In the life-changing Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn has an example of “the impulse [that] frequently arises [in us] to squeeze another this or another that into this moment.” He says:
I've learned to identify this impulse and mistrust it. I work hard at saying no to it. It would have me eat breakfast with my eyes riveted to the cereal box, reading for the hundredth time the dietary contents of the contents, or the amazing free offer from the company. This impulse doesn't care what it feeds on, as long as it's feeding. The newspaper is an even better draw, or the L.L. Bean catalogue, or whatever else is around.
It scavenges to fill time, conspires with my mind to keep me unconscious, lulled in a fog of numbness to a certain extent, just enough to fill or overfill my belly while I actually miss breakfast. It has be unavailable to others at those times, missing the play of light on the table, the smells in the room, the energies of the moment, including arguments and disputes, as we come together before going our separate ways for the day.
This happens more frequently than we'd like to admit in meetings — for example an executive catching up on email while a colleague is presenting a new program to a client for discussion. It's a behavior that leads to partial dis-attention, where the party grabs onto fragments of conversation thus missing participating in the creation of it.
“I like to practice voluntary simplicity to counter such impulses,” says Kabat-Zinn:
and make sure nourishment comes at a deep level. It involves intentionally doing only one things at a time and making sure I am here for it.
Voluntary simplicity means going fewer laces in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.
Shifting from a reactive to a proactive or responsive mode is a big challenge for businesses today. How do we manage at a broader level? Helps bridge the gap between the kind of response we are expecting and that we go instead.
Rather than trying to over haul how we operate, we can start by choosing simplicity in small ways like slowing everything down, or choosing to do nothing for an evening. It's something we need to practice, says Kabat-Zinn:
I practice saying no to keep my life simple, and I find that I never do it enough. It's an arduous discipline all its own, and worth the effort. Yet it is also tricky. There are needs and opportunities to which one must respond.
A commitment to simplicity in the midst of the world is a delicate balancing act. It is always in need to retuning, further inquiry, attention. But I find the notion of voluntary simplicity keeps me mindful of what is important, of an ecology of mind and body and world in which everything is interconnected and every choice has far-reaching consequences.
You don't get to control it all. But choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life and element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more.
[sunrise Cervia, Italy]