Listen to this story
Imagine that you are inside a dream. This text you’re reading — as well as your phone, your hands, and your thoughts — is nothing but a creation of your sleeping brain.
Now imagine that you decide to clap your hands and make your whole body disappear — it’s your dream, you can do whatever you want in it.
You are now lighter than air. Your old annoying back pain is gone, and so is gravity, so is your entire physical existence. You are nothing but light and energy.
Close your eyes and let yourself sink into this feeling for a moment. Take your time. When you’re done, let’s take it one step further.
After your body is gone, next to leave are your thoughts. You are no longer aware of what you did before reading this text or what you planned to do afterward. Heck, you don’t even know what day it is anymore. Stripped of your physical body, your thoughts, and your mundane worries, you are suddenly face-to-face with the simplest version of yourself: your essence, your pure emotions, the core of your being. You feel at peace, and life finally makes sense.
Inner Peace for Practical People
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.—Socrates
But of course this is just a dream, and real life is much more concrete than light and bodiless beings. However, this inner peace can be achieved with actions that less abstract and more practical.
Have you ever felt that sense of completion after cleaning up your desk? Or that deep feeling of bliss of entering an empty room where there is space for your body to move, for your mind to focus, and for the sunlight to enter through the window and decorate the naked walls?
You probably have. Simplicity is a powerful tool to achieve clarity and inner balance, cultivate a productive mind, and maintain an overall joyful life. Since the first Buddhist monks who renounced all luxuries in their pursuit of enlightenment all the way through to the first experiments with minimalism in the 1960s and up until today, humans have been striving for simplicity as a counterbalance to their often cluttered and chaotic lives.
And does it really work, you ask?
It does. Let me tell you a story of how I experienced the power of simplicity through something as natural as my breath.
One Step at a Time
There is no greatness where there is not simplicity. — Leo Tolstoy
Around one year ago, I spent 10 whole days in silence. I didn’t touch anyone, or even look into anyone’s eyes. I didn’t read, write, or have access to my phone or any other kind of entertainment.
This was all part of a Vipassana meditation retreat, during which I spent around 10 hours every day sitting in meditation, surrounded by more than 100 other people going through the same process.
Vipassana — which means “to see things as they really are”— is an ancient Indian meditation technique aimed at purifying the mind through self-observation, and consequently reaching happiness.
This 10-day retreat was one of the weirdest and deepest learning experiences I have ever had in my life. I will not go into much detail about it — if you wish to know more about Vipassana or try it yourself, you can check out this website — but there is one thing that happened there that I would like to tell you about.
For the first three days of the retreat, we were told to observe our breath. During those three days, I did almost nothing but sit in the dark, dedicating my full attention to the area inside my nostrils and above my upper lip, observing the air going in and out, in and out, in and out.
In the middle of the second day, I started getting really frustrated. After 15 hours of focusing on my nose, I thought I was going to go crazy. I thought, “What good can this bring me? What am I even doing here?”
Only after those (sometimes despairing) three days did we move to focusing on the rest of the body. And as I shifted my attention from my nose into my head and arms and legs, I felt something extraordinary: I felt everything.
The overall sensitivity of my body was as sharp as never before: I could feel the slightest breezes, taste the mildest flavors, hear the quietest of my heartbeats.
I had mastered the technique in a small scale, and it gave me the tools to go bigger. Finally, I understood: To understand complexity, you first need to study simplicity. It’s not easy, but it’s simple: Strip off the unnecessary, focus on the essential.
Want to Try it Yourself?
- Focus your attention on your breath. Notice how the air touches the inner part of your nostrils as you breathe in and out. Focus exclusively on that area. Do it for at least 30 seconds, and do it with your eyes closed.
- Now slowly expand your area of focus. What is happening on the tip of your nose as you breathe? Is it itchy? Is it hot or cold? Can you feel your breath there? Did a mosquito just land on it, inviting you to scratch it? Thirty seconds. Eyes closed.
- Move your focus to your whole face. This is a much larger leap, and your brain might feel confused with the sudden amount of information: the tremor on your eyelids, the pressure on your jaws, the pulsation on your temples, the slight breeze touching your cheek.
You can do this anywhere you want, deepening it as much as you wish. When we take time to dwell in the simplest details, we become aware of the infinite complexity of the world we live in.
Tell Me What You Bought, and I Will Tell You What You’re Not
Simplicity brings balance, freedom, and joy. When we begin to live simply and experience these benefits, we begin to ask the next question, “Where else in my life can I remove distraction and simply focus on the essential?” — Joshua Becker
Despite the proven benefits of living a simple lifestyle, we are constantly distracted by clutter. Why do we fill our houses with useless objects, our minds with random entertainment, and our lives with meaningless events that don’t bring us happiness?
Living in the 21st century can be chaotic. The choices are almost endless—what to buy? what to read? where to go? who to be?—and although this offers limitless opportunities for growth, it can also become overwhelming. Buying more stuff becomes our therapy of choice. We no longer eat to nourish our bodies but to relieve our minds from our deadlines, broken relationships, and unfulfilled dreams.
But it’s possible to live differently. It’s possible to let go and detach.
Remember your dream of being bodiless, when you reached that innermost part of yourself, naked of all clutter and useless stuff? Let me tell you a secret: All you have to do is to stay in touch with it.
When I spent 10 days with almost nothing, trying to reach for that essential simplicity, I came out of it with much more than I had before. You can achieve the same, every day, and you can do it your own way. You don’t have to do a Vipassana meditation retreat, get rid of everything you own, or read a dozen guides on how to become a minimalist.
You just have to find that moment of silence amid all the noise. It doesn’t matter if you call it meditating, praying, playing sports, or spending time with your loved ones. You know what does it for you.
Just remember this: It’s your dream, and you can do anything you want in it.