The Art Of Simplicity

“Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”
 John Kabat-Zinn

I was watching the Grammy Awards the other evening and aside from the fact that it seemed to be a requirement that all women wear an outfit that was cut open from neck to naval, the ceremony was pretty much as it has been for many years now; part talent, part extravagance and part freak show.

But what caught my attention the most was how simple it is for real talent to be expressed. If you possess the gift of a pure voice, you can captivate an audience without thirty-two dancers, extravagant costumes, pyrotechnics, gimmicks or relying on the shock factor.

If you can sing, people will stop and pay attention. It’s that simple. Everything else either detracts from the talent or attempts to cover up a lack of talent.

Then I thought about how that same principle applies to our lives. As Confucius once said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

I think age sometimes allows us to understand that concept more clearly. Because at its core,  life really is simple. it’s our individual choices, decisions, influences, words and attitudes that complicate things. We just can’t seem to get out of our own way, even when someone hands us the directions.

We are infatuated with the accumulation of stuff. The brilliant mind of George Carlin did entire routines on this very subject. We laughed because we understood he was talking about us and yet we were incapable of stopping.
We think and over think. We accumulate and store. We find the easiest path and decide there must be a better one. We look out the window and want that color grass. We strive to achieve without considering the cost. We find peace in the simple beauty of a sunset on a quiet beach and decide it would look better if there were thirty-two dancers performing in extravagant costumes on a party boat just off the shore line.

Somewhere, Thoreau is dying a thousand deaths.

The most amazing moments we have all experienced in life; the ones that stay with us forever, are never planned and usually the most simple.

We each have a voice and a song to sing. How we choose to live that song, is entirely up to us.

71 thoughts on “The Art Of Simplicity

  1. Edmark M. Law

    When I was still in magic, I had seen magicians buying so many magic props nonstop because of a naive belief that if they have the latest stuff, they will be the best best magicians in town. Of course, marketers capitalized it. They would sell products that are “better” than the ones in the market, then the magicians buy them, and the cycle continues.

    It’s both amusing and sad that the deceivers are constantly being deceived.

    This all comes down to the fact that they don’t feel content of what they already have. In search for the “holy grail”, they acquire and acquire continuously without realizing that they may already have what they are looking for just gathering dust in their drawers.

    When I was performing, I only used things that can be easily found like playing cards, coins, and other everyday objects. Admittedly, when I first started doing magic, I also bought a lot of stuff from magic shops but after awhile, I rarely buy stuff in magic shops anymore because since the more I perform, the more I realize that the simpler things are actually better in the real world. People don’t care about your props. The most important thing is to know how to entertain them (that’s why some very talented sleight of hand artists failed since they don’t know how to entertain).

    I’m glad that I have learned this lesson just a few months after I started learning magic. Magic should be simple, if not, then it’s just a contrivance.

    This also applies to math as well. Giving complex proofs and explanations just for the sake of looking clever and “aethetics” doesn’t prove anything. People with some good understanding of higher mathematics will be impressed but it won’t fly by to those who really understand math. Every time I see this, my only remark is “Simplify, simplity!”

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    1. George Post author

      So interesting to hear this from your perspectives on math and magic. It really does apply to all aspects of life.
      I forgot you were/ are involved with magic. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I never wanted to know how a trick was done, it would have taken away the entertainment pleasure for me.
      I’ve often thought about learning a few tricks to impress my grandchildren and realize it takes lots of practice, but don’t know where to start. Any suggestions?..:)

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      1. Edmark M. Law

        Yeah, there are some tricks that are so beautiful that I don’t want to know how it works. Sadly, the “magician” in me would eventually figure them out or at least have an idea on how it’s done. Perhaps, this is how film editors feel when they watch movies with lots of special effects.

        An old magician told me to just suspend my disbelief when I watch a magic show and think of the feeling I had when I first saw a magic trick. It’s the feeling of wonder… That night, as if by fate, I read an Interview of Doug Henning in Magic Magazine that goes:

        In 1971 Doug received an invitation from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to perform Christmas shows for troops stationed “400 miles from the North Pole.”

