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Daily we stand against the tide, the relentless negative forces of human nature that work to bring us down. The challenge to be better, and do better, is never ending, and ever present, in each of our lives.
How do the 7 deadly sins; wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, play against the simplicity lifestyle? Does living with simplicity make it easier, or harder, to keep these hosts of misery at bay?
The simplicity movement is all about ridding ourselves of life’s clutter to make room for that which matters most. Whether that clutter comes in the form of debt, or a junk pile blocking access to the backyard, it’s all about zeroing in on those things that are getting in the way, the things that are keeping us from living the life we should be living.
When we proactively scan our environment for what needs to be removed, or what needs to change, we take control of the things we can control by engaging in an intentional editing process.
The Editing Process
Years ago, at a time when I owned and operated a couple of restaurants, I faced mounting insurance costs due to a funding crisis in our state’s worker’s compensation system. Many businesses, including my own, had been thrown into a high risk insurance pool, causing costs to triple. I decided to not let my frustration and “anger” keep me from doing what was within my control. By focusing on the essentials and ridding our operations of lesser practices, we moved to a higher level of operation and received an award for having the best improved worker-safety record in the state.
Through the process, I learned that in order to move from “wrath” to a place where one can make needed changes, the following “get” steps are necessary:
1) “Get over” any sense of “unfairness” and focus all energy on the solution;
2) “Get creative” in developing strategies to achieve the desired result; and
3) “Get on” with taking needed action.
Humility is in order here, since nobody can control all circumstances. But we can control the degree to which we take action to cause or prevent things from blocking access to our goals and a better life.
The 1st deadly sin, Wrath, is an emotion that is impossible to sustain when we accept responsibility for our actions. Since anger most often arises from feeling a loss of personal control and power, taking action is the antidote, but only if we remain humble, and remember that there is a higher power than what we, alone, possess.
Action and Humility
When we combine acts of intentional living and personal humility, we are rewarded with a clearer perspective of purpose, which is to love and care for others.
Acting with intention, a cornerstone of the simplicity lifestyle, de-fangs the ugly wrath-monster that lurks inside us all.
The more we become focused on the essentials, the things that truly enrich our lives, the more we discover that the material acquisitions and status symbols we once chased after shrink in comparison to the more important things, like relationships.
As we practice intentional living, and move away from the need to acquire, we realize that it is our actions and relationships that define us, not the things we own. It’s so true, that service, contentment and gratitude abound in relationships, not in stuff.
Greed and simplicity exist on opposite ends of the life-behaviors spectrum. When we actively seek one, we adversely impact the other.
There are no lazy people pursuing the simplicity lifestyle. Simplicity requires intention, action, and follow-through. Simplicity folks are not lounging back letting important work go undone. If and when we lounge, it is not to avoid work, but to celebrate the work that has been done by enjoying a still moment, a quiet reflection, a shared meal, and a simple conversation.
Having suffered this particular deadly sin my entire life, I can tell you that having a high opinion of yourself can be damaging when it is not also coupled with a recognition of your deep personal flaws.
We human beings are laughably prideful. I say laughably, because it becomes comical, in a tragic sense, to imagine an emotion that serves us less authentically, or causes more damage.
Over time we can become impressed with ourselves, so much so that we actually ignore reality.
When was the last time you changed your mind about something you once knew to be true? Think about it – if everything we believe to be true is actually true, we would be truth machines, walking around absorbing the world in perfect order, with perfect memories, and perfect understanding. Since none of us is perfect, then our perceptions must at some level be flawed.
…it is interesting that when we make up our minds about something, not only do we establish our perceptions as permanent reality, we immediately begin setting up roadblocks to challenge any future change to those perceptions. Our willingness to accept new evidence, and change our minds, diminishes over time. In fact, the longer we hold our beliefs, the less flexible we become.
Our attitudes and perceptions could be described as a wagon wheel that has slipped into a rut. Once there, it fits comfortably into its little niche, and turns happily along. It takes significantly less effort to stay with the usual, than to try out new, bumpy ground.
But the problem with staying in the rut is that we are more likely to become complacent, smug, and self-satisfied. We convince ourselves that what we know, and who we are, is accurate, made so by perfectly formed knowledge. When presented with evidence to the contrary, it is not our own perceptions we question, but the validity of the source of the new evidence.
Even when we are clearly shown the better route, a route that gets us closer to the truth, it is too late for the prideful. The prideful would rather reject a new and better approach than alter the long-established dogma they have embraced.
