Living simply

Simplicity brings focus.  Photo by AC Almelor on Unsplash

Simplicity is an underrated part of mental health.  One of the things that I have noticed among counselling clients, is that often, when life is difficult, it is somehow experienced as complicated.  When life is less difficult, it is experienced as somehow simpler.


One reason humans get themselves into ‘complications’, is our tendency to get bored when we feel things are too simple.  We can find it extremely difficult to just sit there and be.  The lack of stimulation becomes tricky, and we go in search of things to add to the repertoire of our experience.  This can be important for growth (a child learns partly through diversity of experience), but the search for variety can also land us in hot water.

In terms of cognition, our thinking can be better if we simplify our environment.  If you visit a religious temple, or a public space, you will often find it kept very tidy and simple.  Even if there is ornament, it is kept well-conditioned, and free of other distractions.  Such simplicity of purpose enhances mental focus.  In addition, simplicity of movement and space (notice how public spaces often have simple, easy channels of movement) enhances the functionality of a place.

It can be productive to work hard to simplify our home and work environment.  It means that we can find our way around, and enjoy its supportive qualities.  The outside world can seem complicated enough without adding to it with our own mess.


In a similar way, our home relationships can get complicated, and when they do, they get very tiring.  A simple, caring relationship allows the individuals involved to live life without spending too much time maintaining it.  In contrast, difficult relationships often have a quality of severe complication: they feel ‘tangled’.

It is worth paying attention to which relationships feel simple and caring, and which feel somehow complicated.  It may be the case that the complicated ones involve some kind of selfishness or misunderstanding.  Often someone is expecting something from the other that the other is unable or unwilling to give, and the result is an exhausting process of break up and repair.  Many co-dependent relationships drag people through years of going through this circle of anger and recovery, anger and recovery.

Our pop culture doesn’t help, because it often conflates the agonised relationship with true love.  It helps with the passion of pop songs, but doesn’t necessarily help us all have peaceful lives.  Try to be sensitive to how you feel in others’ presence.  Is there a tension in the air that signifies a complication?  If so, is there a way that the bubble of that complication can be burst, so that things can become more simple and kind?


Finally, as well as our environment and our relationships, our own thinking can be either complicated or simple.

In my work, I often have to think through some very complicated tangles, and find ways of simplifying them.  But, in order to do this, I have to make sure that my own mind is clean and clear first.  Our mind is a tool, and, like most tools, to be effective, it needs to keep itself close to its most useful shape.  The most useful shape of a mind, is still, peaceful and open.  From that platform, it can be used to solve problems, as long as it regularly returns to that still, peaceful and open ‘home shape’.  Burnout happens when we forget that, and push our mind to exhaustion.

We maintain simplicity of understanding when we make sure our mind does not get lost down the rabbit-holes of daily existence.  During a day, we will meet many different contexts and circumstances, and it is right that we appreciate the shape of each situation.  But unless we take the time to restore ourselves between each situation, we can rapidly become overwhelmed.

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  1. SIMPLE ENVIRONMENT – It is in our nature to seek out stimulation, and stimulation often means complication.  However, in order to make our lives more restful, we are wise to reduce the mess, and make our home environment supportive and simple.  We should take an example from the curators of temples, and ensure our homes are similarly open, tidy and welcoming.
  2. SIMPLE RELATIONSHIPS – Some relationships feel complicated, particularly those where there is selfishness or misunderstanding involved.  If we learn to approach others in simplicity and kindness, then often we can burst those bubbles of self-importance and confusion.
  3. SIMPLE UNDERSTANDING – To avoid burnout, we can learn to take time out, regularly, to ensure our mind is still, peaceful and open.  Meditation is a good practice for this.  If we keep our minds in good shape, often returning to simplicity of approach, then we will not be overwhelmed by the tangles we occasionally encounter.