Do you ever feel like the modern world is pulling you in thousands of different directions all at the same time? Are you ever overwhelmed with too many choices? Does it ever seem like there are more things that you want to do than can be humanly done during a 24-hour day? Does it ever appear that your immediate surroundings are a growing snowball of “stuff”? I know I can answer yes to these questions.

My wife, Mary, and I frequently joke about how we can sit down at our computers to do one or two things and the next thing we know it’s several hours later – and we still may not have accomplished what we set out to do! We go to send one email but first we stop to read new ones we’ve received – and in reading these emails we get taken off down into the rabbit hole of Internet sites, FaceBook posts, YouTube videos and more. One action feeds on to another and then another and then another…

We can sit down to watch a movie at night and spent almost as much time selecting the movie as we do actually watching it! First, we browse Netflix looking at our list of movies we have saved for viewing at some point. We are not sure any of them are what we want to watch tonight. Then we see if Netflix has anything in its new releases to consider. Still not sure. Afterwards, we go over to “HBO Go” and scroll through their movies. Then it’s over to Comcast to see what films might be available “on demand”. Although there may be several films by this point that we have identified we might like to see, we keep thinking that there might be one more out there that would be a better use of our limited leisure time. So off we go viewing the new releases for purchase on iTunes. In some cases, we even check out other sources. We are certainly not lacking for entertainment options! In fact, sometimes we are drowning in them.

Both of us have stacks of books at various locations around the house which are our designated “to read soon” books. Both of us have numerous books downloaded into our Kindle readers waiting our attention. Every time I finish reading one book, by then I generally have added several more to the “coming up soon” piles. I freeze trying to decide what to read next.

I move around our house seeing things that I intend to do at some point. Closets need cleaning out. Drawers are overflowing with outdated stuff. Household tasks scream out to me, “hey you, over here! Don’t you remember you were going to do this?”

There’s no doubt that modern life is complex. One thing is connected to another. Wacky feedback loops abound all around. One action over here impacts some other thing over there bringing up the need to do some new action on my part. The dance goes on and on. All this stuff around me seems to be flapping its energetic tentacles around my aura and sucking my energy dry!

Somewhere in the distance I hear the voice of Henry David Thoreau telling me to “simplify, simplify, simplify!” Here’s the full quote from Walden:

“Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”

I have long resonated with Thoreau’s message. Many years ago when I first visited the Concord area, I felt compelled to make the trek out to Walden Pond and visit the site of Thoreau’s cabin. I can still recall vividly sitting there in silent meditation.

It’s worth noting that Thoreau first published Walden in 1854. Here we are 160 years later and humanity is still dealing with the dynamic tension between either living a minimalist lifestyle or living fully immersed in complex modern society. Do you feel that tension? I know I do.

As I have written about before, our life is filled with these tensions where we feel pulled in two directions simultaneously. Many times in our desire to “release the tension”, we make a decision to go one way or the other. We could become some kind of extreme aesthetic or minimalist who disposes of all their possessions. Or, we could become someone who jumps full force into the materialistic world seeking to possess as much stuff as we could own and taste as much life as we could experience.

Yet why must we release the tension? Why must we go all one way or the other? The truth is this – life doesn’t have to be either-or – these internal pulls to go in two directions simultaneously are actually opportunities for us to grow! The tension we feel is a call to our higher consciousness. It’s an emotion asking us to “pay attention” and make conscious choices.

What does this mean for us in the “real world”? In my opinion, it calls each of us to consciously examine our lives with two questions in mind. The first question– in what ways can I simplify my personal life? Our answer here gives us guidance on where we can free up the space and energy around us so that we can more completely experience joy in those areas of our life identified by the second question – what aspects of our complex modern life do I personally feel most compelled to experience? Our answer here gives us guidance on where to direct our attention in this world of overwhelming choices.

Do you see that these questions and actions are interrelated? By taking the time and effort to simplify our lives in some areas frees us to more fully enjoy those diverse and complex areas of the world we are called to perform.

Next time we explore some practical ways in which we can dance between simplification and complexity.

Mark Gilbert

Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!

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