Minimalism and Mindfulness
Original Date: Dec 21, 2016
Minimalism and Mindfulness.
I might be tempted to call myself a minimalist. Yet, I still want things. I still crave and feel discontent. My home has many belonging and I haven’t emptied out all my closets. I hope to be satisfied with what is, yet find myself curious about what might be better. I find myself in shops and stores, making purchases when I already have similar items at home. I try to make certain that I remove from the home the same number of items I bring in, a sort of net zero shopping experience, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, that tiny space of continued longing remains. Perhaps it is my own personal struggle, those more successful or better stationed might not find these moments in their lives. But I suspect that there are far more people who strive for minimalism and find they struggle (however they might define the words “minimalism” and “struggle”) than there are people who feel success at minimalism, have mastered discontent, and no longer want for anything.
How do we navigate this seemingly human need to seek, improve, create, and accumulate? It can be all too easy to feel like we are swimming in the outcome and effects of our wants (the clutter and more stuff) but also the wants themselves (never being happy, always seeking the next moment, the next thrill). Where is the midpoint? Minimalism is not about emptiness. It isn’t about negating the natural urges, it doesn’t have to be about stifling needs and getting rid of things you enjoy. Instead I would say there is a mindful “less-ness” to minimalism. A slow sloughing off, a carving away of what is unnecessary. When practiced regularly, minimalism engages our awareness and practice of mindfulness in a way that extends beyond a 10 minute meditation. It takes the practice of mindfulness into our daily living and asks us to think about our actions and choices.
How to be mindful
A few years ago, I noticed a post on social media where someone asked: “What the hell is mindfulness suppose to be? I think it’s a complete waste.” I was immediately drawn to attention. It feels like my duty to explain to others what mindfulness is and to convince others of its importance. As I recall, I didn’t do a very good job at explaining or convincing. I don’t think the person wanted an explanation. But the question remained in my mind. What is mindfulness suppose to be? To be mindful is simply to be aware of our thoughts and actions, and to take steps to build and spread that awareness. This is a process that grows over time, and like any skill, one that requires practice and patience.
We might begin to practice mindfulness by simply noticing a habit. I think most of us are aware of habits that do not serve us. Maybe we have a habit of snacking when we are not hungry, or shopping for shoes or sweaters to feel happy, or buying one more book we may never read. Maybe the habit is to look at social media while we are in the middle of a project, or to scroll online for no apparent reason. These habits may not be directly harmful- but they are a bit mindless, and they could be harmful. They are distractions from responsibilities or problems that require our attention. When we first notice these habits we might feel guilt and the inability to change anything about them.
But noticing and being aware of the distraction is the very first step in mindfulness. Once you know there is an issue, you can make a plan. Maybe I am sure to only have healthy snacks around, or I know that I will start to feel hungry at a certain time and a cup of hot tea might divert the need to snack. Perhaps instead of buying new clothes and shoes, I take inventory of what I already have and make certain I don’t go into the store (its easier to avoid the store than it is to not buy once in the store). Perhaps I try to fit in visits to the library so I can browse as many books as I like and I return them once I am done. Or perhaps, you notice the urge of wanting, whatever it is, and you simply sit with that want for a bit, you take a few deep breaths, and in time you observe its transience. These actions can be effective steps to stop or redirect the mindless habits, and in turn the habits becomes less mindless. Now, this stage can take diligence and there will likely be setbacks. But remind yourself that this is a practice, not a perfection.
Mindfulness and minimalism are perfect companions. They are the natural outcomes of one another. Through taking inventory and redirecting, not just with physical items but also with habit patterns, we become more mindful of our actions and perhaps in time we can find a deeper contentment. The work of mindfulness and minimalism is to find more joy in what we already have, to shave off what is simply a distraction and isn’t really needed, to see and feel the contentment of life’s small and simple pleasures.
What is one step you can take to begin this journey?