A miscellany of Simplicity

Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. It’s hard for us to see this as an unsustainable and unhappy trap because all of our rooms are decorated in this same color. It is the only obvious story line that our children see. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be today’s answers to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” These identities are all terribly mistaken.

This foundational way of seeing has blinded us so that we now tend to falsely assume more is better. The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, severe competition as resources dwindle for a growing population, and perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. This determines much if not most of our politics. In the United States there is never enough for health care, education, the arts, or basic infrastructure. The largest budget is always for war, bombs, and military gadgets.

E. F. Schumacher said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial.

The wisdom literature asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in an individual as they move toward naked being instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our longing and restlessness. Thankfully, people like Dorothy Day and Wendell Berry have illustrated how this is still possible even in our modern world.

Climbing ladders to nowhere will never make us happy nor create peace and justice on this earth. Too many have to stay at the bottom of the ladder so we can be at the top. The wisdom literature levels the playing field and offers abundance and enoughness to all, regardless of status or state of belonging to religion, party, or group.

We don’t need any kind of self-image at all. This is what will happen when we expose ourselves to silence and stop exposing ourselves to the judgments of the world, when we don’t continuously “pick-up” the energy of others and don’t always have to think about what others think of us and what they take us to be.

This is the peace that the world can’t give. It’s also the peace that the world can no longer take from you. This peace doesn’t come about because we don anything right or wrong. When we get to this place, we will know and love ourselves, and that in spite of all the negative and opposing evidence. It is a spacious place and to live there is finally to be at home. This first and final home we carry with us all our lives and when we return we have discovered simplicity.