a slow, simple life

Updated On — 17th Nov, 2022

Perhaps we need to chill a little, and settle into the slow simple life that’s already here. And embrace this moment, without trying to improve or tweak anything.

I read a story the other day, attributed to Nikolai Gogol, about a horse that was stuck in the mud. It struggled and struggled to get its hooves out. When it eventually did, a fly flew up from the tail of the horse to its head and said:

We did it!

I smiled. Yes, that’s me!

planting the flag of me

I made it a theme a few weeks ago to note how many times in a day I attempt to plant the flag of me, to claim psychological and physical territory. I gave up after a few hours; I lost my count and my self-esteem.

The meditation teacher Larry Rosenberg, in one of his talks, recalls seeing a cartoon once of a Zen monk walking along a beach carrying an enormous bag over his shoulders that was so heavy his footsteps were like craters.

On the bag was written one word – ME.

This is the burden meditation helps me set aside, so my path through this life feels a little lighter. Even after I put it down temporarily in meditation, I pick it up again after a little while. But I’m good with some temporary relief from me.

A slow, simple life–the Flemish painter Jacob van Hulsdonck captures this in Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Pomegranate, 1640.

Sometimes I ask myself–what keeps my practice alive and vital? Where is my edge of learning?

One answer that comes up is seeing how my body feels when I am being inauthentic. Is there a contraction, tightness, numbness somewhere? I drop the story I am enmeshed in just do a free-form scan.

I try to remember the cartoon of the monk on the beach carrying that heavy “me” bag and feel my feet–am I making little craters when I walk?

Each time I do this I feel a little shiver of pleasure and relief.

It’s so tempting to keep trying to be someone I am not. Some fantasy I want to grow into through meditation, a Tom 2.0. There is a way to live my ordinary life in pristine peace and joy just as it is right now. But I need to put that bag down and catch my breath.

Mary Oliver’s poem “Yellow” reminds us:

There is a heaven we enter
through institutional grace
and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing
in the lowly puddle.

Mary Oliver Rocks the House

Can you reflect on what it means to just be here, now, without pretense, free, open, relaxed and at peace–“bathing and singing in the lowly puddle” of your life just as it is right now?

just sitting and breathing

There are moments in our breath meditation practice when we are just sitting and breathing. There is a feeling of being breathed, instead of breathing to get some special mind state.

A maturing practice, a deepening practice, I say, is a more chill practice. Just the innocence of a body sitting quietly and breathing.

Meditation can turn into a kind of extreme sport, with elaborate training programs for those aspiring to the elite ranks. But what if we set aside those fantasies for a while and just chilled?

a slow, simple life

The blogger Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui, who writes about minimalism and the anti-consumption movement, posted a while ago:

What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them? Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I want is a small, slow, simple life.

What if all I want is a mediocre life?

That’s all I want–a small, slow, simple life.

Carl Jung envisioned a major shift in understanding the spiritual path –rather than ascending a steep mountain path seeking perfection, instead we “unfold into wholeness.” The wholeness that is who we are right here and now.

We are not so much attempting to vaporize our bad karma or destroy our demons, as it is really hard to do a decent job of this; our well-meaning attempts can easily leave us with more problems.

Rather, perhaps we need to chill a little, and settle into the “small, slow simple life” that’s already here? And embrace this moment — messy, incomplete, yet alive, fresh, and unfolding — without trying to improve or tweak anything.

Trying to tweak things just brings more frustration. And really, the present moment, as I have written elsewhere, is un-tweak-able.

There is a quiet and deep joy that has always been there, covered over by strata of reactivity and compulsiveness which subtly rule our lives, in one form or another.

The path is simple. Here are some heavy instructions from the late Thich Nhat Hanh… ready?

Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

Can we practice like this?

read another?

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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