This is a talk I gave at Minneapolis Friends Meeting on November 30, 2014
What should I be doing here?
I suspect most of us ask ourselves this question from time to time. It’s a question I’m confronted with on a very practical level every day, often many times in a day. In my case it’s because I don’t have what most people would recognize as a regular job. Instead, I’m always busy with an ever-changing jumble of consulting work for clients, pro bono work for nonprofits, and my own personal projects. At any given moment there are at least a dozen different things I could usefully devote my attention to.
With so many irons in the fire, managing time and maintaining focus feels complicated and difficult. It doesn’t help that most of my projects involve the internet, which itself is a giant distraction engine. I can easily be pulled off into random meandering if I’m not careful.
Of all the Quaker testimonies, the testimony of simplicity is the one I struggle with the most. In a way, that’s paradoxical. My work involves designing software and websites, and communicating in writing. In those endeavors, simplicity and clarity are virtues. And I’m pretty good at designing and communicating simply and clearly.
So why does living a life of simplicity feel so out of reach?
I’ve heard it said that simplicity is the most complicated of the testimonies. It certainly seems that way to me.
We live in a society that seems ever more complex and that changes at an ever faster pace. We are all bombarded with far more messages and information than we can pay attention to. Most of us here probably have more possessions than we can keep track of. And some of us, myself included, are involved in more projects and activities than we can manage well. Most of us could benefit from more time for quiet reflection.
The German artist Hans Hofmann once said, “To simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.”
Eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.
My house faces the east, and overlooks a large park with a lot of open space. If I wake up early enough, my bedroom window provides a good vantage point to see the sun rise. I love watching the sunrise because when the sun is coming over the horizon I can actually perceive its motion. That sight gives me a visceral awareness that I am HERE, on this particular spot on this particular planet at this particular moment. And the ground beneath my feet is turning at 700 miles per hour toward that immense ball of fire that is our sun, 93 million miles away. No matter how many times I experience this awareness, it is always awe-inspiring.
But that awareness comes down to this: I am here, now. And that is as simple as it gets.