Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Complexity of Simplicity

For the past three weeks, our mindfulness study and discussion group has been exploring the concept of "voluntary simplicity." In our last meeting on this subject, we agreed that simplifying your life can be very complicated.

What kept coming up, over and over again, was that we are tremendously attached to our things. Somehow they define us. Many of us answered "yes" when asked if the idea of paring down our possessions to, say, a hundred or so items, brought up feelings of fear. The idea of getting rid of all the stuff in our lives that we do not use is, indeed, kind of scary. One participant put it this way: "Why would I let go of attachment? It's the only thing that makes life worth living!"

Abundance of things led us into a discussion of how rich we are in terms of the people in our lives. It was generally agreed that family and friends are more important and ultimately bring us more joy than possessions. Richness of experience was also discussed. As someone said, "A trip to Hawaii will bring me more happiness than a new sofa."

This, very naturally, led to a discussion of the ultimate attachment object: our body. Is it possible to release attachment even of this object? After all, this body that we are inhabiting is not "ours," it is really more like a rental which we have to return at the end of the contract. Again, a complex issue. On his deathbed, the Venerable Ajahn Chah was visited by his student, Jack Kornfield. As Jack recounts the story, he was holding Ajahn Chah's hand and discussing death and attachment. "Well, you always taught that we must relinquish attachment to this body," said Jack. The venerable teacher squeezed Jack's hand tightly and said, "Don't speak so lightly about it! This is hard!"

So I guess the best advice I can offer is to take it easy. Find balance between possessing things and purging them. Realize that no possession will give us lasting and permanent happiness or satisfaction, and that someday, everything must be released.

And, yes, it is not easy.


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