By Bob Mueller
My wife Kathy and I love to travel. We have started a new tradition during the week of Labor Day visiting Kentucky and Indiana locations. This year we stayed at the Old Jailers Inn Bed & Breakfast in Bardstown, Kentucky. We did parts of the bourbon and wine trails. We revisited Bernheim Forest where we enjoyed our first kiss years ago. We sat on a park bench in the stillness of the forest and renewed our love.
The highlight of our trip was the experience of the Trappist monastery Gethsemane of Thomas Merton fame. The monks there strive to remain in harmony with all the people of God and share their active desire for the unity of all people. There is a prayerful presence of silence and simplicity at Gethsemane you rarely find in our day and age. We liked it so much we returned for a second visit.
Over and over I witness people expressing their fervent desire for a simpler, happier life.
So many of us are moving too fast, and even when we determine to slow down and unpack our consumer bags, just taking a first small step feels nearly impossible, “I need to hurry up and slow down.” What?
We are mired in a thicket of things, dulled by the noise of advertising and the fury of acquisition. Fads, trinkets, gadgets, name brands only . . . are toys us? Hectic lives overflow the brims of oversized mugs. Debt conquers peace of mind. Many pride themselves on their ability to do many things at once even though none are done especially well, neither thoroughly nor attentively. “Multitasker” is a badge worn by those who maneuver their way through life’s traffic jam holding phones, steering wheels and conversations simultaneously.
This race through life comes with a steep price, however. We pay for the whirlwind physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. We are not in the center of our lives. Energy is scattered and depleted. We are missing in action.
Simple pleasures feed our essential selves: listening to music, being outdoors, seeing a loved face at the door, laughing all the way, knowing we did our best work, wearing clothes softened by age, reading all day, watching a flight of wild geese, running for home, and breathing deeply. Such soul food has been at our fingertips all along. We overlook ordinary joys completely when we overextend our reach into the world of things.
It is time to use a paring knife to peel away unnecessary concerns. It is time to take the pruning shears to preoccupations that sap the spirit from our lives.
Simplicity is living close to the marrow of life. I imagine nibbling at life’s essence while being surrounded by it. The breath of simple living feels clear and crisp. Simplicity’s promise is that it will make me rich. I will have plenty of time to spend, some to give away and even more in the bank. I can be involved in my life and savor each experience because my priorities are in keeping with lasting happiness.
A simple life includes difficulty and heartache, of course, but newfound calm and clarity will be great assets. The knot of pointless pursuits loosens. Space appears, giving me room to meet my responsibilities. There is something oddly grand about the prospect of living life at its juicy core.
For the monks of Gethsemane and the lifestyle they live, simplicity is the concept that comes first. Clear thinking is impossible if material concerns remain our priorities and our goals. A good grasp of simplicity is a prerequisite for thinking clearly about communication, perspective, and possibility. Simplicity serves as a dust cloth for the mind, and as the mind brightens, anything is possible.