Just went shopping for a 2012 calendar for my office. I thumbed through a stack of them in a bin at my local bookstore, searching for a size that would fit in a small space of wall over my desk and with images that would soothe or inspire me. About midway in the pile, I found “Simplicity—Inspirations for a Simpler Life.” This is the one, I thought as I looked at Deborah DeWit’s color photograph of a vacant floating dock mirrored in a placid lake in foggy morning light. Inside, more images of simple scenes mark each month—a wire basket filled with golden apples; weathered cedar chairs overlooking a bay; a faded red wooden door slightly ajar.
It’s not as though I need the photographs in this calendar to recognize the beauty of simplicity. Reminders are all around me if I only pause to take them in—the sunrise pinking the sky and the bay that reflects it; a dew-glittered spider’s web spun on the garden fence; an eagle crouched at the edge of a wetland; the curl of peeled bark on a bent elbow of a Madrona trunk.
But it’s the calendar’s empty squares for the days of the coming year that speak to me of simplicity. Flipping through the pages, I wonder if the juxtaposition of these tranquil scenes with the sharply defined boxes of the days will help me preserve the expansiveness that the beginning of a new year offers. How can I hold the conflicting states of being and doing?
This is not a new dilemma for me, nor is it uniquely mine alone. My Quaker faith lists simplicity among the values to be upheld along with peace, equality, and integrity. The first generation of Friends in the late 1600s stripped away anything that seemed to get in the way of living life from a holy center. In daily life, they detached from superfluities of dress, speech, and possessions that got in the way of loving and serving God. In worship, they did away with priests, believing that no intermediary is necessary to encounter the Divine.
Henry David Thoreau urged from Walden Pond in 1854, “…let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…simplify, simplify, simplify.” And in the 21st Century, essayist Scott Russell Sanders yearns, “to pare my life down to essentials. I vow to live more simply…by refusing all chores that do not arise from my central concerns.”
There’s always more paring down I could do—my bookshelves sag, I have enough earrings that I could wear a different set every day for two months, colorful scarves and shawls crowd a dresser drawer, and the closet doors bulge with the press of boxes of no longer used items. As a new year approaches, though, where I need pruning most is on activities not focused on my own central concerns—family, community, peace, writing.
There, I’ve distilled what calls to me down to four words.
My daily challenge is to not fill each inch of the calendar blocks with tasks, for even just those four concerns can place demands on every minute. They offer ample opportunities for me to feel inadequate, to judge whether I’m doing enough, and to conclude that I’m not. Living a simple life is less about time management and more about listening and responding daily to the promptings of the Spirit rather than ego’s siren call to achieve.
This is my spiritual task in the coming year: to preserve more of the white space on my calendar. How nice to discover that 2012 gives me an extra day to practice this discipline—my new calendar shows 29 days in February.