The Simple Life
For the last few days, I have been relaxing and vacationing in the beautiful San Juan Islands. I did my best to stay off the Internet, to answer my phone, and to spend time with my family.
Time moves slower when you’re away from home. And especially when you are in a more remote location. The experience of being on Orcas Island has reawakened in me a familiar urge for a simpler life.
I read a lot of blogs and talk to a lot of people who want to simplify their lives and yet so many of them struggle to do it. We feel trapped by professional and personal obligations. We feel tied to locations and possessions.
All these things add up to a fog of karma that keep us trapped in our safe but overly complex lives. This fog prevents us from changing by keeping us from seeing what is really important.
Spending the last few days on the islands reminded me of some very easy techniques I have used in my life to help me see what matters and let go of the rest.
With only a few restaurants and a handful of coffee shops, our options are limited on Orcas Island. While these limitations could have been frustrating, they also cleared space for us to see what was essential.
But you don’t have to go to an island to set limits. You can set limits on time, on money, on commitments, or even on your number of daily tasks. These limits don’t have to be permanent. Instead, you can use these limits to highlight what matters.
While Orcas Island is hardly off the grid, it is certainly less connected than many places. Cell phone service isn’t constant. Wi-Fi isn’t universally available. And TV’s aren’t in every room you enter. Even this relatively minor step away from technology highlighted how often I use technology as a distraction.
Letting go of technology even in small ways can help you reconnect with your own hearts and the power of human interaction. It can reveal times we want to avoid what we’re feeling. And it can help us learn how technology affects our lives.
This doesn’t mean you have to live off the grid. You see many benefits from just turning off your phone for an hour a day or setting a bedtime for your computer.
One of the things that struck me on Orcas was how the residents live so close to nature. Life in the city is shaped by dominating nature, while life on Orcas is shaped by collaborating with nature.
As much I want to think I’m above nature, my life and the environment are connected. This connection is not only true of the water and the air but also of the internal primal forces that shape our lives.
When we separate our selves from nature, it’s easy to loose track of these natural parts of our being. Which is one reason why spending time in nature can help us see and learn from these ancient parts of ourselves.
It doesn’t take much to provide space for these forces. All you need to do is take a short walk or even just open a window and listen to the sound of the birds. Nature is calling to us all the time, if we are only willing to listen.
Living in the city it’s easy for me to fall prey to the illusion of self-dependence. But being on an island it’s easy to see how everyone depends on everyone else. The connections the people make are not only important for friendship but also necessary to survive.
No matter who you are, you depend on people. Even a hermit in the wood has depended on others to learn and to grow. But it’s easy to take these people for granted.
All it takes is a smile and a thank you to show other people you appreciate them and connect with the real value in every human life.
One story I heard again and again on the island was of some group or person who lived on the island but was fiercely protective of their land or way of life. One thing I have noticed in others and myself is that as I work to simplify my life it’s easy to loose track of my compassion or appreciation of others.
While simplifying my life is important to me, it’s also important that I don’t simplify it at the cost of my commitments, connections, and integrity.
My life would be simpler if I dropped all my difficult clients. But doing that would keep me from growing as a coach. My life would be simpler if I ended my relationship. But doing that would cost me the deep connection I have with my partner and the way she invites me to be a better person.
Let Go, But Hold On
Simplifying my life isn’t just about letting go of things. It’s about sticking to tough things sometimes and letting go of frivolous things other times. The number one danger of seeking a simpler life is loosing touch with how that simplification affects those around me.
It’s not about my simple priorities trumping everyone else’s. It’s about how I blend my life with the lives of those around me, to help myself and others connect with deep meaning, wisdom, and compassion.