A Simple Mind
Being able to think straight, clear, and simple thoughts can have a profoundly transformational impact on our lives, says Navni Chawla. This article delves deep into the process of cleaning up the mind of unwanted thought patterns which hinder our growth and happiness.
Recalling a blurry incident from my early college days in 2013, I was in conversation with the head of the Mass Media Department at St. Xavier’s college, Mumbai. I wanted to change my course from Life Sciences to BMM (Bachelor of Mass Media), and when she asked me the reason, I said that I wanted to do something more creative. She asked me, “What, according to you, is creativity?” and before I could answer, she herself said, “It is the ability to convey an idea in the simplest way you can. ‘Simple’ is creative.”
The answer struck me. Even though simple, I felt that the statement was profound in its expression. Until now, I had associated creativity with the ability to think complex thoughts and structures. I had marvelled at the intricate patterns and layouts created by artists of high calibre and aspired to be able to emulate them one day.
The statement stayed with me and became a mantra of sorts for me, whenever I wanted to be creative in any endeavour of mine. I realised that to be able to achieve this level of expertise, I needed to be able to think simply. And that it was not an easy task.
I observed that the mind is one of the most complex entities humans have at their disposal. Mired by confusions, options, passions, needs, conditionings, desires, and prejudices, it rarely sees things for what they are and knows what it actually wants. If not reined in or disciplined, it could run haywire, submerge itself in negative and self-defeating thoughts, and be the cause of an all-round failure and a downward spiral in life.
We all wish to have a life which is simple and uncomplicated. We want to find simple solutions to complex problems. We want life to work for us and not against us. But what most people do not realise is that for this to happen, our mind needs to be clean, clear, and simple. A complex mind often wanders in the estuaries of existential crisis. It is lost and sees no purpose in anything. Poet David Whyte refers to existence as a conversation—a communion between what we want to happen and what actually happens. And often, there is a gap in this manifestation because, though manifestation is simple, our minds, which place orders with the universe, are not.
In the fancy and complex world that we live in, I discovered that having a simple mindset and leading a simple life, in general, can actually be freeing and quite savoury. A simple mindset is not a hindrance to keeping up with the fast-moving world; rather, it is an evolved attitude which catalyses one’s growth in all aspects of life. It saves time, energy, and minimises the internal hustle: it keeps the mind organised, the health good, and the heart happy. On the outside, it makes communication easier and relationships hassle-free. A simple mindset not only reflects a clean, relaxed, and clutter-free mind space but also virtues such as honesty, truthfulness, integrity, discipline, and authenticity. However, we cannot arrive at the right answers unless we identify the root cause of our problems. What causes the mind to be so complex? I spoke to several masters and experts, and based on their explanations, came to the following conclusion.
The external world has way too many distractions which influence the mind, making it difficult to have clear and simple thoughts. Social media, different genres of books and films, newspapers, opinion makers, influencers, TV, cinema, news channels, all propagate multiple ways of thinking, believing, and living, and our most natural way of being and functioning in this world can get clouded by these contradictory belief systems. While a certain school of thought may advocate selflessness and sacrifice as the most important values to live by, another may say that in an intensely competitive world, only the fittest survive, and therefore, being selfish and competitive is essential for achieving success in life.
Swami Chidananda Vedanta teacher from Himachal Pradesh, says, “The mind isn’t complicated by externalities like one’s lifestyle, clothes, and cars but by comparisons and attaching labels to it. By the predominance of the little self, I, me, my prestige: Am I able to impress people? Do people take note of me? Such mindsets complicate thinking. “
Fear, Hurt, Insecurity, and Unhealed Emotions
Another complication people have is overthinking, which stems from being doubtful, fearful, hurt, and insecure. While doubt can stymie your growth and give rise to indecisiveness, diffidence, and inaction, insecurity gives rise to many other issues like jealousy, grudge, control issues, and low self-esteem. These inner complexities, if not healed in time, can ruin relationships and lives irrevocably.
Shivani Bhatnagar, a Delhi-based NLP (neurolinguistic programming) expert, says, “A complex mind lays down the foundation of life on ‘unholistic’ principles, like ‘People cheat and betray, so I must not trust anyone.’ ‘My junior can outshine me at work, so I must suppress his work and talent.’ ‘It’s important to be emotionally distant from one’s family members, otherwise, they try to control you.’
‘There is nothing wrong in manipulating or emotionally blackmailing others because I am right and they are wrong.’
Ms Perrie Subramaniam, head of the Department of Mass Media at St. Xavier’s College, emphasises connecting with people, essentially as human beings. When someone wishes to be put on a pedestal—instead of respecting others, their time, and making the effort to connect with people and help them—they adopt a complicated mindset. It has been observed that a complex mind focusses on self-preservation, while a simple mind is relaxed, secure, and focussed on the larger good.
