1 Jun 2017

Do you really want to live the way you do? A small shift can be seismic.

Rare is the person who is fully contented, at peace with every tiny bit of life's details, and enjoying every relationship. 

Not rare, impossible.

A life is a very full and complicated thing. On our own, we have to relate to our body, wrestle with our emotions, figure our thoughts and make countless decisions big and small. With others, we have to negotiate relationships, learn protocols and expectations, improve communication, enforce boundaries. Then there is God. That's just huge. While it's certainly true that our relationship with God trumps and shapes all other relationships, we are mired in a compulsive avoidance of God, preferring the safety of religious motions to true encounter.

Now plonk this person in a busy, fast-paced city like Singapore with a spirit of FOMO (fear of missing out), most of us are running on a nervous energy that makes it hard to slow, still and savour.

Just describe to me what your last meal tasted like. It's hard for most of us (unless it was burnt or Michelin-star perhaps). 

I once asked a class of students the colour of the wall right outside their room. They couldn't tell me. It was a startling orange hue of red! 

We see, notice, feel and taste astonishing little with our pace and our lack of inner space.








So my three weeks away in Minnesota gave me a blessed reprieve from busy city-living with all its clamorous noises and demands. {more pictures here: scenes from Minnesota}

When I return, as we all do from some trip, you get those who will say with a wry smile, "welcome back to reality".  I really dislike that phrase because it feels like escapism. A retreat, a vacation or a study break should not be escapism. They are meant to be a break from the routine so that we can come back stronger. To simply long for a different life is escapism. To intentionally shape one's life however, is not.

Yes, life in Minnesota was a sweet, different reality, one that suited me especially as I began my writing project on silence. But my life is here in the city, in Singapore, with a busy schedule, growing children, a marriage that needs patience and work, words that need to be thought and written, dreams that need to be deciphered.

I am deeply grateful for a different reality for three weeks.  But whether Minnesota or Singapore, the place I inhabit is my body and soul. This is why two people can go to a same place and describe their experience of it in vastly different ways. The two will notice, enjoy and find meaning or not, depending on the state of their body and soul, the latter being the more important force.
Minnesota refreshed me deeply because the ease with which I adapted to the long, empty hours, affirmed that my body and soul were not attached to, or addicted to plenty of do-ing, being busy and appearing successful. This adaptability I put down to several reasons. One is the long years of learning to live simply.

Simplicity is a powerful gale force that strips us down to the essentials.

Simplifying makes us answer the deep questions of life:

What do i really need?
Where do I see value?
How much am I willing to pay (in money, time, effort) for this?

In our land of glaring consumerism, and with 24/7 wifi, it is too easy to become distracted and fill up my attention, time and energy with 'one more useful/handy/beautiful thing'. We actually should speak up as citizens that our spaces are overwhelming crowded with shops and pushcarts plying more or less the same wares. It is an assault to our senses and an insult to our sensibilities. We are far more than working machines and insatiable consumers.

It isn't just material things either. We are so fed with perfect images and sound bytes that it is easy to expect our emotions to be positive, push our bodies to be breathtaking and work that bit longer.

If your body is constantly tired and your soul feels breathless, then it is time to make a shift somewhere. It is time to simplify. 

Speaking of simplifying, consider its reverse. The Americans are pretty fanatical about tool-man-ship. They need to have the right tools for every task. Garlic peeler? Four kinds of staplers? Sixty ways for mobility? A different scissor for kitchen, kid, teen and adult (ok I exaggerate perhaps). My sister-in-law, now an American concurs, and so does my American friend I pointed this out to. I love it that in Asia, we have this ingenuity of using a knife to cut, smash, pry, poke, peel. Hey, it works. Simplify.

Let's give ourselves to things that are deeper and more enduring. 

We need more time to care for our bodies in a way that is not fussing over the latest supplement or treatment.
We need more space to care for our soul that is not wondering if we should be running off to another seminar or study.



Jesus: consider the lilies...

the daily squirrel

my spartan office

Simplifying is a small step with seismic effects.

When we can walk slower and notice the environment and really look at faces.
When we can taste our food and marvel at the miracle that is cooking, eating and growing.
When we can take deep breaths and pause at intervals through the day because we are not over-worrying about all the details.
When we can feel good and smile that the blouse has now become like second skin.
When we can experience that we actually finish a conversation {yes, this!}.
When we no longer need to spend so much time cleaning, packing, hunting for items in our bags, cupboards and storerooms.

When you need less, you release more of yourself and your resources.

This means more:
money
attention
energy
possibilities
awareness

There are two sides to this journey to living a different life. As we simplify, we release more resources. We can then use these resources in a different way.

What is something you can do less of or something you can stop needing?


establish a boundary


One of the things I really want for my family is great communication and laughter. This takes time. It also means a certain state of being (which isn't easy with a boy who grumbles about school and a teen who needs a lot of time on her smartphone). 

How do we cough up the time, and set the tone? Clearly, someone has to take point here. In any setting, a leader is required. Leadership after all, is about getting people from Point A to Point B, with them happily moving along as if the ideas was theirs! 

So I lead the way. By simplifying my own life, I free resources to dream and scheme about this aspect of our family life. The most natural spaces and times for great communication and laughter I find are meals and bedtime. I simplify those times by focusing less on the eating and more on the conversations. I don't always get it right (which mom doesn't fuss over getting everyone to eat right?). We don't always succeed. But small bit by small bit, experiences become habits that turn around to shape the sense of meaning and to build memories.

What is something you long for at home? How can simplifying enable you to build towards it?

Please share below in the comments!


If you need ideas to keep you on track to simplifying: Becoming Minimalist





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