My son celebrated his 4th birthday earlier this month. In the weeks leading up to it my husband and I, like most parents, focused on wanting to give our boy the best birthday ever. We trawled through the internet for ideas on presents and decorations, even what we would do at the weekend when he had a few of his friends over from his village nursery school to play. At the end of it all, we decided to keep it simple. I realised that so much of what we were doing wasn’t so much for or about him, but about us—what we wanted for him. I realised that the most important question I could ask is “what does he want?” So, when his friends were over we just emptied out his little shed that is filled with his toys out onto the garden and they just went at it. We brought it all back down to the basics. It wasn’t about how much money we should spend or how fancy his presents needed to be. It just had to be fun. For him.
It’s a similar philosophy I am attempting at my own life these days. Keeping it simple. Taking stock and analysing my thoughts on what is important to me in my life and then taking those necessary actions to ensure that those priorities are always front and centre. So often we complicate matters in our life because of the voices of others in our heads and the assumption of what we “should be” or “should be doing” instead of really focusing on the very simple question, the same question I asked my son, “what do you really want?”
The art of simplicity isn’t easy. Strange right? I mean, the whole point of simplicity is that it should be easy. Yet stripping our thoughts and emotions down, stripping away the perceived judgments of others, the ingrained cultural and societal expectations and pressures isn't without its complications (I'm Indian, trust me, I know about the latter very well). Often, those voices, thoughts, judgements, and expectations are what keep us together as a person, they are part of our identity in some way, they keep us standing, keep us whole, because that's all we've ever known, and because without them, we fear we may fall apart. Without them, we are forced to really look at ourselves and ask "what do I want?” Simple question, difficult to answer. Difficult because it means thinking differently and perhaps feeling the fear of alienating some people. Yet, when we eventually strip away all that other stuff, when we start to ask ourselves those very important questions about who we are, who we want to be, and what we want, we realise that, for most of us, it comes down to the very basic things that most of us want out of life—to be happy, to feel fulfilled, to feel safe, to be healthy, to have a laugh, to be loved. And that's when we are able to look at all areas of life that either serve that goal or take us further away from it. When I was eventually able to really be honest with myself on what it is that I wanted, without any one else’s input, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my soul.
Finding simplicity in who we are and what we want is one thing yet it is a completely different story when it comes to humanity as a whole. I found a couple of fascinating stories that delve into this. We live in a technologically advanced world where industrialisation and urbanisation mean growth in one way of life and depletion in another. Expansion of cities into once cherished countrysides mean natural resources are diminishing. And then there's technology. What was meant to make our lives easier has actually meant we are constantly “on”, both literally and figuratively. It's a worrying reality that should make us question where we are headed.
I am thinking about what this world will be like when my little boy who, is already quite adept at unlocking his father’s phone to play games and watch his favourite shows on Netflix. So while, on the one hand we try to keep our lives simple for him and surround him with the natural beauty of life out in the countryside, we are well aware that the world in which he will live when he’s an adult will be very different from what it is today. Our hope is that we will have instilled in him the solid foundation of knowing who he is and the ability to figure out what he wants to help navigate him through the complications of a changing world by simplifying it to what is really important. To him.
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