Too often we complicate things for ourselves. And in so many ways, we make things more difficult for ourselves by not embracing the sheer simplicity of life. We add on and we elaborate, we question and we over-analyze, we fret and we fuss, we destroy and we rebuild, we fight and then we make up. And for what? Because at the end of the day, we still don't feel like we've finished everything on our "to do" list! It's time that we simplify all areas of our lives, from our daily schedules to our relationships with others, from our perception of the world to our expectations from ourselves and those around us. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity, as Henry David Thoreau said. That is the key to wisdom, tranquility, and fulfillment.
As I walked outside my home in Queens, NY last weekend, I couldn't help but notice a change in the air. Suddenly, the breeze was more gentle and the sun seemed to shine more strongly on the pavement. And although it was a bit too early to announce the arrival of spring, there was no denying that the shift from winter's bitterness to spring's total regeneration had begun. "Time for spring cleaning," I thought to myself. But this year, I had a different sort of spring cleaning in mind, and not just for me, but for everyone. I want us all to "clean out" a bit more than just the attic or closet. Yes, this year I want us to sweep out of our lives all of the bad habits, bad memories, and bad people that take away from the simple beauty and joy we were meant to share in each day. This year, I want us to make a firm promise to ourselves to slow down, catch our breaths, and reevaluate the way we're doing things (and, not to mention, how many things we're doing!).
Life, the Simple Way
My grandmother lived to be 102 years old. Of course, it helped that she lived in a remote, unpolluted village in Romania and ate only the food she picked from her own backyard. But these weren't the only reasons she lived such a long and healthy life, and I've tried time and time again to discover her secret. Well, I think I finally have: my grandmother didn't stress over anything. She didn't meddle in anyone's business, she didn't fight with others or provoke them, she didn't do harm to anyone else. When the communists swept over her town and took away all her land and belongings, she didn't cry or scream. She simply told them, "Take it, take everything you want." And she sat back as an army of men snatched up her hand-made pottery, carried away her family relics, and wiped her walls clean of her precious paintings. Throughout it all, my grandmother kept her composure and didn't allow the experience to make her distraught. I know this is easier said than done, but stress is truly the silent killer. A bit of stress from time to time is actually productive for your body, as it temporarily strengthens your immune system and builds up your "fight or flee" response, but chronic stress is pure toxic to the mind, body, and soul. When we experience a negative emotion, such as stress, our bodies produce chemicals to match that emotion. These chemicals are released directly into our bloodstream and enter our cells. They're dangerous because they can cause damage to the cells. In time, experiencing a recurring negative emotion like stress can make us age prematurely, causing us to look older. But worst of all, stress can cause diseases like cancer, diabetes, thyroid imbalances, autoimmune disorders, and can cause weight gain, hair loss, and so on. Simply put, we were not meant to live with chronic stress.
I know you know how important it is to keep stress in check, but do you really do it? After all, with all of life's curveballs, this becomes difficult to put a stress-free attitude into practice. To manage stress, you first have to reevaluate your way of life overall. Managing only the stress is like putting a band-aid over a wound: you have to treat the problem, not just the symptoms. So let's get to the bottom of what causes your stress: do you place yourself in stressful situations? Is your job stressful? Are your family and friends a source of added stress? No matter the cause, you have to start at the root of the problem. If it's your family who causes you stress, consider speaking with them and telling them how they're adversely affecting you. If necessary, remove yourself from the family situation which brings on the stress. If your job causes you stress, perhaps you can incorporate positive affirmations or simple relaxation techniques into your daily work routine to make the day go by more smoothly. Or, if the stress coming from your job is simply too much to handle, you might want to consider switching jobs. When a situation is elevated to an extremely stressful degree, oftentimes that's the Divine's way of saying: "this is not right for you, stop fighting for it and go in a different direction." If you find that your actions are the cause of your stress, then you need to rethink the way you behave and act differently.
Quality vs. Quantity
When we begin to put too much pressure on ourselves, we very easily lose our focus. We try to get so many things done in little or no time that we don't even pay attention to HOW we're doing them anymore. We're literally driving while texting our coworker to tell them that we'll be late while trying to sip on coffee because we're so tired from yesterday while glancing at the financial section of a newspaper because we're worried about the gas prices going up while worrying if our children have done their math homework for today's class. Isn't that enough? The point is that when quantity is esteemed more than quality, quality begins to decline. We see this with merchandise now more than ever: the more of a product a company manufactures the more that product decreases in quality. The quality of a Mercedes isn't what it used to be 20 years ago, and that's because there are Mercedes everywhere on the road today!
