By M.K. Styllinski
© Infrakshun | M.K. Styllinski
“Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
— Lao Tzu
Reading time: 20-25 mins
What images does it conjure in your mind? Minimalist architecture? A Zen garden? A painting? Perhaps the symmetry of a fir-cone or a statue of Buddha?
It probably took me about 25 years to really get what simplicity seems to be. And even now, I sometimes struggle not to complicate things. I like complexity you see. The more complex something is the more interest I have – be it people or abstract ideas.
But to reach a complexity that is enriching we have to first simplify our minds otherwise we become lost in abstraction, reductive identifications and a multitude of obligations and desires. Next stop – burn out.
Simplicity is a state of mind which has the potential to affect our thoughts and actions in the everyday world. It implies an economy of thought and movement which can to lead to harmony. When simplicity and harmony exist, moral virtue is not far behind.
Simplicity is not just peace or mindfulness, it’s the state of receptivity and creativity working as one. And for that to occur we have to let our 24hr desires abate somewhat; we have to let go and let it Be.
The root meanings of the word derive from the 14th Century listing “singleness of nature, unity, indivisibility; immutability,” and from the Old French simplicité; Latin simplicitatem meaning “state of being simple, frankness, openness, artlessness, candor, directness.” The Middle English also from French: simplesse, used the word from the mid-14th Century in the sense of “humility, lack of pride,” and later as “wholeness, unity.” By c. 1400 it was also known as “ignorance.”
Obviously, I’m using simplicity in its positive sense: unity, wholeness, openness, clarity, purity, elegance, parsimony, humility, economy, etc. It can just as easily imply black and white thinking, ignorance and stupidity as the 15th Century populace discovered, ironically as humanistic individualism was making itself known.
The West has prided itself on inquiry, reason, rationale and critique (even if it doesn’t quite measure up to those ideals); the legacy of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason; individualism and humanistic innovations. The influence of the East is the other half of the equation: an understanding of the inner world and the meditative mind; the slow calming of the incessant intellect in order receive what Chinese and later Japanese Buddhists called “The Tao.” As esotericist George I. Gurdjieff described it: “Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West and then seek.”
The Taoists have a lot to say about the virtues of simplicity. One of the most famous Taoist texts is The Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing) believed to have been written by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu sometime in the 6th Century B.C.