Keep It Simple (but you’re not stupid)

“Desire is the cause of all suffering.”

These were the first words that I heard the Dalai Lama speak in March 2010, when I went to Dharamsala in India, to hear His Holiness give a series of teachings to commemorate the anniversary of the uprisings in Tibet.

These words often come back to me. I am struck by the simplistic nature of this statement. Indeed I am often struck by the seemingly simplistic nature of His Holiness. I have so much respect for his teachings but every now and then I wonder how he would cope in the “real world” if he weren’t a revered spiritual teacher, if he was just “normal” like you and me. He seems to laugh so much and to break things down to such simple forms, surely that can’t be right or relevant in today’s 24/7 globally connected, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times?

Although I have been fortunate enough to hear the Dalai Lama give teachings and speeches on several occasions and the more I learn of the Buddha’s teachings the more they resonate with me, I am not a Buddhist. I am however a committed mindfulness practitioner and I see through my own daily meditation practices that things really can be less difficult then we make them.

So often we add on layers of complexity, drama and/or suffering to the initial event. It seems creating mountains out of molehills is part of being human. 

Particularly when I go on a week-long silent meditation retreat (which I do annually), life gets simplified. Your basic needs are taken care of by the retreat centre and you choose not to use your phone, gadgets or access media of any sort. And you know what? I find such peace and joy on those retreats, when life becomes simple. 

Now, I know being on retreat isn’t like the “real world”. You’re not working or spending time with family or commuting or cleaning the house or doing the school run or any of the 10,000 things that need to get done. But yet, I find stripping back to basics, reducing the 10,000 things to a mere dozen or so, it’s like a mental, emotional and physical detox. I leave each retreat committed to reducing the stuff I need to do and feeling so centred.

How do we keep things simple in the midst of all the busyness

How do we keep focused on what is important and learn to see how easily and frequently we get caught up in over-complicating things? For those of you know me even vaguely well, you can predict that my answer is to practise mindfulness: to pause, to take off the distorted lenses through which we typically see the world and to bring awareness into how things truly are, right now, in this moment. From this place, we make wiser, more wholesome choices about how we live.

Other suggestions to keep things simple:

  • Multi-tasking is a myth. You can only do one thing at a time. Set that as your intention and see how you get on. You may be surprised at how easily we allow our focus to drift from our planned task.
  • Notice how often your attention gets pulled away to your inbox or social media notifications. Try switching them off, just for one day (or one hour if a day feels too difficult), and see what unfolds.
  • Rather than planning what you are going to say next, bring your full attention and truly listen to the person who is currently speaking.