The sky was a pure, turquoise blue except where the Sun ruled the eternal dome. A soybean field that spread out over several acres, completed the visual effects. A chorus of meadowlarks trilled to provide the soundtrack for the composition. To the left, a graveled county road provided a partial frame for the sight. The scene reminded me of one of those Zen gardens made of sand with etched grooves from raking.
I blinked and reminded myself that this was rural Nebraska farmland on a sultry July afternoon. Most likely, the farmer did not intend to create a simple, abstract work of art. The practical fact is that a mono-culture field provides few obstacles for the large, semi-automated machinery used in agri-business. The expansive field of soybean plants was made possible through the use of chemical herbicides and fertilizers applied by specialized, sophisticated equipment that was probably guided by GPS. Perhaps pest control was sprayed onto the land with a crop-spraying airplane.
The vista in front of me required many thousands of dollars that were parlayed into the real estate, the machinery, the chemical controls, and the crop itself. Negotiations with bankers and insurance companies required further complications. Then there was the worry about the weather. Would there be a drought? What about an errant thunderstorm containing large hail? For how much money can the farmer expect to sell the crop at harvest? Then there is the actual physical labor of the farmer or crew.
The visual simplicity of the field could only be achieved through complexity. This dichotomy is repeated over and over with various crops on farmland all across the Great Plains of North America.
There is a particular trend of simplicity that has been making its mark in society during the past few years. Minimalism is a temptingly elegant way to create a home and compatible lifestyle. It is often experimented within small studio apartments with stark, white walls. Ideally, there are very few pieces of furniture. Perhaps a futon doubles as a couch and a bed. There may be only a few pieces of art to break up the plain, bright Sheetrock walls. The presence of appliances is kept to a bare minimum. Again, there is a Zen-like non-style throughout the home.
There is more to the minimalist style than meets the eye. The minimalist dweller seemingly engages in continuous downsizing and decluttering. There is the challenge of creating rooms sparingly adorned with multi-purpose furniture. The idea is to make highly efficient space that is easy to maintain. The minimalist approach to living spaces appeals visually to me. The problem lies in its implementation.
Stark simplicity is something I appreciate more as I get older. I’d rather create a minimalist living environment voluntarily. Doing so will allow me to acclimate to it on my own terms. If I’m fortunate to live to an elderly age, simple, minimalist-like living space will be mandatory within an assisted living apartment or a nursing home room. Neither of these options appeal to me. However, if these become my options, I’ll need to emotionally and physically adapt to them.
I’ve seen examples of people who abandoned most of their belongings in pursuit of the minimalist lifestyle. Several are generally happy with their choices. There are others who renounced luxury. They outwardly projected satisfaction, yet experienced a lot of inner turmoil. The peace of mind they had sought did not happen. They were still consumed by their passions.
Can true simplicity be achieved by paring down our possessions and refocusing our intentions? Is the desire to appear outwardly simple only another manifestation of egotism? The wish for overt simplicity is complicated through the mental attachment to such a state of being. The acts of attachment or detachment cannot be resolved through outward displays of discipline, gestures, or lifestyles. Simple reality cannot be reached through techniques and beliefs.
Simplicity is not the destination. Simplicity is the journey.
The Blue Jay of Happiness contemplates a thought from the late singer, songwriter, pianist, Laura Nyro. “As beautiful as simplicity is, it can become a tradition that stands in the way of exploration.”