Timeless Simplicity

Timeless Simplicity: Creative Living in a Consumer Society by John Lane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a book!

I’ve had latent feelings for a long time of rejection for many aspects of the material world we live in today. That’s not to say that I am not grateful for many modern conveniences, but I’ve always felt that much of what we know of as ‘normal’ is in fact anything but and a return to traditional ways of interacting with the world is long overdue.

John Lane has done an outstanding job of putting into eloquent, written form the same feelings I had and expanded upon them with much of his own knowledge, insight and wisdom. He talks about how we are moulded from childhood to be ever wanting more, to be constantly competing with others, to be seeking the constant endorsement and validation from our peers and to be dependent on the very luxuries which in turn leave us dissatisfied with what we have. This concoction is a recipe for chronic unhappiness which sadly many never escape from.

But for those of us who are determined to question this feeling of melancholy, this book exists to reinforce the notion that we need to go back to the basics. We need to introduce the general and specific definitions of simplicity into our lives. We can choose to define these terms according to what feels right to our own situations, as well as adhering to generally accepted definitions of living a life of simplicity. John Lane makes it clear that there is no specific doctrine to follow in this regard, but we should have a feeling for what we want to achieve.

The distinction between a simple life and an easy one is one that is made clear early on, and for good reason. Simplicity according to Lane is about losing the heavy weight of unnecessary excesses, but this doesn’t entail a life without burden at all.

From the mentioned benefits of simplicity are also that we as a species need to reign in our industrial dictatorship over nature in order to bring habitats and the general environment back from the edge. The Industrial Revolution forever changed the world in many ways, but what has been most lasting is the damage we have caused to our worldly home. Cultivating a mindset of simplicity is an effective tool towards living in balance and harmony with nature again, it is no surprise that such a life would make a person feel like they are living a life full of meaning.

I liked how Lane explained the different aspects of life that we can apply a simplicity mindset towards. Even for someone who lives within ‘the system’ and cannot make a way out in the short term, we are taught to take pleasure in the seemingly menial acts of life such as cooking, gardening and housework. Normally we see such actions as the banal necessities of life that are best done as quickly and mindlessly as possible. However, simply changing our mindset so that we cook with artistry, we pay attention to the details of planting seeds, we focus on maintaining a garden so that is aesthetically pleasing and we mindfully clean our houses means that we are able to see past the immediate action and appreciate the purpose behind them. We cook with purpose and maintain a beautiful garden because ultimately, it is an artform. We clean our houses with purpose because it hones the sense of gratitude and contentment within us. With these mental changes we can appreciate what we have more and break the chains of endless consumerism. By focusing on these small actions we open ourselves up to be explored from within, rather than searching outwards for the next best thing.

I have seen some classical paintings in my time, but I never felt like they had made much of an impression of me. Every now and again I saw a globally loved and admired painting of a cup and perhaps some other cutlery and fruit on a table. I never understood why these paintings were so beloved by so many. Thankfully John Lane allowed me to understand why too. It turns out that amongst many other reasons, such paintings allow the viewer to view that exact moment in time, to be lost in the reflections in the silver spoons, to be absorbed in the red warmth of an apple. Such paintings allow the viewer to be almost lost in time and thought, being present nowhere else and being able to fully appreciate the detail, beauty and indeed simplicity of a simple table setup. I am grateful for having this perspective and it is humbling to know what I have been missing out on all these years.

This book taught me to greatly appreciate the small things in life, to assign meaning and value to the work I have to do in my personal and professional life, to take pleasure in activities I would have otherwise thought of as menial, and above all, take the time and effort to find out what you love to do in life. Don’t spend endless years of your life in ignorance of what makes you happy. Perhaps your passion lies in working with animals, children, plants or paint brushes. As long as there remains air in your lungs you have the opportunity to discover what it is.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone who feels like the luxuries of modern life have somewhat caused us to lose our way, anyone who believes there is more to life than our current world pre-occupations, and to anyone who believes that the world has an inherent beauty that we commonly overlook.

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