Cultivating Virtues to Heal a Fractured Nation - Part 3
by Julie Barlow
The final two virtues in this three-part series that I focus on herein and plan to cultivate in my life are simplicity and generosity. I can’t help but wonder if some of the issues we have been noticing in the political landscape weren’t in some way motivated by greed and power. As I contemplate these potential flaws in others, I am challenging myself to increase my own intentions in the opposite direction; by choosing to increase the simplicity and generosity in my own life. This post offers thoughts on how to simplify without getting rid of everything as well as how generosity can take multiple forms.
In the modern era we live in, valuing simplicity is almost difficult to do when so many aspects of our lives exclusively offer the opposite. Our technology, careers, businesses, and social activities thrive on complexity and strive to evolve in such a competitive marketplace of ideas. Working towards technological and societal advancement is ingrained in human nature, so mindfulness can help balance these lifestyle additions with intentional living and emotional humanity. We are living in an unprecedented age of information where news, entertainment, and technology are rapidly increasing and converging. It can be very easy to get swept up in a storm of external stimuli that distracts from your internal values and overpowers the gentle call from the inside that says, “let’s slow down” or “this is too much.”
Simplicity does not have to be a minimalist lifestyle where you abandon many of your belongings and extraneous practices if you do not desire to do so. I am trying to continually simplify in a multitude of ways and remind myself that this is a journey. With the intention to cultivate simplicity as one of my chosen virtues, I plan to give this even greater attention in several areas. Here are some thoughts on how to achieve more simplicity in a few areas of life.
Simplicity of the Mind - Prevent your mind from becoming overwhelmed with the flurry of thoughts that everyday life in modern America imposes. If you often listen to and watch media and entertainment, work to limit your engagement with such content to one at a time. Take time to focus on the information you have come across, source by source, so that you can evaluate it, considering whether it is valid or useful to you. Where is the information coming from? How it is framed? What purpose can it serve in your mindset and life? How does it make you feel by watching or listening to it?
If it is unfounded or irrelevant to you, discard it and don’t give it any more space in your mind. If it makes you feel empowered, fantastic! Yet if it makes you feel anxious or upset, consider if this source of information or entertainment is useful in your life and whether you may want to limit it or discontinue it completely.
This is a slight yet practical implementation of slower living that allows you to maintain your lifestyle, but in a healthier, more productive way. If you practice this on a regular basis, you may begin to recognize patterns about which sources of media and information are most fulfilling, rewarding, or educational for you (but be wary of echo chambers). This might allow you to further decrease time you spend sifting through potentially harmful media; time that can be reallocated to kindness or active connection with others.
Simplicity of Habits- How many habits do you have that do not fulfill you and are not obligations? Conversely, how many obligations do you have that are unnecessary or extraordinarily burdensome? Take a little time to reflect on your regularly occurring activities. Which serve you the most and which the least? Do they all benefit you exclusively, or are any of them for other people? If you apply the concept of simplicity to your actions in a sense of minimizing things that do not fulfill you or positively serve others, you may free up time and alleviate some stress in the process. It is important when reflecting on this not to let yourself become overwhelmed by what you feel like you should be doing. 2020 created some potentially harmful, unrealistic expectations for what we can do in our free time via social media, but sometimes it is okay to simply enjoy just that: free time.
Simplicity in Joyfulness- Do not over-complicate how to feel happiness. Only you can define what makes you happy, so don’t overexert yourself by doing something that you think is supposed to make you happy. And extinguish the idea of “guilty pleasures”; if you enjoy something that is not particularly healthy or good for you, when you do decide to partake in it, allow yourself to fully enjoy it. There should be no judgment on ourselves or others for what we find joy in doing and consuming.
Sometimes our lives become so busy with work and families that we forget the things that have made us happy in the past. If this resonates with you, how can you carve out small moments of time for yourself? If you take this time for yourself consistently, you will begin to remember or newly discover what brings you joy. Look for ways to get outside and for ways to add what you find beautiful into your world.
When you recognize you are feeling happy, take notice of this. Try to encourage your sense of childlike wonder, to better understand what sparks positive emotions for you.
Simplicity and Lifestyle- I often find myself struggling with being overwhelmed by all of the types of technology at our fingertips and their capabilities. I sometimes even feel guilty if I haven’t checked my email, or refreshed Facebook or Instagram for the JMB Living accounts often enough. So I continue to work hard to establish a stronger balance and personal boundary between my time dedicated to work and personal time. This has become even more critical in the last year and I am even more aware of the need to adhere to the boundaries I’ve set for myself.
I’m finding that applying the concept of simplicity to my interactions and attachment to social platforms has helped. I love to stay in touch and talk to everyone that engages with JMB Living in any way, because it is now my livelihood and my passion and I’m meeting so many wonderful new friends this way; but in order to stay passionate and continue to grow, I know I need to make sure to take time to restore my inner well of energy. If I let my desire to quickly connect with everyone overwhelm my personal needs and other needs of the business by being “on” 24x7, it would not be sustainable and I would burn myself out.
Simplicity also comes into play by striving to stay focused on the activities I am currently working on, rather than jumping from thing to thing and to catching back up on those emails and social platforms. Staying focused allows me to have more meaningful conversations and more enjoyment in the new relationships I continue to develop.
Consider aspects of your lifestyle that feel overbearing or overstimulating—is it feeling too attached to your cell phone? Are you constantly focused on work with no time for yourself? Are you aware of a hyper-fixation on social media or a certain entertainment source? You do not have to remove this from your life altogether, but consider how you can simplify its presence in your life and thought processes—perhaps limit your time, establish a certain of period of time to engage with it, or create realistic boundaries that simplify your relationship with whatever is cutting into your “me-time” and opportunities to be mindful and reflect.