Simplicity as a spiritual practice

Dec 08, 2014 No Comments

by Carol Hohle

Since first writing about Simplicity on this website eight years ago, it’s been gratifying to watch the movement grow in favor and numbers. More and more people here in the U.S. are moving away from consumerism – more families are opt’ing for less gifts at the holidays and choosing to make the “gift of presence” instead, more individuals and family units choosing simpler living accommodations and taking jobs for values-based reasons rather than monetary considerations alone. And, while it is true that the economic slump has forced many to spend less there is a decided lifestyle shift emerging.

Beyond these outward lifestyle choices, simplicity is also a spiritual practice.  Known as Voluntary Simplicity, it has existed for centuries. In more recent decades it has adopted a more formal practice. For many Christians the season of Lent includes the practice as part of the season’s letting go of cherished possessions, of surrendering a sense of self in order to open one’s heart to spirit.  Judiasm connects seven values to the practice — Anava (humility), Ho’da’ah (gratitude). B’al tashkhit (avoiding waste) and Haganat hatevah (preserving nature), Bitul Z’man (wasting time), Tzedek (justice) and Tikkun )lam (repair of the world), Kehillah (commitment to community), Menukhah (rest and renewal).  You can trace its teachings in every faith tradition.

Richard Gregg, a student of Gandhi’s teaching, wrote in 1936: “Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose. Of course, as different people have different purposes in life, what is relevant to the purpose of one person might not be relevant to the purpose of another…. The degree of simplification is a matter for each individual to settle for him/her self.”

Today simplicity is valued and practiced by an increasing number of people in first world countries. Websites, books, and organizations champion simplicity as a spiritual practice and support individuals as they work to achieve their intention toward living more simply. And, while there are many aspects of Simplicity, and infinite meaning and value attached to how it can be applied in our lives, these three areas are a good place to start:

1. Appreciating Life
2. Examining Personal Choices
3. Improving Interpersonal Communications

Appreciating Life is the intention to develop a larger sense of life, of seeing the universe as our home. It demands that we stop living on auto-pilot. Often a more reverential attitude towards nature and connectedness flows in to one’s experience from observing life more consciously.

Examining personal choices often comes on the heels of a decision to observe life more consciously. Taking an inventory of one’s personal consumption habits is often the first issue to examine. And, usually one result is a desire to de-clutter and streamline one’s lifestyle.

The third area, Interpersonal Communications, is that highly soulful expression of simplicity. Here is where the intention to live more consciously expresses itself in greater authenticity and deliberate communications. Abandoning idle talk and gossip, expressing one’s self more honestly or cherishing non-verbal communication is often an outcome.

If you’d like to begin your own Simplicity Practice, the questions in the attached worksheet will help you launch your exploration.

Additional Resources

Voluntary Simplicity – Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich
by Duane Elgin
Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach
Choosing Simplicity by Linda Breen Pierce
The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs
Spiritual Simplicity: Simplify Your Life and Enrich Your Soul by David Yount
Freedom of Simplicity by Richard J. Foster
7 Simple Steps to Unclutter Your Life by Donna Smallin


Living It, Simplicity, Spiritual Practices
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