This is the 1st in a series on the 7 disciplines of Inner Excellence.
(We just finished the skills).
- We live in a culture that molds us into a robotic numbness, adopting a lifestyle of constant accumulation in pursuit of acceptance, slowly inching towards emptiness.
- The best possible life is only possible through elimination (of what’s not you) and prioritization (of what is).
- The best possible life is not possible until you give up everything you have–sacrifice all–so you can fully live.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience
IX discipline #1: Simplicity
On December 31, 2004 I heard a noise outside and went to take a look. I was sitting alone in my unfurnished house just outside Tucson, AZ, writing in my journal. I saw fireworks and thought, “Wow, it’s New Year’s Eve.” I had no idea.
I left for the desert one year previous because I was restless. I knew something needed to change. I wanted to find something I could devote my life to, something I was willing to live and die for. So I got rid of my TV and over half my possessions, broke up with my girlfriend, and started my quest with one simple goal: simplify my life.
I went, as Thoreau did, to live deliberately—and deep—to suck the marrow out of life, so that when it came time for me to die, to not discover that I had not lived.
Until that point, my life had been the endless pursuit of better: better performance, better things, and better achievements, in order to get a better life. My pursuits, however, brought anxiety and multiple concerns (which is the essence of anxiety). I was running on a treadmill and getting nowhere.
I was caught up in a life I didn’t mean to sign up for. Trappist Monk Thomas Merton observed society in the 1960s, long before selfie-centered tweets, pics and posts. He said to succumb to modern life–and its multitude of concerns–is to succumb to violence (see full quote below).
Freedom is gained through elimination not accumulation. The more we get caught up in western culture, the more we do, the more distracted we become and more concerns we have. Most of us have too many things on our minds to hear the deepest longing of our hearts. We pursue success over wisdom, gaining over giving, comparing over compassion.
The essential gets lost.
To live an extraordinary life, we must have strict boundaries around what we think about, listen to, read and watch. We must let go of all our attachments, concerns and desires, and sacrifice all in order to simplify life down, all the way down, to one thing. As Kierkegaard, said, purity of heart is to will one thing.
In the final analysis, life is a series of moments where we’re asked two simple questions: who are we and what matters most?
Every day is a constant battle between my heart and mind. My heart wants to will one thing (my life purpose), and my mind wants to compare with others, have more, and be more, so I can compare well. Thus I must daily, hourly refocus on who I am and what matters most so I can get out of the trap.
So, have you gotten caught in the trap? What is essential? Is it time for you to simplify your life?
I spent last weekend in Stone Mountain, Ga leading an Inner Excellence retreat for an amazing family that’s going to do great things. It’s always an extraordinary experience to clarify who you are, how you’re meant to live, and then dive into that life. I start another retreat this afternoon with another family about to launch into a life of Inner Excellence.
Thank you to Dr. Gaston Cordova in Chicago who recognized families in need of excellence and a retreat that can change their lives.
Quotes and Resources
“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Merton, Thomas.
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. . . . As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” . . . My dark side says, “I am no good. . . . I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.”
Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved. Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Life of the Beloved. Nouwen, Henri. (You can also find this quote in the book I’ve gifted more than any other)
Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Kierkegaard, Soren.
Walden and Civil Disobedience. Thoreau, Henry David.
Essentialism. McKeown, Greg. (Note: I was walking around in Rome with this book in my backpack when I got a text from a friend recommending a book “he really thought I’d like.” 🙂