For a child, it looks so simple. Someone takes away their toy, so they cry. They fall down and get hurt, so they cry. Someone gives them some nice food, so their eyes widen and they shove it in. Someone entertains them, so they laugh.
We don’t know when it changes, but it does. Things get somehow complicated. Instead of wanting that cake in front of us, we develop a whole load of diverse wants. We want lifestyles, careers, resources, environments, friends… and none of them agree with each other as to what we should do.
At times of crisis, the tangles in our complex lives become more evident. A crisis is when an inadequacy in our existing way of being is exposed, and we feel that the whole thing needs an overhaul. The tangles do not submit to the usual combs we apply to them, and we are left feeling dissatisfied.
COMPLEXITY IS ALWAYS THERE
I would like to suggest to you that complexity is always there. It’s just that our moods and perspectives change.
Going back to the example of a child… The real situation is more complex. Someone takes away their toy. That someone is their mother, who is tidying up. The tidying up needs to be done because someone is coming to visit. Someone is coming to visit because the mother had a crisis yesterday. The mother had a crisis yesterday because two years ago the father left. The father left two years ago because he had an affair. The affair happened because the father felt neglected. The father felt neglected because in his childhood he was inconsistently treated, and never got a firm sense of how others felt about him. And so on.
Perhaps the made-up story in the above paragraph helps us to appreciate that we are bound on a wheel of consequences, or a tangled web of attachments, which never resolves on its own terms. From that perspective, life is like a play written by a sadist, in which the players are destined to interact with each other in ways which confuse each of them, because they do not know the web of events which has created the situation.
As with the child, so with you. Your life, as it is right now, is the consequence of every single thing that has happened up to this point. Unless you understand the whole of history, you will never understand, intellectually, exactly what has led to this point. You will sit there, laughing or crying as you wish, perhaps insisting that nothing is your fault, and that you are surrounded by fools. Both are true. It is not your fault. (How can it be, given the countless strands in the web?) And you are surrounded by fools. (How can anyone be anything else, given how ignorant we all are of cause and consequence?)
SIMPLICITY IS ALWAYS THERE
And yet, also, I would like to suggest to you that simplicity is always possible. Especially when we find peace and acceptance.
Back again to the example of the child. Just at the moment when the toy is taken away, something else engages their attention. A dog has run into the room, chasing a ball, and – what do you know? – the ball bounces into the child’s lap. The child holds the ball up in its little fingers, and the dog sits patiently, eyeing the ball, waiting for the next thing to happen. A moment of focused equilibrium is reached, in which everything seems to converge on one thing: the ball. The rest of the world dissolves, and, for that moment, the child feels happy, at peace, in control.
This is the simplicity of the moment, in which our attention is focused, and the complexity of the world briefly disappears into a continuum of balanced energy.
THE SEARCH FOR SIMPLICITY
As adults, we are always searching for simple solutions. Our marriage is going wrong, so we reach for an ‘ideal’ new relationship that seems, like the child’s ball, to fall into our lap. Our job annoys us, so we reach for an ‘ideal’ new opportunity which has all of the advantages of what we crave, and none of the current drawbacks of what we hate. Our current environment is stale, so we plan to be in another one, which will be ‘home’ in all the ways we like, and none of the ways we don’t.
We don’t tell the world what we are reaching for. And so the non-ideal partner bumbles on, oblivious to our exasperation, until we eventually explode with frustration. The inconsiderate colleagues bumble on, oblivious to how much it pains us just to get to work each day. The world keeps giving us the same old chain of foolishness, oblivious to how much it tires and aggravates us.
We crave happiness, peace, and a sense of control.
I am going to offer you two options, one complex, one simple.
Here is the complex option: your mission is to go out into the world, and keep changing it until all the silliness and complexity is ironed out into a system that works, and gives peace to you and everybody. In order to do this, every word you say will have to be perfectly adapted to its purpose. Every inconsistency in your life will have to be ironed out. Every imperfect relationship will have to be corrected, every burdensome job lightened, every distressing enrivonment removed or altered. Good luck with that one. It is highly commendable, but it is a tall order.
Here is the simple option: your mission is to go inwards, and keep changing until you can accept all the silliness and complexity in the world, and all the systems that don’t work. In order to do this, you will not have to say a single thing. You can leave all the inconsistencies, the imperfect relationships, the burdensome jobs, the distressing environments, exactly as they are.
Put simply, the complex option is to lace the world with leather coverings. The simple option is to lace your feet with soles.
Just for today, try to see your world as an imperfect place that you are not going to try to change. Go inwards, and see if you can find a way of adapting to all the silliness.
It seems that life gets more complicated as we get older. Sometimes we crave the simplicity of childhood. And yet even childhood is subject to a tangled web of complex events. We are all players in a highly complex play, with causes and consequences well beyond our knowledge. And yet, sometimes, we find simplicity when the moment gains our attention.
In adulthood, there are many ideals which represent, to us, the simplicity we crave: the ideal relationship, the ideal job, the ideal environment. We can spend our whole lives fighting, like dictators, to replicate the ideal and tell the world what it should be.
Or, if we choose, we can make things simpler. We can practice making ourselves more accepting. If we succeed, then we can tolerate all the world’s foolish complexity, without ever needing to change it, and still be happy.