The flower of simplicity

We were, the Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, and I in a prestigious university for a cycle of lectures on the different aspects of intelligence, cognitive, emotional, artistic and spiritual. The guest speakers were scientists, professors, psychoanalysts, philosophers and artists. During a break, after the lecture of a famous academic, we went for coffee at a café. The Fall weather was pleasant, and the outside tables were well integrated into the wooded campus. The sun caressed us through the leaves. I said I did not like this last lecture. In fact, I added, I thought his speech unnecessarily overelaborated, pretentious, filled with words that are not ordinarily used and, worse, confusing. The Old Man sipped his coffee and said: “The waters must be murky so that one does not realize they are shallow.” I asked him to better explain what he meant. He was didactic: “He who wants an idea to be understood expresses it in a clear way, unless the fruit is not yet ripe to be picked from the tree. Some people mix complexity with sophistication. True sophistication lies in simplicity; it consists in making simple an elaborate or difficult-to-understand idea. Wisdom is simple; simplicity is a powerful and rare virtue, indispensable to all other virtues.”

I asked the monk if he meant humility when he spoke about simplicity. He shook his head before answering: “No. Humility is another valuable virtue, an inseparable ally of simplicity, but they are not to be confused; on the contrary, one completes the other. For instance, to be proud of one’s humility is nonsensical. Humility is a virtue typical of wise men, those who truly know themselves and know that they are not yet complete. They are natural, simple people who feel devoid of merit or vanity. Or else they would not be able to fill the gaps they still present. Narcissism is the root of the ego and of all shadows that dwell in it. Humility illuminates the former; simplicity dissolves the latter.”

I reasoned that simplicity had to be sincere and honest. The Old Man went further: “In fact, they become integrated. Sincerity and honesty, two other virtues, need to be simple in order to exist; without simplicity they are no longer virtues but sad demonstrations of one’s showing off.”

I rebuked that simplicity did not seem simple to me. The monk laughed heartily and mocked: “For a simple reason.” And explained: “Simplicity is transparency and clarity of being. It is the opposite of deception. The problem is that it is difficult for us to admit our imperfections and internal conflicts, all that can embarrass us. For lack of humility, we create masks deluding ourselves that we will be protected from the others and from ourselves. We end up playing the role of individuals who are “comfortable” with themselves, as we believe it will be easier for us to be accepted and loved, without realizing that this only broadens the wound and increases suffering. When we distance ourselves from our essence, we become apart from the indispensable healing of being. Simplicity is the effective guide that will help us cross the narrow bridge that connects the ego to the soul.”

“Simplicity is the art of being light; the capability of looking at ourselves and presenting ourselves to the world exactly as we are. Flaws and qualities; complications and understanding; mistakes and successes; lies and truths. Yes, we are imperfect. However, we do not have to be complicated. Or to pretend. What matters is to be aware, to look at yourself lovingly, and move on towards completeness. Simplicity is to take off the costume of the ego and leave the soul naked. Only by doing so can we see, understand and improve who we are. This causes enchantment”. He looked at me roguishly and joked: “It is better than ice cream in the heat of summer.”

“Have you realized how simple people are charming?”, he asked. I immediately agreed. The monk explained: “This is because they are open to the beauty of life, they are easy to relate with, they are not ashamed of being what they are; they carry the magic of the walker, of those eager to learn, transform and evolve. Deep down, this is the art that everyone, aware of it or not, wishes in order to lead their lives. Hence the enchantment.” He became silent for a moment, as if looking for the best words, and continued: “Complicated people are boring, for the mere fact that they look at themselves with vanity, instead of love. They give up light to hide in the dark alleys of their own existence. Hence, the core of their existence is lost to an external configuration that adds nothing to evolution. Simple people carry the lightness of those who do not care for the criticism of others. They do not care for image or reputation. This is a problem for those who remain in the shallow part. The simple being moves on protected by the shield of humility. He knows his own imperfections and knows the internal battle he must fight in the search for improvement. His focus is to understand the weight that curves his back and turn it into wings.”

“Only simplicity allows a life without lies, without excesses, without pretentiousness. It is the perception of the force of essence over the fragility of appearance.” I argue that simple people seemed intellectually poor. The monk immediately rebuked: “Simplicity is not simplism. It is the latter that keeps you on the surface of existence by insisting on self-delusion; simplicity, differently from what many believe, is a dive in the depths of the real me, with no distress or fear, in order to know and, subsequently, without haste, illuminate each dark corner of being. The opposite of simplicity is not complexity or sophistication, but obscurity.”

“To be sincere is not to simulate or hide; it is to live without subterfuge, with no hidden agenda. With no lies to others and, particularly, to oneself. To be simple is not to calculate or complicate sincerity. It is letting life flow naturally, with courage, humility, in peace.” He sipped his coffee and asked: “Can you realize it is impossible to experience love in all its breadth without the presence of simplicity? Do you understand that each one of the virtues is an indispensable flower in the garden of plenitude? To be simple is just to be. It is a step to freedom. It is necessary to cross the first portal of the Path.”

We remained silent for a while, so that the new ideas could settle in my mind, until I made a comment about never having imagined the importance and sophistication of being simple. The Old Man arched his lips in a beautiful smile and said: “No one is born simple. Since childhood we are influenced by many social and cultural conditionings that often value the importance of appearance or canned behaviors to achieve the admiration of others. This causes us to lose respect for ourselves, as, little by little, we become detached from our essence, and forget how important it is to shape it. The being is thus embellished on the outside but hollow inside. Everything becomes ephemeral and relationships become frail. Ordinarily, the outcomes of this feeling we stubbornly deny are impatience, aggressiveness, sadness or depression. This may explain the need for so many adornments on the body: maybe they are, in part, to divert attention from the abandonment of the soul. The same goes for a complicated discourse one makes to explain oneself. Without realizing, the lack of simplicity ends up setting a trap whose pray is the person themself.” The monk drank the rest of his coffee and asked the server to refill it. Then he added: “Simplicity is a conscious accomplishment, typical of maturity. As in the children’s tale, each one needs to be sincere and brave to look themselves in the mirror and admit that the nice clothes are but a faint illusion: ‘the king is naked’. It is necessary simplicity to deal with the truth. This is the first step to retrieve the power that dwells within you. The power of the free spirit begins in the simplicity of being.”

 

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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