Cultivate Simplicity

In Ayurveda, medicine often fits the form of applying opposites. When the illness involves heat or inflammation, apply cold. When the problem is excess moisture, apply astringent or drying. When there is too much movement, it’s time to get still. Intuitive and common sensical.

Life in a modern technology-driven society is, by definition, COMPLEX. There are many moving parts, multiple stakeholders with contradictory needs, and untested methods for navigation as this level of complexity hasn’t been experienced by humanity before.

However, the main adage of Ayurveda still holds: “Like increases like.” In the face of complexity, when we add more complexity, complexity spreads and permeates. It’s obvious when put this way, yet so often we trip over this one. 

When life feels complicated, when overwhelm is running high, when there is too much to do and too little time to do it, we sometimes fall into one of these common traps:

  1. “What I need is a new system for tracking my projects – something color coded and cross referenced so I can see it all at a glance.”
  2. “I just need to organize my day better,  put my errands in the right sequence so I can save ten minutes on the way home, which I can then use to _________.”
  3. “I should buy this new thingamjig that promises to make my life easier.”

We attempt to reverse-engineer our lives in the face of complexity by using the same logic that defines complexity. We try to work harder AND smarter, with more ingenuity and cleverness. We look for a more nuanced or specific tool to fix things, a more precise way to address the overwhelm-of-the-moment. We get more exact and look for more exacting results.

Here’s the thing: When life is complex, the medicine is simple. Or better said, the medicine is simplicity. Simplicity is the medicine.

This week, try something new. When you look at your crowded day, your ridiculous To Do list, your courageous game plan, remember this siren call: ”Cultivate Simplicity.” 

Cultivate is such a generous word – to cultivate something, we pour energy, love, and time into it. We fill the watering can and take it to every room, we look very closely for the subtle signs, we notice the soil, we pick off the remnants, we ask, “What does this need right now in order to flourish?” Then we try to give it that.

Here are 3 domains in which we can cultivate simplicity that will give us the most payback for our efforts:

  1. Sensory input. The sense organs are designed to bring in information, details to sort and assimilate, more data to provoke better future actions. We get addicted to data, and to creating better futures. Let the data you already have be enough. Stop thirsting for more sense stimulation. Work on releasing your addiction to a theoretical “improved” future.
  2. Choices. Decision fatigue is a real thing. It wears us out – often before our morning coffee (or tea? Milk, or cream? Or what’s up with soymilk again?). So ask yourself to make fewer choices. Come up with some algorithms (I call them “easy yeses”) to make decisions for you. Don’t get caught by options.
  3. Performance. Across the board, most of us hold incredibly high standards for ourselves. We are the worst self-bosses – long on mandatory criteria for approval, and stingy with praise. But we can develop the ability to accept B minus work – from ourselves,  from the people we love.

Cultivating Simplicity is a radical act. It’s less about saving time, and more about spending time in a pared down place, surrounded by more of what you love with less to distract you from it.

Here are a few specific ways to Cultivate Simplicity. Share which is your favorite – or your own new ideas – in the comments below.

  1. Put fewer ingredients in the dish, or the meal.
  2. When faced with 2 options, let your inner 6-year-old decide.
  3. Take every single thing off one prominent horizontal surface in your home or office.
  4. Forego the excuse or explanation and just say, “No thank you.” “You’re so kind to ask! Unfortunately, I just can’t make it work.” “I’m sorry, but I won’t be there this time.”
  5. When hunger visits, let it win. Stop whatever you were doing, and take care of it.
  6. Enjoy 30 stolen unplugged minutes after the meeting ends before turning the phone back on. 
  7. Cook a big pot of stew (or kitchari) – or buy some soup at the deli – and put it in individual containers for the next few days’ lunch.
  8. Turn off the car radio and open the windows.
  9. Aim for 10 – and call 9 enough.

6 thoughts on “Cultivate Simplicity

  1. Sara Valentine says:

    Such a great message and one I shared with my students last week. As we prepare for winter what can we let go of, even if it’s temporary, to allow ourselves time to hibernate like the trees. Rest and replenish ourselves so we can see what will push through the dirt this Spring. Thanks for sharing Ivy. Sara Valentine

    • Ivy Ingram says:

      So true, Sara – I love that you’re connecting this to the idea that it’s not too soon to prepare for hibernating! We have such a “push, push” imperative from our culture year-round, it can be so foreign to consider passing through autumn without driving ourselves forward. I love your imagery of needing rest first so we can push through the dirt in the spring. Yes.

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