THE POWER OF SIMPLICITY
SWATI KANNAN explores the nature of simplicity and how we can cultivate it in our lives. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
The irony of our current time is that we live in a complex world, replete with computers, phones and machines, which are all supposed to simplify our lives. But our lives are not simpler because of them. For example, 20 years ago when I traveled, I carried a book, headphones and a small music player. Now I carry my iPhone, a small iPad with an assortment of e-books, a MacBook, and two sets of headphones – both cord and Bluetooth. I truly believe I need all these items to travel. Of course, this just reflects an inability to simplify my life, despite technology’s attempt to do so.
As humans, we gravitate towards complexity. The sunset sky with multiple colors appears more stunning than a simpler, monochromatic blue sky. A laptop with multiple features seems more attractive than a mere typewriter. We hear that beauty is found in simplicity, but what does it mean to be simple? Simplicity is not the opposite of complexity. Many things in nature are complex. The human machinery is complex in design, yet all the parts are necessary for its function. So when we describe the opposite of simplicity, we mean anything that is unnecessary or additional, created by human desire.
Simplicity can characterize a personality – a person’s desires and behaviors, thoughts and mindset. A simple-minded person is not a simpleton; in fact, he performs tasks using only the necessary parts, and not one part more. I believe that simplicity characterizes an inner mental condition, wherein an individual engages in external activities without being attached and uses technology without needing any of it. As Gandhi stated so eloquently, “You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.”
Purity of heart, mental simplicity and inner sensitivity
can become the ultimate tools on our journey.
Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Buddha represent the quintessential personas of simplicity. They dressed simply, spoke simply, ate simply and lived simply. Living selflessly, they devoted their services to help others. When Gandhi passed away, he possessed fewer than ten objects, and he did not own a house. Gandhi grew up in a prosperous family but did not miss the material trappings, as he was a man of non-possession. Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha, also shunned the material trappings of a king to pursue a simple and spiritual life. But we do not need to live such a minimalist life to be simple. We also do not need to be unambitious in a worldly sense to be simple. For example, Gandhi himself studied law in England and was an educated man, and Siddharta Gautama was a prince and quite protected within the confines of the palace and its comforts.
Fundamentally, simplicity indicates a mental state, which is then projected onto the material aspects of life.