Take It Easy ~ Zen and the Art of Simplicity

I like to make things complex. Do you? I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I see so much complexity.

Look at this blog, for example. There are six ways to Sunday to identify a single article. This post will appear in the Music, Pop and Rock categories. There’s a country music inflection to “Take it Easy” so I’m tempted to put it there as well. What I’m writing here is a commentary, and it’s kinda oriented to the spiritual. The way things are going right now, this may turn into a life story.

Don’t get me started on the tags. I just erased two detailed paragraphs on the burgeoning tag storm. This will be the 101st post to the blog; there are nearly 700 tags. A bit crazy, don’t you think?

Details, man. Details. I love them. But where do they get me? Do you ever feel like you’ve been flooded with details? Like while reading this post? <grin>

Details and noise. I’d built up so much detail, it became necessary (or so I thought) to create a complex website to help people navigate through it, adding features to grab people’s attention to the important stuff. So there are little thumbnails associated with every post, and a plethora of links — links from here to Timbuktu, if you really wanted to get there.

It’s all driven by the need to get it all “right” because it’s all so “important”. Too much detail, and too much noise. I look at the site and it’s overwhelming.

Life’s like that. Overly complex. Overflowing with details. Busy, busy, busy.

Or is it? Does it have to be? Is a 700 tag storm really necessary to navigate a website?

Breathe, Patrick…. Just breathe. “Lighten up while you still can…”

I’m sure you’ve realised by now that this really isn’t a post about weblogging. Those are the details, but not its meaning, or purpose.

I didn’t really know what to write today, just that something needed to be written. While making my rounds of the literary blogs this morning, I came across one I hadn’t seen before, Zen Habits ~ Simple Productivity. Ooohhh. Pretty! While I browsed it, Take it Easy flowed back into my mind. It had played in the car a couple times in the last couple days., and was still there. Something about that synthesised and a post topic was born.

I’ve known for a while the wisdom in reducing the complexity, the noise. Learn to concentrate not on the details but the purpose. But details draw me in. My favourite: the stats for site visits — which pages, referred from where, to where, how often — endlessly fascinating. How do I reach all these people? Keep them here? Get them to participate in a monetization scheme? What if someone just wants to know what we’ve posted on a particular band, or book, or film? What if people like our reviews, but not our stories? How? What? Where? All these details and queries.

Stop. See how easily I get started?

What’s this blog really all about? My Muse is a literary blog about the way films, songs and words fill our lives, influence it, offer guidance, wit and wonder. My Muse is not about thumbnails, and links, or featured stories.

Hmmmm……

Or I should say, Ommmmmm….

The simplicity of that Zen Habits, how I envy it. Why can’t my blog be so simple, so peaceful, so easy on the eyes? What’s the trick to the simplicity? Browsing the site I began to realise, there’s a lot of complexity there, a vast array of detail. It’s the presentation that’s elegantly simple, and easily accessible with just a click or two. Rather than a storm cloud of detail, there’s an inviting home, with an open door. Inside the open door is a tidy hallway, with clearly marked doors. Inside these doors are rooms with pretty things, organised on shelves, with a single descriptive label for each.

At the My Muse house, there’s a yard sale out front, all the way to the curb. A jumble of things scattered around and heaped on tables, blankets and shelves, most duplicated on two or more tables, with multiple labels.

De-cluttering: the catch-phrase of the moment. Simplicity and elegance: wisdom of the ancients.

Don’t you find it easier to breathe when visiting the crisp white home with the Zen garden?

I want to make things simple. Don’t you? You can, you know. I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the “full bucket” story. A guy leading a life management seminar or some university course fills a bucket with some big rocks and asks the class, “is this bucket full?”. Of course, it isn’t. He adds in succession pebbles then sand, asking each time. “Is the bucket full?” No. That’s right, and he adds water to demonstrate. “What’s the lesson?” There’s always room to squeeze more in. “No.” No? “The lesson is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in.”

Clever lesson.

This morning, while listening to Take it Easy and browsing through a simply elegant blog, I realised something even more useful. If you put everything in one bucket, you can’t see the big rocks. It’s not enough to put them in first, you’ve got to keep them separate, or they get buried under the pebbles and sand, buried under the details.

Where web design is concerned, Zen Habits puts the big rocks in one bucket, on the front of the page. Every page contains either a blog post (a big rock) or navigation links (pebbles). The sidebar on every page contains just a few links leading to navigation or general info. The affect is that the site distributes navigational tools, the pebbles, sand and water neatly and orderly in a bunch of smaller buckets, all easily accessible from any page, and all leading back to more big rocks.

OK, so  how do you do that with your day-to-day life? It’s not easy. It takes some commitment.  An example…

If what you really want to do is write, Patrick. Set aside a block of time everyday to write. Do nothing else with that time. Don’t allow the storm of details to intrude. Step away from the statistics, man! Don’t knuckle under to that obsession with Facebook. But if I add a couple songs to the My Muse FB Page, isn’t that still working on the blog? Yes, it is, but the big rock is writing, not blogging.

As I write that, I recognise the linkage between this thought and my earlier post Notes on observing the sacraments of a sacred life, particularly regarding Gary’s comment about there not being enough time to observe the things that bring wonder, joy and bliss into our lives. If you can’t keep one bucket devoted to the biggest rocks in your life, can’t keep the sand and pebbles from obscuring what’s really important, you risk losing sight of it entirely, living under a burgeoning cloud of comlexity and never-ending details, living your life with the barest minimum of wonder.

One Response to “Take It Easy ~ Zen and the Art of Simplicity”

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  1. karen says:

    Hmm, good article Patrick and a good lesson for all of us about simplifying our busy lives.

    The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak…

    I’m trying to live by that. My life could be much busier but I keep reminding myself that nothing in the affairs of mankind is worthy of great anxiety (well, almost ) and I try to meditate each day at some point to clear the spiritual clutter and weed out the things that aren’t so important – they get dumped into the “too hard basket” and I ask myself “Where do you want to go today and whether that’s physical or spiritual, I try to simply decide, Ok, let’s do that – this life is yours – empower yourself to choose what you want to do

    I categorise my week into levels of stress and importance. The things that will cause me any kind of stress, get put at No. 10 or at least on the bottom of the list and I deal with them if and when I get the time. Everything happens and everything gets done, but in my time, not when I feel pressured or rushed. Life is only complex when we allow it to intrude that way. We have to play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.

    Self centred you may wonder? Maybe….but yes, life is like that, overly complex, overflowing with details and is busy, busy and I would find myself ‘trying’ to look like my schedule was full even when it wasn’t – why? who’s expectation and approval was I seeking?

    Garys comment about there not being enough time to observe the things that bring wonder, joy and bliss into our lives is oh so true. When did we lose sight of that? When did we stop smelling the roses? When did we stop appreciating the little things?

    I think for me personally, I decided to “simplify” my life around the time my father passed away. His existance had been one of stress and detail (self imposed) and he had just decided to relax, enjoy life, “take it easy” when it was taken from him suddenly and he never got that chance.

    I hope I do

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