        “At one point on the tour, they asked if I would like to do a show for a group of Inuit’s [Eskimos]. … I set up me show in a little building, and the Inuit’s came in to watch. They sat on the floor in their parkas, and I did what I thought was some pretty good stuff. They just sat there, didn’t smile, didn’t say a word and, at the end, nobody applauded. But they were completely focused on me, like I was some sort of phenomenon. Only one of them spoke English, so I asked him, “Did you like the show?”

        “Yes, we like the show,” He said.

        Then I asked, “Did everyone like the magic?”

        He said, “The magic?”

        I explained that I was trying to entertain people.

        He said, “Entertainment is good, but why are you doing magic? The whole world is magical…” We sat down on the floor and he told me “It’s magic that the snow falls, all those little crystals are completely different… that’s magic.”

        Now I was gasping, trying to explain magic to him. I thought of my “Zombie,” which I thought was my best thing. I said, “I made that beautiful silver ball float in the air… That’s magic.”

        “Then the Inuit’s started talking among themselves. The man came to me with a big smile on his face, and said, “Now, we know why you’re doing that. It’s because your people have forgotten the magic. You’re doing it to remind them of magic. Well done!””

        “I cried right then… I said, “Thank you for teaching me about the magic. I didn’t know.” That was really the first time I knew what wonder was. It was the most memorable thing that has ever happened to me. I never forgot that, inside. That’s why I became a magician.””

        That night, I learned one of the biggest lesson of magic and in life as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Edmark M. Law

        I would have recommended books but most magic books marketed to the general public are bad. You have to do a lot of digging just to find some good ones.

        For now try this vid

        Trust me, those who don’t know the secret won’t be able to figure this out.

        If you can’t do it, just put your middle finger at the bottom of the ring in a relaxed fashion. When you let go of the ring, you can feel to ring do a half flip since the middle finger would cause it to pivot.

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  2. Osyth

    George your simple message is the most important message of all …. we have somehow made ourselves a restless, dissatisfied people who confuse need with want all the time. I need little …. enough nourishing food to fill my belly and no more, and shelter. Mostly I need to love and be loved. I have the capability, and used it, to bear children and nurture them. I’m not perfect but I have four adult humans that I am proud of. But the countless number of times they said ‘mummy I need ….’ echoes probably precisely the number of times we all say ‘I need’ but in fact we don’t. If we simplify our lives, if we strip all the frippery and needless things out then we have an uncluttered, uninhibited view of this extraordinary place we have the fortune to be living on. This planet earth in its solar system that gives us sunrise, sunset, moonshine, moon shadow and the feel of grass under our feet – wet green grass, dry parched grass … no need for it to be greener for ones toes are divinely tickled whatever it’s hue! As ever I loved this piece. I delight that I came across your blog and I look forward to much more of you simple wisdom. All hail George!

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Osyth. That’s very kind of you to say and very well said. I loved the word “frippery.” I’ll have to learn to incorporate that into my daily language. That should be fun..:)

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  3. Ann Coleman

    I loved the last line, George. “We each have a voice and a song to sing.” I’ve been thinking along these same lines lately (Great minds think alike, and apparently, so do ours), realizing how much time and energy I waste trying to sing someone else’s song, and/or making sure others approve of my song. What is it about humans that we have such a need to make simple things complicated and hard? Great post, thanks for this….

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    1. George Post author

      I don’t know, Ann but you’re right, we do waste so much of our energy on things that really don’t make our lives better. We know it but it’s like we get caught in quicksand and can’t escape the trap. I think age balances that out a little but not nearly enough to significantly alter our actions. It seems we run out if time before we run out of ways to make it right..:)
      And you’re right…gmta…:)

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  4. Kim Gorman

    Contemplation seems to be in the air this week. Love this, George. Everything you say here is completely true in my opinion – including how we keep messing up a simple, peaceful life. Guilty as charged! Maybe everything going on in our country right now is a wake up call for us to shed all of the extraneous crap and remember what matters – things like love, family, health, peace. Tonight my husband was playing The Beatles on the computer and I was, as usual, busy with other things. Then I stopped and realized this was one of those moments. I stopped what I was doing and went into the family room and danced, and then my nine year old danced with me. This, I think, is what you mean by the simple things are the best things. Thanks, George, for the reminder!

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  5. Lekha murali

    Finally, Thanks for saying this about the present day singing talent. Would you please, extend the same courtesy to the movies during Oscar? I’d be really happy if you said the same about their gimmickry.

