One of the best ways to determine the positive impact of a philosophy or lifestyle is to take a peek at the lives of those who follow it most closely and examine the result. However, perhaps even more important is the ability for the average person to adopt and maintain the philosophy.
Is a philosophy or a mode of living a good one if, despite the fact that in extreme examples it results in excellence, it is supremely difficult to follow and causes great pain and distress en route? Certainly, only the foolish or the inexperienced believe that significant change is easy. Yet, it seems that some ideas are just so hard to maintain, or have such powerful reactions elsewhere, that no matter how ideal the end goal, the journey is perhaps not worth investing in, despite the light at the end of the tunnel.
Celibacy, for example, has not been without its demons – despite the good intention behind it. Just go ask the Catholic Church.
It is oft believed that it is only by aspiring to the levels of discipline that a few extreme individuals (therefore perhaps extremists?) can achieve, you can truly adopt a way of life. Wouldn’t it be better if philosophies were gentler and understood the limitations of the average person, rather than the extremes? Yet our sporting, academic and professional lives all focus on those at the pinnacle, rather than the achievable.
I remember doing a workshop with the great Robert Holden, a kind friend who has just generously taken some time out to read a proposal for my book (yes, I may be boring you with more Simpletom musings in hard-form). The group were talking about our ambitions and things that we wanted to change about ourselves. When we put our lists together and examined them more closely – many of us discovered that these goals were often unachievable because some of them contradicted one another. You can’t be the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whilst also living simply. It’s just not going to happen. Many of us would never be happy because we were always disappointing ourselves as a result of our contradicting ambitions.
Simplicity should be simple – yet many of those that pursue it turn it into another difficult challenge. As I have said, perhaps too often, we need convenient actions rather than inconvenient truths. By lowering our expectation, as I mentioned in my last post, we can go some way to achieving this.
In addition, a piece of advice I find myself offering and repeating all to often, to others and within is ‘Go easy on yourself’. If we treat ourselves a little more gently, we find that the stresses of life can reduce and that the days become a little more enjoyable. Find contentment in what you’ve managed to achieve, rather than that you haven’t. No matter how hard you work, or how little sleep you get, what you haven’t managed will always be infinitely greater.