A Condition of Complete Simplicity


How I sometimes stand in line at Whole Foods grocery stores during their peak hours is a window into how often and easily I resent the current moment I am in, and to some degree my level of complete insanity.

The breakdown begins at the approach. I see the line from a distance, separated into three lines, and suddenly my mind goes into calculation mode as if I were the man who knew infinity. How many people are in each line? Which number was called last?  Who are couples in line and therefore look like two people and will only take one spot? I do everything short of attempting to code an algorithm which will permit me to spend the least amount of time possible in that line.

After I make the choice and commit to a line, I start to analyze if I have made the right choice and if I have, I actually feel better about myself. Better yet, if I realize I will get to the checkout faster than someone who had entered another line before me, I feel like I have won an Olympic gold medal and instantly more clever than everyone. That podium feeling soon dissipates however, when I notice people screwing up the line. They miss their number being called or they won’t walk forward as the line advances. Each offense I personalize as a transgression against me and my mission to get out of the line as fast as possible because I have somewhere more important to be.

The urge to be somewhere else is not only at the grocery store. It could be any line or task that is requested of me. I can recall being asked to do something on numerous occasions to which my stock response is “I don’t really feel like it” and upon doing the thing, spending most of the time in action being upset or victimized that I had to do because naturally, I have better things to do.

The interesting questions which I never bother to ask on the other side of the above statements are “What DO I feel like doing?” “Where do I need to Be” “Why am I resisting doing this thing right now?”  and “What is the source of my resentment?”.

In reflection on these questions and through my journey of the last several months, a quote by Shakespeare from HAMLET continues to pop into my mind.

……for there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

-Shakespeare, William HAMLET 2.2.P11

In the dialogue Hamlet is having with his friend Rosencrantz, Hamlet is describing how Denmark is a prison to him, and how in fact the whole world is filled with many confines and dungeons, with Denmark being the worst for him. When his friends tell Hamlet they do not feel it is, Hamlet delivers the above quote noting it is his own mind that has created Denmark as a prison.

There are so many prisons I put myself in, these may sound familiar.

  • I am sick of doing other people’s job
  • My job drains me and I wish I could leave
  • My boss is very annoying
  • I can’t stand my coworkers
  • If I don’t do it, nothing gets done so I don’t have time to “be in the moment”
  • I always feel behind
  • No one understand me
  • I am putting in effort and he/she isn’t noticing
  • I wish I had more money
  • I wish I had more time
  • I’m always behind
  • I’ll never be as successful as (fill in the blank)
  • I wish I had that body
  • I wish I had that apartment/house
  • This is all their fault
  • Things just don’t work out for me

I could go on for pages, and the core source of every dissatisfaction and resentment listed above comes from the same place; our own minds. All born from the thought that my current condition is bad. The resentment comes from the simple notion that I am not where I should be and the attachment to meaning derived from a future ideal to achieve or destination to reach.

This resentment can show up anytime you have a conversation with someone and from the beginning of the conversation your mind is pointed toward making an exit. The person opposite you could be delivering tomorrow’s lottery numbers and the only thing you hear is the voice in your head preparing how to steer the conversation towards conclusion.

It rears its head anytime you spend more time arguing or debating about avoiding an activity than it would take to do the damn thing. The feeling underneath being that if you cave and act, the other person is right and you are wrong.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist or spiritual master to momentarily free yourself from all of the attachments which are causing you have anxiety and the feeling that there is something more for you other than what or where you are.

The practice is simply to choose each moment for exactly what it is, and what it is not and reminded me of another literary work, this time from T.S. Eliot. Choosing to be in the ‘Now Here’ moment will create what Eliot called, in his poem “Little Gidding”, ‘A condition of complete simplicity.’ He also notes that condition will ‘cost you everything’.

What is the cost?

Choosing to be in the very moment you are will force you to give up anywhere you want to be or who you think you are or should be. In that moment you are present, you will lose all you have defined yourself to be or need to be, which can certainty feel like everything.

The beginning part of the last section of Four Quartets, describes the never-ending discovery of each moment.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And to know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot –  from “Little Gidding”

Every moment of every day is an opportunity to for discovery. In my own experience lately, I am finding that going with the flow of life is taking a breath when the river is sending me towards a waterfall of unknown height.

Instead of cursing the river and all the moments that brought me to the precipice of the cliff, I take in as much beauty and connection I can to what is around me and know that wherever I am in life is not a failure. It is rather, exactly where I am supposed to be.

Instead of creating the potential doom and destruction that waterfall may hold, I notice the trees, notice the feeling of my hand on the oar and the weight of my body in the boat. I notice the sounds of water rushing around me and breeze of air as my body moves through it.

I understand that water is not my enemy and is not trying to kill me. I forgive the person who sold me the map and told me to take this river. I know that the only thing I really have control over is how I will engage the moment I am in, and as much as possible, I plan to keep exploring the newness of every movement. In the moments I can stay present, I will enjoy the limitless discovery and joy that arises from knowing every moment for the first time.

In the past I would have resisted writing what I just did and I want you to know this is how I feel now. It is always a practice and I still experience fear, doubt, envy, and still delve to insanity when standing in line and still will engage in endless procrastination and debate on something as simple as taking the trash out.

And the practice continues.

The practice I offer to you this week is to notice if you find yourself in a situation you are resisting, trying to escape or move through as fast as possible. Perhaps it is at the gym or yoga practice during a difficult workout, a household chore or task at work you don’t want to do, or a conversation with someone you are dreading or putting off.

Once you notice the feeling, try choosing everything about the moment or action and let everything else fall away. If you are taking out the trash, be incredibly involved in every detail of the bag, the walk to the garbage area, the weight of the bag. If you are talking to someone, turn off your phone and listen to what they are saying- interrupt yourself any time you start to plan your own reply.

Call yourself out. If you notice yourself resisting or trying to escape, say it out loud and come back into noticing and choosing your current moment.

Lastly, share your experience with someone and any and everything that you noticed in the moments you were present, and how you were feeling when you were not.

Thank you for reading and know I am with you, taking one breathe and step at a time in THE DAILY PRACTICE OF LIVING.