“Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that’s a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity is somehow essentially describing the purpose and place of an object & product. The absence of clutter is just a clutter-free product. That’s not simple.” -Jonathan Ive
It’s finally happened – the days are getting longer and the frost has thawed. So it can only mean one thing: the big spring clean, clearing away the leftovers of an old year and making space for the new (you can see how we got on in our video here).
As a response to the unprecedented levels of consumption which characterises modern times, there’s a big trend of people taking to minimalism recently: a noble endeavour in a world where our collective and individual efforts seem to be focused on squeezing morsels of pleasure out of an ever-increasing parade of material possessions.
There are plenty of good precedents to follow, too: every spiritual culture has its traditions of saints, sages and self-realised souls who lived a mendicant lifestyle with only a water pot and a begging bowl to keep them company. But what about the rest of the population? Did everybody on the planet wear loin cloths and meditate in the woods or a Himalayan cave back in the days before rampant consumerism?
Actually, no. Historical epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana tell us stories of real life kings who ruled vast and unimaginably wealthy empires which spanned the globe. The fact that they ruled over a peaceful, prosperous and content population is an indication of the deep humility and cultured spirituality of the leaders of ancient society.
Practicing a very advanced form of renunciation and taking guidance from those sages whose lives were spent in service, contemplation and deep meditation, these kings were able to properly lead their charges in the ways of righteousness and so war, famine and illness were unheard of: their piety was part of the natural order of things and created a harmonious atmosphere in which every aspect and inhabitant of the creation was able to flourish.
What is this renunciation and how can we apply it to modern living?
It’s simple: craving and rejecting are simply two sides of the same coin. We didn’t create any of these things, and we we don’t really own any of them. They belong to somebody else, and when we selfishly desire to exploit an object for our own happiness we instantly limit the amount of pleasure we can derive from it: according to the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, this is what is meant by a material possession, and it’s only a matter of time before we cast it aside, proclaiming it useless when it no longer satisfies our fickle senses.
However, when we neither crave nor reject something and merely accept things according to their capacity to aid us in serving a divine purpose, we go beyond the alternating happiness and distress of the fallacy of material possession and we enter into a transcendent joy where everything we come into contact with – including ourselves – regains it’s original spiritual nature by being dovetailed with the process of self realisation.
It sounds great, and it is: by comparison, extreme minimalism and greedy maximalism now appear like the brutish older cousins of real renunciation. This year’s spring clean will require skill and humility, and the chances are you’ll have to gently break a few attachments which just aren’t serving your higher purpose any longer. But it’ll pay dividends: after all, what better possession could you have than your own happiness?