It can be said that there are only two certainties in our lives – that there will be change and that we will die. Traditionally, Spring can be a time for planning and aspiring but sometimes planning at any time can seem futile when life can be so unpredictable. How do we vision the future for our working or personal life that is sustainable in times of uncertainty? How do we ensure that our plans are flexible enough to be worth spending any time on?
Somehow we’ve come to associate progress with more sophistication, in our technology, in how we communicate, how we look after ourselves, how we raise our children. And yet, simplicity is often the more elegant solution and the more resilient. Think of the difference between creating energy from a nuclear power station or a wind turbine… or the difference between steering an ocean liner or a rowing boat. The simpler and less sophisticated the system, the more manoeuvrable, flexible and resilient it often is.
In Our Homes – fewer, multipurpose tools.
De-cluttering is a term in common usage these days. It seems to me to be an essential step towards simplification. I’ve found, in my own ventures, that de-cluttering is best treated less like a Spring cleaning and more like teeth cleaning. In other words, living lightly and simply calls for daily, rather than annual, attention. It involves a deliberate decision to maintain or reduce items rather than accumulate and complicate. This can apply to paperwork, gadgets, toys and games, clothes, even relationships and social commitments. One way to reduce the number of items you need is by using fewer, but multipurpose, tools. For example, in the kitchen, when a food processor wears out, we might replace it with a good quality cook’s knife. Similarly with our clothes, we can decide to keep fewer, simpler, more flexible items that can be mixed and matched. If more specialised items are required, for example for a special occasion such as a wedding, we can choose to hire an outfit rather than buy it. The ecologist, pacifist and activist, Satish Kumar, often quotes his mother on this, saying that anything we choose to own should be both durable and beautiful so that we are guided more by what we need and less by what we are given to believe that we want (often through media advertising).
In Our Working Lives – simple systems, health and heart.
I’ve noticed that those who love their work often have a strong, well defined vision and a few simple and robust personal operating systems that they use reliably. A personal operating system consists of unique and individual ways of working that are effective and reliable for us, bringing satisfaction and fulfillment. For most of us, there will be several ways in which we can earn a living. The reason, other than money, that we do what we do is our purpose – our vision that drives us forward and adds meaning to what we do. When we have a strong, well-defined vision for our livelihood then we have something congruent and steadfast with which to align our decisions. This usually makes decision making simple, straightforward and flexible.
Continued and sustained good health and wellbeing are as much assets of value as the material items we might believe we need for success. So our personal operating systems need to include routines that nurture us and support resilient wellbeing.
The idea of sustainable livelihood places a heavy emphasis on people and relationships, rather than material goods. Communication from the heart is key, valuing honesty over manipulation, cooperation over competition and authenticity over propaganda. This is simpler and less energy draining than trying to coerce ourselves, our clients or colleagues, into behaving in ways that are not authentic for us or them.
With Our Family – autonomy and authenticity.
What is our vision for the next generation? What kind of parents do we aspire to be?
We can teach our children to live in simplicity and in alignment with their values by modelling it ourselves. Expecting them to lead a heavily timetabled life, controlled mainly by adults could lead them to believe that a rat race, subservient existence is normal and healthy.
Our children are not just apprentice adults, but have their own preferences and their own strengths and weaknesses to live out within the framework of childhood. It is usually simpler for all concerned when we acknowledge and accept this early on rather than opposing others’ autonomy and individuality.
When we consult children and other family members on decisions that affect them and show them that we value their input, then they feel respected and appreciated for who they genuinely are. Likewise, we can endeavour to stand in our truth in all relationships and request that the whole of our being and uniqueness is respected and held within the family.
Visioning the future, whether at home, in our work or with our family, can be easy to do when we emphasise simplicity, heartfelt communication and clearly expressed values. Having such qualities and intentions as a focus makes for creative human scale planning. It supports flexibility in the face of unforeseen events and sustainability in our actions.