The first page in a wonderful little book called Steal Like an Artist, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon, includes the disclaimer, “All Advice is Autobiographical”. It’s one of his theories that when people give advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.

This post is dedicated to my 20-year old self. If I could give myself some advice about the simple life, these are the secrets I’d share.

1) Living simply isn’t simple. It’s one of the most complicated processes ever. You have to make a point of it. You have to work hard. It has a thousand faces. It’s personal. And, like most true and good lifestyles, it’s filled with a lot of fakes. It is a spiritual activity first and a physical manifestation second. Don’t jump ahead. Wait for the vision to be birthed and grow. It’s a philosophy by which we live, not a system which we follow.

2) It takes more courage than you think you have. Seeking simplicity confronts your pride, your desire for approval, your desire to please, your secret ambitions, and your hidden reasons for why you do what you do and why you don’t do what you don’t do. You do have the courage to face all these things. Dig deep. Retreat and form a new battle line. Think of an offense. Seize and capture instead of pulling up the drawbridge. Meet the enemy mounted and at a full run. He’s not used to resistance. So many others just give up.

3) You’ll be misunderstood. Some people will call you lazy, misguided, unwise,  and boring. That’s okay. Don’t get rattled by those things. And don’t join in on the name calling. Listen. When you hear something, don’t question it when it gets dark.

4) Food matters, deeply: what you eat, how you shop, where you eat, the atmosphere around the table, the conversation or lack of it, the people with whom you eat. It is the foundation of relationships. It seems unimportant, but it isn’t. It is a litmus test for the priorities in your life. It reveals who you really are. If you’re fussy, greedy, controlling, careless, too busy, snobby, superior, demanding, addictive, or angry about food … you’re those things. Simplicity is preparing food with love, thanking God for it, and sharing it. It is spiritual, a sacred ritual that bonds. Make it count. Oh…and invite people into your home. Even when it’s messy. Don’t be too formal. Invite people from all walks of life. When the laundry is piled high. When the television needs dusting. When the garage needs organized. Don’t wait. Bread breaking is too precious to be put off.

5) Be a child. Know who loves you and get what you need from them. Avoid those who don’t love you. Play at work. Work at play. Be selfish, not self-absorbed. Don’t come to the table until called. Work with what’s at hand — paper and pen, tape and scissors, hammer and nail, the petals of flowers, the rocks and leaves. Avoid direct questions. Evade personal examinations. Only allow information in when you’re ready for it.

6) Don’t fight yourself. Well-meaning people will advise you to work on your weaknesses which too often means ignoring your strengths. I’ve learned it’s better the other way around. Your weaknesses only gain power with focus. Your are who you are. Run with it! To hell with being “well-rounded”. To hell with balance and self-improvement. Don’t think on yourself at all. Instead, think on what to share, how to help, and where you can pitch in.

7) Talk to God. All the time. When you’re scared, happy, loved, scorned, ashamed, sad, abused, successful, discouraged, and disgusted. Just be honest. Ignore the scoffers. Laugh in the faces of those who smirk. Mock the devils. And claim your heritage as a son or daughter. Don’t confuse service with closeness. Doing good things doesn’t mean you know him. A lot of times it doesn’t. And quit praying like he’s someone weird, using strange phrases like … “we just ask for guidance …” and “we just ask for clarity…” Do children say such nonsense? Is he real or is he not? Beg with expectation. Say, “I want to see,” or “I want to walk.” Know your need. Then, pound on the door. Shout and cry out. Remember, it is your need that turns his head; it is your faith that makes you well.

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