Spiritual Simplicity

July 19 2020 | by

THE DEATH of his wife from cancer at the young age of 37 had a profound, life-changing impact upon Ron. A driven, corporate executive, Ron decided he wanted to establish other priorities in his life and live more simply. So he quit his job to become consultant who was paid on an hourly basis. That eliminated his 70-hour work weeks and provided him with increased discretionary time. He sold off his luxury car and traded down his house. Those reduced his monthly payments significantly, easing his financial obligations.

More interestingly, Ron applied the same ‘attachment reduction’ to the emotional and spiritual areas his life. A highly opinionated, argumentative type, he reduced his need to dominate conversations. Ron started listening more and speaking less. People began to like him more and more. Likewise, he reduced his need to collect wealthy and influential people as ‘friends’ choosing to enjoy the company of people from a broad spectrum of society. For the first time in his life Ron was attracting some real friends. Little by little, Ron discovered he liked himself better and was experiencing serenity and contentment in life.

Much has been written about the importance of living a more simple life. Usually that means cutting back on materialism. However, not as much attention is given to the importance of spiritual simplicity, the type of steps Ron took – cutting back on attitudes which are unhealthy, negative, divisive, and even toxic to ourselves and to those around us.

Yet, reducing and eliminating unhealthy attitudes is something which Jesus consistently instructs us to do. Consider these citations: Stop judging others. (Matthew 7:1); Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? (Matthew 7:3); Stop criticizing others (Luke 6:37). The apostle Paul reinforces this teaching of Jesus when he writes: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior” (Ephesians 4:32). Here are some ways of reducing our unhealthy attachments and move toward greater spiritual simplicity.


Reduce the need to win


Consider this invaluable lesson from actor and martial arts expert Chuck Norris. Recently, after a day of filming in Texas, he went alone to a small restaurant. As he sat in a corner booth a large man towered over Norris, declaring, with an angry edge in his voice, that Norris was sitting in his booth. “I didn’t like his tone or his implicit threat, but I said nothing and moved to another booth.” A few minutes later, the large man headed back toward Norris. “Here it comes,” Norris thought to himself, “a local tough out to make a name for himself by taking on Chuck Norris in a fight.” As the man stood before Norris, he looked directly at the actor, saying, “You’re Chuck Norris.” The actor nodded. “You could have beaten me up back there a few minutes ago,” the man said. “Why didn’t you?”

“What would that have proved?” Norris asked. Silently, the man thought that over for a moment and then offered Norris his hand. “No hard feelings?” he said. “None,” Norris responded and shook his hand. “I had avoided a confrontation and made a friend. I won by losing” Norris says.


Reduce all selfishness


Jump start this process by reflecting on a prayer written by Henry Alford, a 19th century British minister and author, “O Lord, give us more charity, more self-denial, more likeness to thee. Teach us to sacrifice our comforts to others, and our likings for the sake of doing good. Make us kindly in thought, gentle in word, generous in deed. Teach us that it is better to give than to receive; better to forget ourselves than to put ourselves forward; better to minister than to be ministered unto.”


Reduce anger


We currently live in a very angry age. Road rage, for example, is a new term coined to describe people who explode with anger over minor traffic irritants. All of us can help restore civility to daily life by reducing our need for anger. Here is a modern parable for helping deal with anger. A man was rowing his small boat upstream, heading home, when he felt another small boat, heading downstream, collide with his boat. Since the man had the right of way, he felt angry. Turning, he yelled at the other boatman, “Watch where you’re going! Be more careful!”

The other man apologized and passed by without further incident. But an hour later, as the man continued upstream, he felt another boat collide with his. Furious, he turned to yell at the reckless person. His anger vanished when he saw the boat was empty. Realizing it must have come loose from its mooring, the man calmly pushed it aside and continued on his journey. According to the parable, he never lost his temper again, because from then on he treated everyone he met like an empty boat.


Reduce self-importance


We need to eliminate all feelings, thoughts and impulses which cause us to believe we are more important, more busy and more needed than others. If this is not done, we create barriers between ourselves and others. That results in dissatisfaction with our living. Reducing the need of self- importance is not difficult to do and brings unique rewards. Consider the example of best-selling author Bernie S. Siege, MD. In his book, Prescription for Living, he tells of an important step he took. It happened in 1974 while he was a pediatrie surgeon at Yale. He had a prestigious career, a “wonderful wife and five beautiful children. By most standards I was a success. But I was unhappy,” he writes. Like many doctors he was trained to maintain an emotional distance from his patients.

“I treated people’s diseases, but shielded myself from their lives. I was so miserable behind the wall that I’d built that I considered leaving medicine.”

Before abandoning the practice of medicine, Bernie decided he would first try a different way of doctoring. I’d allow myself to show concern for those in my care. Once I took that step, I began to see how bizarre it is for physicians to stand apart from patients. So I came out from behind my desk - literally - and asked patients to call me by my first name. My world changed. It was now rewarding being a doctor and helping people live better, longer lives.”


Reduce bitterness


Life brings us a variety of hurts and wounds. This is just a part of being human. We do heal from those hurts and wounds however, yet some people carry with them the burden of bitterness, anger, even hate and rage at the person who caused the hurt. Such emotional baggage becomes a very heavy load to carry around. One woman discovered this through an unusual suggestion from her therapist. She sought out the therapist because she was extremely unhappy. The source of her unhappiness lay in her inability to let go of her broken marriage. She harbored a great deal of anger and animosity toward her former spouse. Since traditional therapy was not working, the counselor chose a unique approach. At the conclusion of a session, he handed her a brick, saying it symbolized her old relationship. He instructed her to carry it around in her purse for the next seven days.

As the week went on, the woman’s purse seemed to grow heavier and heavier, providing her with a clear understanding of how burdensome the weight of her unhealthy attachments had become. By lugging the brick around all week, she soon understood what the therapist was trying to help her see, namely, that holding on to negative feelings was not in her best interest. Before long, she was ready to relinquish those feelings, and symbolized that healthy act by crushing the brick with a hammer and scattering it into pieces. She was able to let go of the relationship, the excess emotional baggage that went with it, and move on to write a new chapter in her fife.


Reduce self-negating thoughts


Interestingly, the word sabotage comes from the French word, sabot, which means ‘wooden shoe’. In the last century, when a labor dispute arose, workers would often throw their wooden shoes into the machinery thereby damaging the machine. Thus, the word sabotage is now applied to any destruction of factory machines, railroads, bridges, etc. Too many people are guilty of self-sabotage. They view themselves in harsh, negative ways. When it comes to their own unique gifts, talents, abilities, they sabotage their minds by convincing themselves they are unable, unworthy, incapable, inadequate and even incompetent.

Of course, this is never the truth, yet they persist in perpetuating self-negating thoughts. Do your best to reduce and eliminate all self-sabotaging thinking. If you have made a mistake or a blunder or acted ineptly, forgive yourself as readily and quickly as you would forgive someone else. Perhaps this idea from D. Patrick Miller can help: “Never forget that to forgive yourself is to release trapped energy that could be doing good work in the world. Thus, to judge and condemn yourself is a form of selfishness. Self- prosecution is never noble; it does no one a service,” he writes in A Little Book of Forgiveness.


By intentionally cultivating spiritual simplicity, we will experience, on an increasing basis, more harmony, equilibrium and balance in daily living. Life itself will become a greater source of pleasure and joy. Ironically, we gain more by having less.

Updated on July 19 2020