Too Many Desires
Having too many desires can create a lot of unrest and agitation in the mind; because of their pursuit or the dissatisfaction from their unfulfillment, the mind gets disturbed and loses simplicity and clarity.
Paramahansa Yogananda says in his book Journey to Self-Realisation, “Simple living does not mean poverty or having poverty consciousness. There are destitute people whose lives are miserable; that is not the ideal of simple living. Simplicity means to be free of desires and attachments and being supremely happy from within. It requires a masterful mind and a very strong will to live simply. It entails neither hardship nor deprivations but the wisdom to work for and be content with what you truly need.”
Ms Perrie Subramaniam says that there is a higher order called wisdom that makes you think about the consequences of your actions, which makes you choose the right thing over a short-term seemingly profitable thing.
Not Knowing What One Wants
Our deepest desires are different from induced desires. While the former can motivate you to streamline your thoughts and work consistently towards their realisation, the latter can lead you haywire, making manifestation difficult.
Author and spiritual teacher Neale Donald Walsch, in his seminal book Conversations with God, explains this dilemma very well through a channelled dialogue between himself and the Divine. Below is an excerpt:
NDW: So tell me again, why does it take so much time for me to create the reality I choose?
RESPONSE: For a number of reasons. Because you do not believe you can have what you choose. Because you do not know what to choose. Because you keep trying to figure out what’s best for you. Because you want guarantees ahead of time that all your choices will be good. And because you keep changing your mind!
NDW: Let me see if I understand. I shouldn’t try to figure out what’s best for me?
RESPONSE: Best is a relative term, depending on a hundred variables. That makes choices very difficult. There should be only one consideration when making any decision: Is this a statement of Who I Am? Is this an announcement of Who I Choose to Be?
Consumerism and Competition
“Consumerism is not something new,” says Ms Subramaniam. “It existed before, too, where trends like ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ were popular in America, the first country to be hit by high capitalism. It gave people the false idea that they would be measured by the things they possessed and would be more socially acceptable and empowered if they consumed more. These are mere traps. Like today, everybody is becoming an influencer, and there are bizarre things that exist such as FOMO (fear of missing out).”
I cannot agree with her more. With the availability of more consumable options and varieties of trends, pleasures, and gratifications, we feel compelled to follow them and feel unhappy and left out if we fail to catch up on any one of them. These distractions do not let the mind think simple, clear, and powerful thoughts.
The Way Out
There must be a way out of this labyrinth of complex consumerism. Masters offer pointers as given below:
A hyperactive mind can never be simple. Meditation has the power to reduce the cacophony of the mind. It connects you to your heart, which is the seat of wisdom and deep knowledge. Your real aspirations, goals, and objectives lie embedded in your heart. Once the mind gets submissive to the heart, it quietens down and starts cooperating with you.
The daily practice of meditation has an extremely calming effect on the mind. It gives crystal clear clarity to our thought, retaining only what is useful and eliminating what is not. Breathing exercises like pranayama, especially slow breathing, too can calm the mind’s agitation. Done consistently over a long period, they can simplify your thought process.
Trust the process of life
So much anguish and restiveness are caused by not trusting that the Universe has our best interests at heart, no matter how hard our circumstances. We get filled with anger, fear, resentment, and often end up sabotaging our growth and happiness in the process. However, faith in the universal design keeps us centred and grounded, and clearly shows us what we are meant to learn from a particular difficulty. Only a simple mindset is capable of seeing the inherent positivity and lesson embedded in a difficulty. Plenty of our needless worry gets whittled down just because we trust the process of life enabling us to focus on what matters and leave the rest to the Divine to take care of.
Develop an attitude of gratitude
Gratitude is a way of being for many people, especially if they are simple-minded. The daily practice of gratitude culminates in miracles and the transformation of one’s life situation. Being grateful wires the mind to see positivity even in the gravest of situations. This, in turn, reminds us of all the goodness that is there to feel blessed about in life. Gratitude replaces the turbulence caused by non-linear, unmanaged thoughts with the serenity of purer and positive thoughts. Such thoughts provide the much-needed balance and a sane backdrop for the mind to function at its optimal capacity. A grateful mind signals the Universe about its openness to receiving, which attracts more blessings and gifts into your life. When we take actions from the attitude of gratitude, the Universe opens to us only that which is in alignment with our highest interest.
Gratitude comes easily to a mind that is simple, free of turmoil, and de-cluttered. And when we focus our attention on our blessings, our energy is transformed and our auras change to allow more positive things to flow through. We begin to vibrate at the frequency of abundance, thus allowing more of it in.
