Buddhafield Administrator, Sarah Boak, reflects on our 2017 theme of ‘Embracing Simplicity’
For me, simplicity is about making space to fully encounter the richness of life. To be able to be open to my experience, each day, with a sense of curiosity and wonder. I want to live life with purpose and intention, rather than letting time go by with no real sense of where I’m going or what I want to do. If life is too crowded or overly complex, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed and to keep this sense of openness and purpose.
As a Buddhist, I want to deliberately cultivate certain qualities or states of mind, such as patience, kindness and compassion. I want to be able to deal with whatever comes my way with as much grace as I can muster. The Buddha talks about the ‘eight worldy winds’ that blow – gain and loss, fame and infamy, praise and blame, pleasure and pain – and how to keep a sense of equanimity, as these blow us around. Having a simple life creates more space to be able to focus on these positive qualities and keeping balance through the ups and downs of life.
One of the practical things I do is to reflect on different areas of my life, in terms of simplicity. These are starting points, not to beat myself up with if I’m far from them, but to consider whether there are any things that I could do differently, to foster a simpler life:
Schedule – What am I committed to? This might include events, chores, jobs I’ve signed up for, responsibilities with work, volunteering, school. Do I really want to do each of these things – does it align with my purpose, my plans and my sense of joy? Can I let go of some commitments? I try to use honest and kind communication to say no to people, where I need to, and schedule in time doing nothing or relaxing with family and friends. I want to make time for the important things, including meditation, silence, stillness and being out in nature.
Possessions – Am I surrounded with stuff?! It’s amazing the negative mental impact of too much stuff – or ‘stuffocation’ as it’s been famously called. Decluttering your home environment can bring a huge sense of peace. The less things we own, the less time we spend organising, cleaning and maintaining them. I consider what I really need, or what is beautiful to me. I found it very interesting to count how many things I have – how many mugs, how many pairs of socks, how many CDs. It’s as though I had no real knowledge of the things I owned! I want to come into relationship with my possessions, for which I have worked hard to earn money for. I also counted my clothes (which was a real eye opener) then spent time thinking about what clothes I really enjoyed wearing. I wanted to reduce my things to see what happens when space opens up in my home and I have a sense of really treasuring the things that I own.
Technology – Our attention is captured in so many ways by technology, and this doesn’t feel very simple. There’s a reactivity we have with technology, when we get notifications and messages and we jump straight away, rather than intentionally deciding what to place our attention on. I ask myself, how many things am I signed up to? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, email lists etc. Can I be without some of these? Can I find ways to reduce my interactions or at least make them more intentional? For example, I have a ‘newsfeed eradictor’ on Facebook, which means I don’t see a newsfeed at all unless I choose to. I also try to have regular screen free days, where I don’t engage with my phone or computer/tablet at all, but spend the day with people in ‘real world’ environments
Parenting – Can I parent in a simpler way? Is my child over-scheduled? I want to make sure that my child has downtime, and can get bored, which then leads to a greater sense of creativity.
I also try to be mindful about the numbers of toys around, so that my son doesn’t get overwhelmed with choice. It’s not always easy to do this, so it’s a practice keeping mindful in this area. Can I also simplify my sense of control with my child? Parenting with ‘benign neglect’ gives children greater freedom to learn by themselves and makes life much simpler for the parent. I try to notice when I’m being overly controlling and can lessen my hold a little.
Finance – We’re encouraged to buy lots of stuff, and with this comes a level of financial complexity. I try to check in on my finances every day and adjust when I need to. I make sure that I know exactly what’s coming out of my account and why. Am I making good choices about what to buy and what to pay for? Are these in line with my values? Am I spending money to fill a hole, and if so, can I really sit with whatever emotion is underneath that (such as fear, anxiety, boredom) rather than throwing money at it. Can I simplify my financial commitments? Do I really need all the things I’m paying for? Money is easier to manage if we stay mindful to where it’s going and reduce the number of outgoings we have.
So you may wish to begin considering one of these areas in your life. Take some time to sit with a cup of tea, and think honestly about your own choices and intentions. What do you really want for yourself and how might you be able to simplify?
The point of thinking practically in this way, is to remind us to come back to what’s important, to the reality of life. The Four Reminders are traditional Buddhist reflections which help us to remember deep truths about our human existence. This life is both short and very precious, a beautiful gift to be used well. We cannot avoid sickness, old age and death, and we don’t know how much time we have. Whatever we choose to do with our lives – from the small day-to-day actions to much bigger choices we make – this has an impact on ourselves, others and our environment. So we need to make wise choices, and focus on that which really matters.
Simplifying our lives makes space so we can live intentionally, cultivate positive emotions and connect more deeply with others.
This life you must know
As the tiny splash of a raindrop;
A thing of beauty that disappears
Even as it comes into being.
Therefore set your goal and
Make use of every day and night
To achieve it.
Buddhafield Retreats are one way to simplify and create space in life to reflect and to pause. Our 2017 Retreats Programme is open for booking!
Images by Sagaravajra and Steve Jackson