Simplifying Life

Fred Smith takes time to talk with us about what the simple life is not and then what it is.

By Fred Smith

The "the simple life" has great appeal as a way to avoid the complications of Type A living. But there are certain misconceptions. Let's look at three of them.

1. The simple life is anti-materialistic — seeing materialism as if it were opposed to spirituality is unscriptural. I find no relationship between people's spirituality and the amount of things they own——it is the spirit in which they own them — the reason they buy and the use they make of them. My friend Allan Emery, the son of a very wealthy Boston merchant, was given a racing yacht on his 16th birthday, with a crew. Being a great sailor, he immediately wanted to go to the Bahamas and race. His father had no objection to that, but wanted Allan to think about something else first. He said, "Son, I was hoping that you would see it as a means of inviting your friends out for a sail and during the time finding a way to help them with their spiritual problems." His father continued, "Allan, you will find everything you own is either a tool or a tyrant, and it's up to you." We can be totally without material and still have neither a simple nor a scriptural life. The balanced combination of materialism and spirituality is the only way to have a holistic life

2. The simple life is the sparse life. Dr. Walter Hearn, the Yale biochemist, and his wife decided they wanted to see what it was like to live as totally poor, destitute and homeless. So they took a leave and went to Los Angeles living there and rummaging through garbage cans. At the end of the year, he said that it took nearly all of their time just to find enough to eat and a place to sleep. So it wasn't in the sparse life that they found the simple life. In fact, money should simplify our life rather than complicate it.

3. The simple life is mystical and contemplative. We can't reach the simple life by shaving our head and wearing a sheet, with parents providing an American Express card as incentive to keep us away from embarrassing them by coming home. Mother Theresa didn't have time in her duties to be focused on the other-worldly, for in her service and prayers she lived the simple life.

So, if it isn't in asceticism, denial and mysticism that we find the simple life where is it? Simply put it is "a well-planned, meaningful life under control." How is this accomplished?

1. You must honestly want it. Emerson said, "be careful, young man, what you want, for you will have it." He was talking about the thing that you want deep down in your heart, the lodestar, the thing that is the magnet to which you are drawn. So many people I see really don't want the life they've got——they just want "something else" but they haven't been willing to go through the pain of defining what they want.

2. What direction do I want my life to take? The simple life requires a good answer to this question. I personally am much more concerned with the direction than the goal. If we fail to decide our direction, we cannot simplify our life. Until we know what kind of building we are building, there is no way to order the right materials or construct it correctly. In selecting a direction for life, I think we need to consider "what residue do I want to leave when I go?"

3 To simplify means having "a quiet center" for your life. This is spiritual poise. A quiet center means there's no panic in the control tower. I understand that technically a perfect note of music has no vibrations at the very center. There it is quiet. Like the tornado's eye where around the stillness is built the terrible centrifugal forces of power. Even in the golf swing we talk about the quiet head as the quiet center of the swing. The quiet center is really found in the spirit of truth.

4. Simplicity requires common sense organization of life. You hear

people saying, "we've got to get it together." I think we feel the lack of harmony in our life. As one of my executive friends says, "their football team blocks their own kicks." We feel the compartmentalization, the segmentation, the alienation within ourselves, because we lack good common-sense organization of our life and basically because we do not really know what we are trying to accomplish. The first part of common-sense organization is simply to state clearly the objectives. Oftentimes I stop and say, what am I really trying to do? It is so easy to get diverted from our primary responsibility.

The simple life is possible, but it takes discipline and direction. The results are well-worth the effort. Francois Fenelon says it this way: "when we are truly in this interior simplicity, our whole appearance is franker, more natural. This true simplicity makes us conscious of a certain openness, gentleness, innocence, gaiety and serenity which is charming when we see it near to and continually with pure eyes, O how amiable this simplicity is."