If one thing’s abundantly clear to me, it’s this: living simply is simply difficult.
I say this even as I vow to become simpler. (Before anyone snickers at that, consider this: there’s a reason vacation – the vacating of responsibilities and the simplification of life even for a brief time – is a blissful reprieve from which we generally emerge refreshed and renewed.)
Last month, we gathered with Charlie’s family to celebrate his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Coordinating 18 adult schedules proved challenging. Even our slender window of opportunity had difficulty stamped all over it, as one set of family members arrived midday Saturday and left midday Sunday. Two sets arrived Friday and left in the barely-even-morning hours of Sunday, and one arrived at midday Saturday and left shortly after that.
As I watched that weekend unfold, what crystallized was how the awesome pleasures of companionship and relationship resonated most when the main event ended … or to put it another way, when activity simplified. When the arrangements and schedules were sorted, when the doing stopped and the being took over, and when it all came down to enjoying one another’s company, that’s when the hum of connection reigned. We considered ourselves lucky to have achieved that.
While tooling around Lewisburg, West Virginia that weekend (voted America’s coolest small town!), I set aside the self-appointed responsibility of “Planner” and took on the simplicity of “Tourist.” I soaked up the ambiance of the artsy, eclectic and definitely quirky boutiques.
And wouldn’t you know it? That’s when I encountered a Quantum Flirt in the form of a simple set of small, metal charms marketed as “Five Rules for Living.” Tokens, the storekeeper called them. She explained that they were similar to worry stones. Carry them with you, she said, in a pocket or a purse. Then, when you slip your hand in and feel one of those items, let it remind you of its message.
And oh, what a message it offered! She had me, of course. I now own those five rules for living. I carry them along with me as a reminder to simplify, always to simplify. They are a good, concrete reminder of the lessons of that wonderful, yet wonderfully challenging, weekend.
Let me share my Quantum Flirt in hopes that you, too, will take away a nugget of wisdom for whichever of the five rules resonates.
1. Free your heart from hatred.
Shakespeare once wrote “in time we hate that which we often fear.” George Bernard Shaw believed that “hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated.” Tennessee Williams spoke of hate as “a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding.”
Now, hatred’s a strong emotion, and I think these literary giants were on to something fundamental. We substitute hatred for fear because to acknowledge fear is to admit we’re “less than.” We substitute it for cowardice, because we don’t want to acknowledge that intimidation lives in OUR responses, not in OTHERS’ actions. And we substitute hatred for ignorance because we fear questioning our beliefs will weaken them and thus weaken our identities.
But what if the cure for hatred is as simple as indulging curiosity, seeking to learn and understand, and acknowledging that YOUR differences in no way threaten MY differences?
2. Free your mind from worries.
The Dalai Lama tells us that if a problem can be fixed or a situation handled, then we worry needlessly … because it CAN be fixed. And if a problem’s not fixable, we still worry needlessly… because there’s no help to be found in that worrying. Wow. As someone with an eye on the future, concerned with possibilities and what might be, I acknowledge it’s hard to let go worry. This reunion weekend was a labor of love, but in hindsight I see how the complexity of orchestration also kept me from fully enjoying the moments.
3. Live simply.
Socrates warned, “beware the barrenness of a busy life.” So did Confucius, who wrote: “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Then there’s Leonardo da Vinci, who weighed in with “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” At one time, I thought busyness equaled fulfillment and meaning. I am important! I have things to do! My life has meaning because I am busy! I now believe it’s merely a way to keep from doing the hard work of the soul to become more authentic and fulfilled.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less.
Can there be a better couplet? If there are cornerstones to unconditional love, these two must be among them. When I love without strings, there is no expectation. I love and I do because I wish to, because it pleases and fulfills me, not because I expect to get something in return. That lesson burned hot and sweet as we headed for our respective homes. I reached into my pocket, felt those small tokens I had placed there, and realized that 60 years of marriage made an awesome testament to the idea of giving more and expecting less. Surely that’s the best example of all.
How fortuitous to walk into that shop of (yes, expensive) artistic wares, only to find that the least expensive items – the simplest ones – carried the most powerful messages. But then, that’s the way of the Quantum Flirt. Simply appropriate, don’t you think?