Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!
Spring has sprung!
And so has my desire to simply my life. Not just the THINGS in my life, but also the thoughts in my head, my daily routine, and the way I do things.
When I look for role models in the simplicity department the first one that comes to my head makes me grin in remembrance of my childhood: Mr Rogers. Do you remember this guy? He send a powerful message to my generation that the world is good and that our surroundings deserve our respect and care. He conveyed this message with such simplicity with his calm demeanor and regular habits that I remember really wanting to be his neighbor. It was his simple ways that gave me a sense that everything was going to be ok. He responded to situations (rather than reacting to them) in a way that was slow and steady. Now, as a grownup and parent, I STILL want him to be my neighbor!
The following, written by Lex Breckinridge, reminded me why Mr. Rogers was a part of my life. He offered light in a simple way.
“Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” This off-the-cuff observation was made by Fred Rogers, better known as “Mr. Rogers,” creator of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the longest running series on PBS. He said it to a young man named Benjamin Wagner during a conversation about Wagner’s job as a journalist and a producer for MTV, a job that Wagner regarded with much ambivalence. Rogers turned to him and said, “You know, Benjamin, I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” Mr. Rogers died not long thereafter, and Benjamin, who said that this comment haunted him for years, set out on a journey of discovery to get to know the real Mr. Rogers, to seek out the neighbors who knew Mr. Rogers best, to see what that seemingly offhand comment might really mean.
The results of this search may be seen in a beautiful, moving documentary film called “Mr. Rogers & Me,” now showing on PBS. Benjamin discovered that Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister who was in later years a faithful Episcopalian, was exactly the same warm, compassionate, caring person in real life as the character he played on his long-running children’s television program. He was completely sincere when he would say face-to-face to one person what he said to millions of children, “I like you just the way you are.”
In the documentary we see the late Tim Russert saying that Rogers was “… forever taking advantage of every moment to tell people that it is important that we respect one another and love one another.” Linda Ellerbe observes that Rogers believed that everyone “… had this wonderful person inside who was just dying to get out, and he was going to open the door for you, and then help you open the door for others. That’s pretty simple and pretty deep.” A life’s work spent affirming the goodness of individual human beings, honoring their dignity, and teaching and encouraging them to pass that respect and love along to others. That sounds positively counter cultural. It certainly goes against the grain of our noisy, hypercompetitive world. In fact, it sounds like the gospel, and it sounds like Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to go spread the good news. Deep and simple, indeed.
We work diligently to make our lives complex. Do you feel as if your life is overscheduled? If so, chances are it is overly complex. Yet, all this complexity gets in the way of true human encounters. Anything and everything we do that does not affirm the worth of another human being or that ignores or overlooks another person who is as much God’s Beloved as we are probably indicates a degree of complexity in our lives that is life-denying rather than life-affirming.
Fred Rogers seems to have lived life with very little stress. He was an extremely intelligent and gifted person, so it’s not as if he were not paying attention. The pursuit of material things was also not a priority for him, although he clearly had all that he needed. His low stress life was a result of placing others first. In everything he did, and in every human encounter he had, he “sought to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving his neighbor as himself,” as the Baptismal covenant puts it. Seems like a pretty straightforward prescription to reduce complexity and thereby reduce stress in our own lives. Summer is a good time to begin this practice, a time to make every human encounter a valuable one, a time to see Christ in one another. Deep and simple. -Lex Breckinridge, Rector at St. Thomas Epicsopal Church Medina (from the June 2012 Collect)
So how do I bring Mr Rogers, or at least his values, into my own home?
My #1 tip for creating a simple life: PREDICTABILITY!
Being calm, consistent and caring in all aspects of our lives (work life, finances, living environment, personal growth, health, community, family life, and spiritual practices) is key to creating the kind of effortless, spacious MAGIC that Mr Rogers exuded.
I know that when I make simplicity the main frame in my parenting everything else just seems to fall into place. So, yes I am doing a major decluttering of my home this spring, but I am also decluttering our schedules so that our weekends are spacious and unplanned, meditating before bed so I fall asleep with a less full mind, and being intentional about how many trips we plan this summer.
Our children cannot differentiate between themselves and the outside world that causes us parents to be stressed and anxious. They take our hurriedness extremely personal because their senses are so unfiltered. It is my job, as my kid’s mom, to show them that the world is good. (There is enough time, later in life, to learn about the dangers of the world.)
Regular habits in daily life allow children to build a solid foundation of security. Likewise, multi-tasking and novelty create insecurity in kids because they don’t know what will happen next or who will pay attention to them. So, for the sake our your children (and your own sanity) I urge you to SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY! I have created a worksheet to help you think about ways you can simplify different areas of your life.
Here are a few ways I am simplifying my life right now:
- Make sure I get enough sleep. This often means saying “no” to evening requests or at least limiting them to one night a week.
- Eat a balanced diet. This requires some planning ahead so that my pantry and fridge are stocked with nourishing foods.
- Exercise regularly. This is usually just a walk to a local coffee shop with my dog. It’s not much, but the fact that it is simple and easy ensures that it gets done.
- Go to the doctor, dentist, chiropractor… on a regular basis. If I stop caring for my body it makes everything else harder so I just make this a priority.
- Schedule time for recreation, such as going out with girl friends, reading a good book, or seeing a movie with my hubby. If it’s on the calendar it gets done.
- Have a healthy rhythm that allows enough time to do what I have to do so that I’m not rushing. This usually means I need to drop some activities from the routine so that I have enough time and spaciousness for the ones that are truly important.
- Observe nature and its changing beauty. Mother earth always reminds me how joyful and peaceful simplicity is.
- Stop and just watch my children now and then. I’ll just sit and watch them as they go about an activity rather than engage with them. It sometimes takes my breath away how beautiful they are and how I miss these breathtaking moments when life is complicated.
- Allow myself time to reflect on what is happening. My journal is my happy place. 😃
- Carefully choose the information I take in by being intentional about the books I read, movies or TV I watch and people I spend time with.
- Listen to my inner dialogue. A friend recently shared this quote with me by William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I feel it also applies to my thoughts. If they aren’t useful or beautiful they don’t belong.
Remember, making mistakes is a natural part of learning and that simplicity is a practice.