Plus, how to take things less personally.
Most of us have wished for a simpler life at some stage or other. No surprise really, given how hectic our tech-fueled, multi-tasking lives can be and the speed at which everything seems to happen these days.
When I set off to become a Buddhist monk back in the day, I was definitely searching for a simpler way of life. Sure, in retrospect, perhaps it was a little drastic, and you’ll be relieved to know that’s certainly not what I’m recommending here. But there were some really useful lessons that relate just as much to here and now as they did to there and then.
One monastery I lived in took simplicity to a whole new level. It was entirely dedicated to the practice of meditation. There was little or no reading and no discussion of any philosophy or psychology—it was all about the practice itself, sitting with the mind without distraction. There was no TV, no internet, no games, no phones and no visitors. The only thing on the agenda was meditation, 24/7, 365 days a year.
To some that will sound like heaven; to others, perhaps more like a terrifying nightmare. But there is no question that once we strip away all of the noise and activity of everyday life, the mind appears in a whole new way. As a direct consequence, our perspective shifts and our experience of life appears in a whole new way.
In some respects, it doesn’t matter whether we meditate for 10 minutes or one hour, for one week or one year—the principle is the same: to put down the baggage from our past, to let go of our anxieties and fear of the future, and instead to be present with the extraordinary beauty and simplicity of the present moment. It doesn’t require a change of life, just a change of mind.
Here are my top five tips for rediscovering simplicity in your life:
Treat yourself to some silence
Silence can mean different things to different people. The early hours of the morning, the serenity of the countryside, the few moments after you turn off the motor of your car, or even the simplicity of a clean and tidy room. Do your best to seek out this kind of silence, at least once a day. You deserve it.
Do one thing at a time
Contrary to popular belief, only about 2.5 percent of people have the ability to effectively focus on more than one task at a time. So for the other 97.5 percent of us, multitasking makes things harder, not easier. Give yourself a break—one complete thing is plenty to be focusing on at a time.
Quit trying so hard
This might sound like an astonishing suggestion, but one of the things that we learn from meditation is that exerting effort, particularly to try to force the mind to do anything, is often counterproductive. Try to take a relaxed approach. Think of an athlete or a performer who you love—do they make it look easy? It’s that level of relaxed effort that you’re looking for.
Remember the blue sky
When you get in a plane and rise above the clouds, you see that incredible bright panorama of blue sky. The mind is no different; thoughts are like clouds, and although they may build up and even look stormy, the blue sky is there all along. Just remembering this is enough to help you get a little more clarity.
Learn how to meditate
Regular readers probably saw this one coming, but I would recommend starting a meditation practice by downloading the Headspace app and starting our beginner’s course, Take10. It’s free and only takes 10 minutes a day. And best of all, unlike the monastery, you get to keep your phone.