Patience and unhurriedness while going through life, are signs of having a simple mindset. When you do not get easily worked up and panicky when something does not go your way, you are sure to reap the benefits that come with simplicity
Ms Perrie Subramaniam also equates simpler life with slowing down, doing one thing at a time, and doing it well. Slowing down means thinking through things, not chasing deadlines, and reflecting on nature and truly observing it. It is like functioning at the pace of nature and, just like it, not being in any hurry but giving way to the smooth natural process of the unfolding of experiences. This makes the quality of life much simpler, calmer, and more pleasant.
Ms Subramaniam says, “When you are angry with somebody, don’t say everything. Write it on a piece of paper and stay with it; keep it with you for a day or two, and even after that if you feel you need to say it, then you should go ahead.” Even today, if she writes an email which is not very pleasant, she keeps it in her drafts and reviews it in a day or two.
These practices can calm your restive mind and get you closer to your authentic self, where your actual needs and desires lie.
Simple eating has a lot to do with having a simple mindset. Eating a simple, balanced, and nutritious diet helps in the optimal functioning of our brain, enhancing our memory, mood, and health, making us more resilient to stressors and triggers.
According to Naini Setalvad, Life Positive’s food columnist, in a study done on prison inmates in the UK, it was discovered that the most violent criminals subsisted on fast foods and junk foods. Therefore, it is important to be watchful of what we eat.
Rujuta Diwekar, the New Age diet guru who is a nutritionist to celebrities, cannot emphasise enough the importance of eating simple and home-cooked meals. She runs a very successful weight loss programme called Mitahar, based on the principles of eating as per India’s ancient wisdom which teaches us to eat local and seasonal, and celebrate homegrown culinary knowledge to enjoy a higher sense of well-being in our body and greater harmony with our surroundings. Eating food as per ayurvedic wisdom, guided by doshas and pravrittis (one’s nature or disposition), is considered good for the body.
There is a deeper intelligence that lies in our Indian traditional seasonal food habits and recipes like achaars, kaanji, lassi, white rice, and potatoes. Food is therapeutic and medicinal when chosen and eaten consciously. So, resorting to simple food is a bang on solution for many physical and mental issues, which also leaves people with less confusing choices.
Along with mindful eating, a simple person has the correct amount of exercise, sleep, water intake, and a general discipline in routine guiding their days. They have all their other basics too in place.
A very important ingredient of a simple life is minimalism. When we declutter our living space, it has a direct impact on our mind, making us more at peace. Minimalism, in its essence, is simplifying. But unfortunately, consumerism makes us buy, hoard, and collect things we don’t need and sometimes never even end up using. In fact, studies reveal that overbuying and collecting lots of stuff never bring everlasting joy and meaning to one’s life, but being attached to them surely robs one of their peace and happiness.
The consumerist world, through constant advertisements, reminders, and bombardments, deludes us into thinking that we need ‘stuff’ to be happier. Our Earth suffers a great deal because of this. Consumerism increases the need to produce more goods which, in turn, leads to more pollutants, emissions, increased land use, deforestation, and accelerated climate change. We can’t continue to consume more than our planet can replenish. We need to adopt minimalism and ethical consumerism, which essentially means doing things such as
• Stopping and re-evaluating one’s buying choices
• Slowing down
• Not copying others
• Not indulging in excessive consumption
• Purchasing only what’s needed
• Giving more things away
The Benefits Of Simplicity
Blessed are those who are blessed with a simple mindset. It comes with several advantages, and such people show certain traits mentioned below:
Seeing things just as they are
When one becomes simple-minded, one starts to see things objectively and clearly. They no more see the world through the lens of distorted perception, clouded by their biases, judgements, opinions, unresolved emotions, or preferences.
This happens when the attachments and aversions of the mind are surpassed and one frees oneself from identities, assumptions, judgments, and cooked stories of the mind. It takes something to unlearn years of that conditioning. But once it happens, one can achieve the inner clarity of a clean mirror or a crystal clear lake’s surface, which only reflects what is. And we return to our simple nature. This state allows one to look at things in their totality and wholeness. It prevents us from forming wrong assessments, judgements, or falling prey to falsehood and propaganda. It makes one giving, affectionate, easy to collaborate with, more tolerant, pleasant, and gentle in one’s responses rather than being reactive and judgemental.
Life becomes easier
Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev stresses that if we organise our mind and simplify it, everything in our lives starts falling into place. There are people who ask for something and, beyond all expectations, it comes true for them. Generally, this happens to those with a deep faith in God. Faith only works for simple-minded people; it never works for those who have too much compulsive thinking. They simply believe that God is going to do it for them and strive for what they want, ultimately realising their heartfelt wish. If one can maintain a steady stream of thoughts without changing direction, one can manifest things in their life.