    But, also thanks for extending that idea of simplicity into everyday life. There is such pleasure about the small happiness, that fills our lives.

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  6. In My Cluttered Attic

    George, this is precisely why I gave up singing in the shower. At first, when my wife asked me to stop warbling in the shower, I thought she meant I would sound better with a compliment of thirty-two dancers. But then they wanted to wear their extravagant costumes while with me in the shower! Naturally, the costumes got in the way and even made it more crowded, and it didn’t seem to help my singing voice much either—say nothing of my wife and her attitude about backup dancers in the shower. I’ve since stopped overthinking my vocal talents and sent the Rockettes packing for Radio City Music Hall and have now taken up humming to tunes in the shower, instead. My humming hasn’t improved, but the damage to the shower floor from the tap shoes is a lot better. 😀

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    1. George Post author

      Lol…you have beautifully distorted mind. And it’s very much appreciated over here.
      So are you saying if it weren’t for the costumes your wife would have been okay with your shower singing friends?

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      1. In My Cluttered Attic

        Nah she was having trouble with all the dancing shoes tapping in our shower. I was the one having all the trouble with the costumes. It got a little crowded in there and I think it affected my singing from my diaphragm—’cause as you know George, they say you’re supposed to sing from your diaphragm—and my wife said I sounded simply awful. 😀

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  7. sportsattitudes

    I’ve “shot myself in the foot” more times than I can count. The “best” part is repeating mistakes from before. It’s one thing to run off the rails going around a bend…it’s quite another to do it a second and third time. Maybe it’s part of our DNA to keep stirring the pot even when the contents are spilling out?

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  8. thechickengrandma

    Love this post George! Laughed like crazy with your first paragraph…..I also watched the Grammy’s and I think you hit it right on the head with that one. I agreed with every part of this post. I think Adele is brilliant and if you really have talent like she does that is all you need.
    Thank you for the reminder that life doesn’t need a lot of “stuff” to make it better.

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  9. Ally Bean

    Love this post. You’ve summed up what I’ve been trying to work out in my mind all month! If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a gazillion times: keep it simple. While my words have fallen on deaf ears for the most part, at least now I can console myself by remembering that I’m part of a voluntary simplicity movement. Yeah me! Thanks for this insight.

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  10. candidkay

    Oh, you hit a homerun with this one. As I continue to try to simplify my life–clear stuff, physical or otherwise–and realize the freedom of simplicity, your words strike a chord with me. I remember a mother recounting the death of her son. His last words, as he crossed over, were: “It’s so simple.” I like to think he wasn’t just talking about dying . . .

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    1. George Post author

      Your story of a son’s final words made my day. I don’t think either one of us believe he was speaking of dying. A true lesson in death for life.

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  11. aFrankAngle

    Oh yes … Carlin was so brilliant. … scary brilliant. I was lucky to see him relatively early in his career … the early 70s … and from the front row!

    Your post made me think about comedians and how they do their show without glitz … just verbal brilliance. I also thought about Dancing with the Stars because they go for the glitz to accompany the dance. Sometimes too much so in my opinion.

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    1. George Post author

      You’re right, Frank. He was scary brilliant and could take the basic human elements and make us laugh at ourselves. There are very few comedians these days who can do standup well m in its most basic form. It’s become a lost art, especially as it relates to storytelling.
      You’re also right about Dancing. At times it’s over the top.

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  12. Circle of Daydreams

    My ‘word’ for this year is ‘simplicity’. I’m a great de-clutterer (sometimes too ruthless – haha), but I find myself yearning for even less over time – almost getting to the minimalist stage (although I love my books too much to be a true minimalist). Less stuff means less to clean and look after, and more space and time to fill with experiences and meaningful activities. Time is something I can never get back… and using it wisely is an ongoing challenge.

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  13. reocochran

    George, you have me thinking. Simple things are the best!
    I play verbal games in the car and forbid video games since it is much more fun on a road trip to interact. Keeps Nana awake!
    My grandkids like dominoes, puzzles and books. Simplicity to me is going to the library, getting, reading and then returning a book.
    It is fun to go on picnics. Watching stars and lying on a blanket watching a really fascinating night sky. Breathing in and out, seeing fireflies flit across your face. 🙂

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