Friday, June 13, 2008

Fear-Based Living

When you explore voluntary simplicity in earnest it seems inevitable that, somewhere along the way, you will confront the big existential issues: who am I, why am I here, where am I going?

Simplicity creates emptiness, something that so many people fear. The frantic quality of modern life seems to be an attempt to run away from the big and meaningful issues, to never confront the cause of our fears and insecurities, to never be still long enough to do so. Emptiness is frightening. Stillness and silence are intimidating.

Simplicity opens up space--physical space, mental space, spiritual space. What is going to fill that? The beautiful thing is that something always does fill it. Not knick-knacks, not staff meetings, not baseball practice, or workouts, or appointments with the chiropractor, or lunch dates or trips to the mall. Something else. Spirit, you might call it. States of bliss. Serenity. Radical fearlessness. Radical freedom. And a safe context in which to confront the big questions.

At first though, what might want to fill the empty space is dread. That's okay. That means the bigger questions are starting to surface. That's why we're here, to confront those bigger questions. How will you ever live up to your fullest potential if you never confront the big questions? Manic, fear-based living is not conducive to you becoming fully who you are meant to be in this life. But it takes some courage to cultivate emptiness. You must be willing to pass the edge of the frontier and step into the unknown. You have to confront the demons waiting there.

Voluntary simplicity isn't the only way to create emptiness, of course. There are many different forms of what I call "emptiness practice": silence, solitude, fasting, meditation, celibacy, yoga, even the down-time when you're recovering from a prolonged illness. All of these things can get you to the same place, to the same lessons, to the same revelations. Telling, isn't it, that most of these practices come out of our spiritual traditions? Even voluntary simplicity itself, which now has such a secular flavor, originated in the "vows of poverty" and similar practices found in the early histories of our great religious traditions. Think of the Buddhist monks with their begging bowls, and Christ with his injunction to the wealthy young man, "Go, sell what thou hast."

Emptiness must come first. Fearlessness follows. Radical freedom follows that.

Fearlessly embracing your radical freedom means you can do anything. You can be a Gandhi or a Mother Teresa. You can change the world. You will be acting from your highest potential and from that place anything is possible.

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