my favorite stories is shared by meditation teacher Jack Kornfield. He describes his teacher, Ajahn Chah, walking along the alms round in the morning with the monks when he sees a huge boulder in the field. He asks, “Monks, is that boulder heavy?” And of course, the monks say, “Yes, Master, it is.” He smiles and says, “Not if you don’t pick it up.”
What are the things you do not need to carry? Where in your life can you choose simplicity? We can’t control everything in our lives, but we can set our intention towards cultivating greater presence, gratitude and simplicity, if only in this moment. Simplicity is a beautiful contemplation for the new year, a wise and kind gift that we can give ourselves.