But when we simplify our lives and our thinking, we begin to appreciate again the value of quality. Quality should always come first; as a rule of thumb, if you're trying to do so much that you notice the quality of your work is being affected, it's time to sit down with yourself and re-strategize how to manage all that you have to do.
Along with everything else, our relationships have become complicated. In today's world, we have become very critical creatures. We look at every detail, we analyze every aspect. We've also become very harsh on each other. We judge and blame, without ever really taking any responsibility. Sometimes we just need to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture, before it's too late.
I have so many clients who come to me with the same problem: their marriage is too complicated and they wonder why they can't just have a joyful, simple relationship with their partner. What they don't see, however, is that they have complicated their own relationship! We are so picky when it comes to choosing the people in our lives, and so critical of their every move. If a friend does one thing which upsets up, we immediately jump to conclusions about the nature of their character. If our partner behaves in a way which we don't like, we automatically become furious. This is because modern society has taught us to value ourselves and not to tolerate behavior which we deem unacceptable from others. And while we should applaud this mentality, we should also consider what it's doing to us on an greater scale. This mindset can actually make us self-centered and egotistic. Our level of tolerance for others drops as we only value ourselves in any given scenario. We all need to learn how to sacrifice for each other again, and also to put up with each other sometimes!
I will forever live by the example of my parents, who may not have been perfect soul mates but they were a very compromising couple. My father snored and my mother kicked. But they slept together for 50 years. He hated the way she sang and she couldn't stand the way he ate. He didn't like to see her cleaning all the time and she didn't like to see him leave his clothes in the middle of the room. They bickered and poked at each other like all normal couples. Yet they never left each other's side. They would never dream to divorce; why, because they didn't see eye to eye on all things? No, there were greater circumstances to consider: he was a faithful man and she was a loyal woman, and all those tiny imperfections seemed not to matter anymore under this perspective.
Accept that people are bound to disappoint you sooner or later. Even your own husband or wife, or your own father or mother or sibling will let you down at one point or another. This is perfectly normal, and this is why we're called human beings and not God. Maybe someone will disappoint you by doing something which you didn't expect or acting irresponsibly, but you have to be prepared for it. Most importantly, don't overreact or jump to conclusions. If possible, forgive and communicate your feelings with that person. It will take compromise on both ends to resolve the issue. We all have to let some things slide at the end of the day.
When Things Get too Complicated
When things become too complicated, we need to simplify our emotions. There is no doubt that at some point, complicated situations and people will present themselves in our lives. But there is a way to control the more complicated aspects of life by controlling our emotions.
Simple emotions will encourage a simpler life. Simple emotions are effortless emotions, such as love and compassion. Complicated emotions, like hatred, bitterness, and jealousy, consume a lot of our energy and translate into unhappiness manifesting.
When a complicated opportunity presents itself, and you are given the choice to choose between a negative emotion or a positive one, always choose the more positive emotion.
Time for ME
You need 30 minutes of "alone time" a day. No matter how much you have to do, you have no excuse to escape this necessary exercise on a daily basis. Take two 15-minute breaks throughout your day and retreat to a quiet, comfortable area. These breaks can be as soon as you wake up, during your lunch break, after work, before you go to sleep, or at any time during your day. The important thing to do is retreat twice a day from the outside world and go inward. During these "ME" breaks, I want you to forget all external influences and clear your mind. Most importantly, DON'T think about what you have to do for the rest of the day or what's due tomorrow! These are visualization breaks in which you will practice first to clear your mind and then envision what you want to accomplish. Spend these 15 minutes imagining only your most beautiful dreams and successes you want to see coming true. After all, can you remember the last time you daydreamed about something which made you so happy? Daydreams are not for children in middle school who think all day about what it's like to kiss their crush. Daydreams are for me and you, those of us who wish to aspire to something greater but need a vision to start. Daydream all you want in your 15 minutes of relaxation.
Making time for yourself is crucial. You make time for everyone else on a daily basis, but rarely for yourself. You have to remember that it's your life, and you come first without any hesitation! Taking a time out from your busy day helps you to regroup and recharge your batteries. It's the mental equivalent of taking a nap. You'll be pleasantly surprised to find out what after completing a 15-minute time out, you'll feel ready to take on anything the day might bring.
Twelve Steps to Simple Joy
Let us reconsider the ways we spend our time, and the state of mind in which we live from day to day. When we live in constant stress, chaos, and anxiety we create situations which reflect these states of being. But we can make conscious decisions to slow down our pace and dwell on positive emotions - it's up to us to simplify and rediscover joy in our lives!