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Is it really that simple?

Some years ago, in a class on Shamanism, Angeles Arrien, said, “If the same message shows up three times, pay attention.” I have heeded this advice and it has often proven to be worthwhile. So today, I have spent the day contemplating the triple receipt of the message I have received: “Keep it simple.”

First, after a couple’s workshop I taught last month, a participant told me that the lessons we were teaching seemed basic at the time but proved to be surprisingly powerful when put into action. For example, we teach participants to greet their partner warmly when they come home at the end of the day. Simple enough. This man found that a few weeks of implementing this simple practice he is finding more ease in his marriage and his general mood has become lighter. Could it really be that simple? I think so.

The next time I received a message was a week later. I was assisting in a course called “Body as Living Presence”, taught by Zuza Engler. Repeatedly, she instructed us to place our attention on our breath. Slow inhalation, pause, slow exhalation, pause. Repeat. Why so much attention on breathing? It is not that interesting. My busy mind wants to engage in more stimulating creative thought, to understand complex psychological dynamics, to think of the past or the future… And yet, there is tremendous value in this simple act. It calms the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing anxiety and stress responses in the body. It quiets loud thoughts and makes room for subtlety. It teaches discipline. And recently, the simple act of following my breath opened me to a profound sense of gratitude: I fell into a pool of gratitude for the brilliant wisdom of my physical body. It has been breathing since the day I was born and will continue to do so until the day I die. And I rarely have to think about it. The body’s natural state – breathing, heart beating, digesting, sleeping– is like a gracious host who anticipates my most basic needs and provides them for me. The simple act of paying attention to my breath altered my mood and opened my heart. Not bad.

Yesterday, this message of simplicity showed up yet again. I was listening to a talk by Adyashanti and feelings a little impatient with his simple repetitive comments. “People believe what they think… this causes suffering. They think their thoughts are true and they suffer because of it…” Come on, I thought, give me something new and interesting. Curiously, at that point, he emphasized that all of the important teachings are quite simple, but when the mind gets involved, it wants to make things complicated. It likes to examine these simple truths from multiple angles, creating complexity and looking for subtle distinctions. Precisely what I was wanting (and not getting, and therefore experiencing distress, i.e. suffering!). I turned my ipod off and concluded that the lecture was a waste of money.

But today, while washing dishes, the topic of simplicity came back to mind. I remembered Adyashanti’s voice and thought that he sounded a bit like Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. He sounded like he was talking to children. I felt annoyed. Then I was curious that I was still thinking about the lecture. I realize there is some message for me that I only partially let in. I decide I will listen to the rest of the lecture.

Now, I find myself wanting to come up with some great conclusion or insight about simplicity. But the truth is, I don’t have one. It is that simple!

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