Every autumn I take a chainsaw to a tree in the back yard and take back most of the branches. The tree is reduced from a tangle of foliage and branches to a short truck with a couple of main-stems left behind. Looking it after my hack job you would think that it will surely die but every spring it returns in full vigor. New branches reach out with sprouts of leaves. Flowers blossom and the trunk thicken. The tree is healthy and productive. By cutting back old growth and dead wood and leaving it almost bare I have allowed the tree to renew itself and continue to grow. Simplicity is like that.
Life can get messy. We can fill our days with drama and complexity. Our time seems to get shorter as we are constantly distracted by new things. We fill our homes and garages and eventually a rented storage unit with so much stuff that we soon run out of room. Our attention hops from one thing to another. For a while we are interested in one thing and soon enough we get bored with that and move on.
The constant pull of modern consumerism sees us accumulating stuff that we don’t need or acquire mindlessly because we have been told that if we have it we will be happier, cooler or more popular. By having more and being constantly busy we think that our lives will be fulfilled and we will reach our desired state of happiness and contentment. All that happens is we find ourselves on a slippery slope and soon get overwhelmed by the tempo and shallow materialism of our lives. The environment suffers, we suffer and only big corporations win selling us stuff they tell us we need.
From time to time we need to take a pruning saw (or a hatchet) to our lives and cut back the excess. We should identify the dead branches and cut them away. Cut back the complexity and over activity. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
All monastic orders required their adherents to live lives of simplicity. Excess was avoided and attachment to material possessions and relationships eschewed. When I was in the Army the principle of simplicity and self discipline was constantly reinforced. We were expected to have few personal possessions and avoid the trappings of conspicuous consumption. Our job demanded that our first priority was the job. Some of the guys took it far and owned little more than one set of civilian clothes for going out; everything else they owned was issued or bought kit.
A Life of Purpose
The Jedi are an example of simplicity. Besides a Jedi Robe, a belt and boots and a light sabre what does a Jedi own? Seemingly nothing, they got funds to support themselves and their mission when required but otherwise a Jedi was discouraged from having attachments.
Allegiance to the Jedi Order demanded simplicity and purpose. By living simply, the Jedi were never distracted from their primary purpose. The Jedi also kept their internal world well ordered and simple. The Jedi demonstrated equanimity and dispassion.
Hording is Suffering
They say that what makes a person horde possessions and refuse to let them go is fear. They are suffering from over attachment. We have all seen the effect of severe hording on television shows that take us in the homes of chronic Hoarders.
People will horde and even refuse to throw out old newspapers and trash. Eventually their lives become unmanageable and desperate; they are drowning in an ocean of junk but refuse to let any of it go. Fear won’t allow them to lighten their lives and simplify. They feel by throwing their “treasures” away they are somehow losing a part of themselves. Inanimate objects hold them hostage. Attachment becomes real suffering to the point that they would rather die than toss out a box of old moldy magazines. The problem is not that they can’t do without their possessions, they can, and the problem is only in their mind.
We might say, “Yeah but that’s pretty extreme. Most people aren’t like that”. The reality is that the ego is exactly like that. We may not be hording a ton of stuff we don’t need, we may even own very little. On the other hand we may be holding on to beliefs and ideas that do not serve us or represent who we truly are. Few people, if honest, would disagree. Most of us hold on to more than we realize. Every single experience, thought, word and action in our lives becomes a part of who we are. As the years pass, we find that we have become like an old tree; an over grown jumble of unruly branches and dead wood.
For more than a decade I lived out of a bag. My possessions were limited to a backpack with a few clothes, a sleeping bag, a pair of shoes and a camera. There were a few keepsakes I’d picked up on my travels, a couple of books and a sealed plastic bag full of photos. I was homeless and owned nothing. My home was wherever I found myself at the end of the day. Not having much meant I didn’t have a lot to lose. The freedom allowed me to indulge in my addiction without constraint. The problem of course was that inwardly I was a mess.
Handing it Over
Getting rid of unwanted excess is actually liberating. By handing over my problems to a higher power I started the process of pruning back my life. Writing an inventory of my character defects and misdeeds to others highlighted where I needed to make further changes and do amends. Sharing my inventory with another helped me take a weight of guilt off my shoulders. By coming clean I was able to throw off the dead wood that had been holding me back. I was free to move on.
The pruning back continued. There was years of growth that needed to be removed. I finally decided to do something about it and I asked my Higher Power to guide me. The work was up to me, but I left the outcomes to the Force.
One by one I hacked back the character defects and flaws through application of principle and changing my thought pattern and behaviour. Several years later with pruning being a constant and meticulous job I can look back at my work and see what I have become. The person I was is gone and a new man stands in his place. This is the feeling of freedom; to cast off the world like some dark cloak and walk through the gates in to another dimension of existence.
Today I continue to take a pair of secateurs and prune away. My life is like a tree that requires daily maintenance to keep it healthy. Where I have made a mistake I admit it, where I have wronged someone I try to make amends. Each day is reviewed and where improvements can be made I do so where I have control. Life becomes a daily pursuit in simplicity and purpose, the Jedi way.
Inventory and Let Go
We don’t need to get rid of all of our stuff and live like a monk or a Jedi but we can simplify and reduce the clutter. One of the best ways of taking stock of our rampant and manic lives is to inventory. List all the things that take up our time and attention. What do you enjoy doing? Are you doing things which take up time but bring you no joy or return? Decide which you would be better off without and drop it.
Review your consumer patterns. Take a shopping list with you or decide on what you are going to buy and then buy it. Avoid making purchases on impulse and ask yourself whether you need it or just want it. Remember, wants are not needs.
Sort, Sift, Sweep, Sanitize and Sustain
Go through your wardrobe and garage. Do you really need all of the clothes hanging up? One way is to turn all your clothes and shoes to face one way. Every time you take something and put it back have it facing the opposite direction. After a year take all the items that were not moved and donate them to good-will. Take all of your horded clutter out on to the lawn and divide them in to categories based on their utility and purpose. If you have stuff sitting there since 1999 which has not been used, donate it if it may be of use to others or throw it out.
Occasionally review your life and take stock. Not just where you are financially, in your career, or on the journey to achieving your goals; review your internal values system. Are your values consistent with who you are and who you want to be? Ask what do you care about, what is your purpose and what do you want out of life. Decide whether your values match your principles and agree with your goals. Remember that values define you, principles are the way your express them and goals are where you want to take your life. Keep it simple.
Take what you Need
Sometimes we will find that a lot of ideas and assumptions that we had are no longer useful and we resolve to get rid of them. For example, we may have decided some time ago to be less stressed about life and worry less about material wealth and more on our self improvement but our actions may be the opposite. If our ideas no longer serve, we drop them and find those that do. We align ourselves to our purpose. Being Jedi is about being agile and adaptive. Its about being able to take what you need and leave the rest.
Life is like a tree. It is a living and breathing thing that grows and throws out branches in all directions. Sometime we need to do some pruning in our lives and re-calibrate ourselves so that we can continue to grow and get better.