Great inner strength
Simple-minded people who lead their lives by faith are often intuitive and in harmony with the laws of nature. They have more inner strength, endurance, and patience in their character, which makes them stronger. They have greater levels of acceptance of things and people. They also start reflecting the characteristics of nature such as patience, wisdom, and discipline.
A simple mindset helps one go beyond all doubts, fears, and regrets of any kind as one becomes free of all worries about the unfolding of various events in their life. As they say, only because a flute is hollow can it make music. The same is true for the human heart and mind. When one is empty of the cacophony of conflicting thoughts and is held by simple faith, one becomes capable of creating beautiful things in life because, then, one just becomes a plain and pure instrument of God. Swami Chidananda says that true surrender happens when people have reduced attachment to the outcome of their actions, can see the larger picture, and are not stuck with smallness.
More joy and playfulness
People with a simple mind are more playful and joyful as they are free from most worries that plague people at large. They learn to not take things more seriously than they actually are. They carry a sense of humour, an innocence, lightness, and the playfulness of a child. Life is their playground. They remember the ultimate truth that nothing is permanent, and even if there is a difficult time, it too shall pass. All this makes them gentler and more graceful about things as they easily let go of what is not meant for them. They do not hold on to things so tight, move gently with the world rather than through it, live without resistances, and become beings of expanded hearts and evolved minds. A person who does not become playful in the end has failed to live life fully. Of what use is a life that did not turn you into a more joyful and playful being at its end?
A simple person is selfless, luminous, has a different kind of charm, and also glows differently. They are said to possess the quality of sattva (purity). Swami Chidananda says it beautifully: “Simplicity is the fragrance of daily self-knowing. Self-knowing is accepting oneself as one is and keeping one’s bosom clean.” Simplicity is about gaining freedom from the artificialities of the mind. It is being free from false prestige, envy, pride, or comparison, and being more attentive to one’s true aspirations and true needs.
The Simple Truth
As boring as this word ‘simple’ may sound, it beholds a beauty and depth which is absent in pricey and fancy things. Why do we crave ghar ka khaana (home food) even after having tasted the best of dishes from around the world? Why does one desperately look for their slippers and comfy pyjamas at the end of a party when they are tired of a tight dress and stiletto heels? Why does one wish to go to an ashram (spiritual retreat) to unwind? Why, even after having the most technically advanced and best of MacBooks, iPads, and computers, we still find respite in writing our diaries by hand or in a handwritten letter; why does our heart melt over a handwritten note? Why is ‘farm to plate’ trending so much? Why does your skin breathe its best once all those layers of makeup and products are shed off? Why does a simple handmade dahi-besan ubtan still smell like granny’s good-old skin remedy and beat the costliest of face packs displayed on the mall shelves every time? Why only plain water truly quenches our thirst despite having a full-blown bar and many beverage options?
The answer to all these questions is quite simple: beneath all the sheaths and layers, we are, and always have been, simple beings wanting to do very simple things!
And truly, life is a journey from complexity to simplicity. The simplification of the mind is about shifting those beliefs that hold us back and hamper our personal growth. It is about gaining freedom from the untrue perception of life which comes in our way of enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
Ms Subramaniam says, “Being at complete peace with yourself, who you are, and what you look like is what makes you a simple person. Our traits and peculiarities make us who we are and they should be used to our advantage and in our best interest. When we come to terms with who we are and what we have been bestowed with, everything else falls into place. When we try to ape others, complication springs from it, fear creeps in, diffidence plagues us, and shame attached to making mistakes plays out. One needs to break free from all this in order to be simple.”
Personally speaking, I aspire to become simpler, with each passing day. Since the beginning, I have been a difficult child, a highly complex adolescent, and later, a pretty knotty adult. I wish to spend the rest of my life in an all-embracing simplicity, taking on whatever life offers with ease and least resistance.
simple mind is an exalted state of consciousness. It is the nectar produced from a long-term committed practice of the purification of the mind. It is living in the sweetness of a noble surrender to whatever God sends our way. It is the cleaning up of all the insignificant thoughts woven into our mental framework.
Javed Akhtar, a poet, lyricist, and scriptwriter in the Hindi film industry, says that it’s easier to write difficult verses but it is very difficult to write in a simple language as it demands a piercing and acute sense of clarity, which is only possible in a mind that is organised, whose thoughts are condensed properly, and has a sharp focus like that of a laser beam.
Simplicity is also not letting the world intrude on our deepest core which is ever so blissful and peaceful.
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