Simplicity Challenges the Norm
The simplicity philosophy caused me to rethink everything, but what first led me to even consider simplicity as an alternative to my long-established norm ?
Quite simply, my wagon wheel began crashing up against the rut wall enough times to make me finally question whether the rut was indeed a good fit. The point is, once I was willing to drive out of the rut, what became clear to me was that the rut had kept me complacent way too long.
Once out of the rut, however, I began looking at the assumptions I had held over time. My most fundamental beliefs about God were not shaken, but believing I had all the answers about life definitely were.
Simplicity celebrates life not within the context of the things we accumulate, which are temporary, but within the context of the relationships we foster, which last forever.
Simplicity does not kill pride, but it does dampen its harmful effects. Recognition that we fall short, that we don’t deserve everything we might fancy, and that we will have to let go of things at times, is a humbling but affirming process.
Lust occurs when we allow our baser impulses to go unchecked.
Simplicity forces us to acknowledge our fallen nature, and to come face-to-face with urges that no amount of engine power, lipstick or home decor can paper over.
Each of us choose every day whether we practice habits that lead to a positive life, or habits that lead to a degradation of our life. In the case of lust, relationships are damaged if not destroyed.
Lust relies upon imagination; the fantasy our mind creates of a pleasure we desire. Lust snowballs as we entertain the fantasy over time. If we entertain the fantasy long enough, what we imagine we desire transforms into some form of action that is taken. When we act on our lust, we relinquish self-control and enslave ourselves to our baser instincts.
The pleasure we experience from acting on lust is at best temporary. In contrast, the damage done is likely permanent. Furthermore, we weaken the very self-control “muscle” that we need to overcome the other deadly sins.
In contrast to lust, simplicity helps us focus on activities that strengthen us and reinforces the foundation upon which our moral selves flourish.
Lust and the Effect of Simplicity
1) Simplicity makes us re-evaluate the things that make us content;
2) Simplicity enables us to rethink what we desire;
3) Simplicity causes our desires to come into alignment with reality;
4) Simplicity makes us want to be less self-centered, and more charitable to others; and
5) Simplicity encourages us to deal with the true problems of life.
The simplicity lifestyle is more complimentary to our higher selves, as we become tempered by a deeper contemplation of what gives life meaning. (See e.g.: The 4 Zones of Intention)
It has been shown that the excitement we feel as we anticipate acquiring something we desire is much more intense than the satisfaction we feel after having acquired it. In other words, once we have acquired the thing we desire, the increase in our happiness quotient is negligible. We feel more pleasure from the anticipation, than from the acquisition, itself.
Perhaps the trick is to understand the impulse, and to overcome it by remaining focused on our long term goal. Maybe you want to be out of debt, or to pay off a mortgage, to have funds to travel, to embark on a creative or educational endeavor; or to generously assist family members.
By focusing on the important things we want to accomplish, envy takes a back seat.
5 ways in which simplicity kills envy:
1) When people are valued above things;
2) When you are less likely to feel you are missing something you desire;
3) When you are responsible for what you own;
4) When you are not responsible for what others own; and
5) When you value peace and contentment above fleeting acquisitions.
Having what we need in life is better than wanting what we do not have for all the wrong reasons.
There is no deadly sin that more represents the opposite of simplicity than gluttony.
Gluttony occurs when we consume beyond satiation, with little regard for the amount we are consuming or why we are consuming it.
The consuming occurs for the sake of the consumption itself, not to achieve anything more than the feeling of “taking in” or “using” the thing that we desire.
STAND AGAINST THE TIDE
The 7 deadly sins are a form of self-idolatry, an ageless warning against the narcissism of the time.
Simplicity does not make me, or anyone else, immune from human failing. I believe it does, however, change our focus, from needing more to needing less, to being truly grateful and content.
Simplicity makes it more likely that we will draw upon the deep well of life and find satisfaction in owning fewer things while giving more of ourselves away.
The Good News….
You can stop being controlled by negative things. Assert yourself in a positive manner. Do not look back and wish things had been different. Do not regret what you cannot change, but also, do not let another day go by without making changes you know you need to make. Regretting and bemoaning the past is a waste of precious time. Do not wallow in what you cannot change, but act on your future today.
Develop a plan, and take action now! Your life depends upon it!
This post was first published on SimpleLifeReboot.com.