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Simplicity: To Focus on Priorities

It means cutting back on clutter, distractions, and focusing on the essentials. Once again, simplicity has a more proactive attitude toward life as it means to eliminate the unnecessary in order to focus on priorities.
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A Zen lotus flower in clam water on white background
A Zen lotus flower in clam water on white background

Our time and energy are limited.
This is a kind of mantra that helps me to set priorities when I choose what to do and not do to. Everybody has 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. We are all getting older, and sooner or later, we will meet the last day of our lives. Each person may have different energy levels, but it's still limited. Nobody lives forever. Nobody's energy is limitless. Whether we like it or not, it is what it is. Depending on where we put our time and energy, we create different life stories and different karma. Of course, we all know that, right? But... Really? Are we living a life that aligns with our values and taking care of our priorities?

We live busy lives: there are so many things to do and places to be that this is how we often describe our lives. It seems that these days most people take 'busyness' as a sign of achievement, productivity, and popularity. Perhaps, when we say, "I'm busy", what we want to be heard is that "I'm in demand because my work is important" or "because I'm popular." At least, it was my case at times. I felt good to be busy thinking that I'm living a full life. So I lived in the proud world of 'busyness' until one day, a few years ago, I noticed that something was not quite right and asked myself 'Am I really busy? What does it mean to be busy?' Sometimes I felt that I had to be busy because everyone else is busy. When I carefully examined my day-to-day activities, I had to admit that I was not as busy as I thought to be. 'Being busy' was more of a habitual response to people when they asked me how I was. Also, I realized that such a 'busy-mentality' didn't really help me to live a life that I wanted. It was quite the opposite: with this mentality I was constantly creating anxieties and stresses by chasing one thing after another. I felt exhausted rather than fulfilled.

Henry David Thoreau says, "It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" This is a critical question we need to ask ourselves. Some people are busy just for the sake of being busy. Some people are busy to create more problems for themselves and others. Some people are busy to live a purposeful life. So I ask myself 'What am I busy for?' Upon this question, what comes into my mind is that "our time and energy are limited." It urges me to prioritize my life so that I can live a life focusing on what matters most. This notion of limited time and energy allows me to:

  • Remember that time - especially, the present moment - is precious.
  • Appreciate what's here and now rather than complaining about what's not here.
  • Become more selective; choosing love over hate, joy over fear, and gratitude over resentment.
  • Focus on what is important in life.

We often hear how significant it is to prioritize one's life but I'm not here to say what priorities one should have, but rather to remind ourselves that prioritizing and simplifying are a set of skills to be practiced together. We simplify our lives by choosing what to keep and what to let go, which means prioritizing. We also create time and energy for the priorities by simplifying our lives. Here, we can see that these two are intertwined and we cannot master one without the other.

When I was a novice at a Won Buddhist temple in Korea, my teacher limited the number of activities and belongings I could have, emphasizing 'simple living'. If I wanted to do or buy something new, she asked me to get rid of something else. It was like "buy one remove one". Now I appreciate and apply this into my practice, but at that time it was challenging not being able to do or have more and more. So, I asked my teacher why simple living matters. She answered: "with simple living, we can maximize our practice with minimum distractions." This gave me a clear understanding that a simple living doesn't just mean to live slow and do less: it means cutting back on clutter, distractions, and focusing on the essentials. Once again, simplicity has a more proactive attitude toward life as it means to eliminate the unnecessary in order to focus on priorities.

Let's remember: our time and energy are limited.