Simplify

It’s been some time since I last listened to Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion“, but some of the bits are still with me.  Like the time one of the characters was driving an older person, perhaps one of those Norwegian bachelor farmers, around the big city of Minneapolis.  At one point, the older person saw people running through the park and asked what they were doing.  He was told they were running for exercise.  “Why don’t they get a job?” he asked.

Life is like that, it seems.  We work very hard at what should come naturally.  For example, this blog post by Greg McKeown promises to simplify our life in only five minutes a day. The need is understandable.  Just treading water now seems an impossible goal.  I’m not a cutting edge, early adopter technophile, but managing my 150-plus online passwords, eight digital devices and home network has become a full-time career.  (Now hiring: SysAdmin for home enterprise.)

Simplification is a growth industry, with a magazine (Real Simple with the catchphrase “Life Made Easier”) , whole libraries of books (including McKeown’s new book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which I recommend), online classes, quote collections (which I will be pilfering for my companion blog) and who knows what else.

The need for simplification may be a symptom of the modern world, but its roots go deep, as evidenced by Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote: “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.”  I suspect Thoreau didn’t have a single password to worry about, but he felt the need to simplify.  

Or perhaps to focus.

In a previous incarnation, when stressed I would go to a park near my office and watch ants scurry about in the Alabama summer heat.  I left my concerns behind, not by clearing my mind, but by filling it with only one thing–observing ants at my feet.  I was essentially meditating, replacing the monkey chatter of my brain with a single focus.

Much of the stress in my life can be summarized with the metaphor of the lone soldier defending a fort.  The poor fellow runs about the parapets, firing random shots down below hoping to keep the enemy at bay.  At best, this holds the barbarians off but the soldier eventually runs out of ammo, or breath, or both.  The answer, paradoxically, is to quit trying.  Let them have the damned fort.  Focus on what can be done.  As McKeown notes in his book, you can’t have it all.  The sooner you learn that, the sooner you can focus on what you want to achieve in life.  Then you can view the world with the wisdom of a Norwegian bachelor farmer.

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