Finding the Simple in the Complicated

This past weekend, I went on a personal retreat at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, a monastery south of Big Sur on the pacific coast of California. As the name “hermitage” suggests, it’s a place for retreating into silent prayer, meditation and contemplation. Aside from taking a walk together, there isn’t any common area for people to congregate and visit with each other. Signs of preserving silence are everywhere. Meals are picked up from a small kitchen and eaten alone in retreaters’ rooms.

retreat centerOutside of my work life and a small network of friends and local family members, I pretty much live like a hermit already. However, I’ve been feeling for quite some time a strong yearning to go deeper within than what my daily spiritual practice provides. Recently, this yearning also came in the form of wanting to get away from it all and being in an environment that’s conducive to being in quiet solitude without phones, the internet, TV, etc.

Live with a Monastic Heart

While I was at the hermitage, there was a preached retreat going on. One of the monks, who’s a licensed clinical psychologist, spoke about being conscious of being vs. doing. I crashed one of the sessions (with permission from the priest) when he talked about, among other things, what it meant to live with a monastic heart. As part of that topic, he encouraged us to find the simple in the complicated in how we live.

What I took away from that lecture is to become conscious of the ways in which I complicate life unnecessarily, which keeps me from the simplicity of living in grace every day. Clearly, this isn’t a simple concept—not punt intended—but here’s the beginning of a list to contemplate:

  1. Detach from the form and method in and through which a wish/desire must manifest. When I become hung up on how something I want must be fulfilled and who/what it must be, I risk developing blinders and missing what’s right in front of me. It may meet my wish, perhaps even better than I had hoped, but I don’t recognize it, because it doesn’t fit my very specific preconceptions.
  2. Know and remember the difference between circumstantial delight/satisfaction and true happiness. I’m not above enjoying material comforts, nor is it wrong to have desires. After all, they’re all part of this human experience. However, no external condition can bring lasting joy, because conditions can—and often do—change. If I forget that and keep looking to the next job, the next relationship, etc., to be happy, I forget the simple truth that joy is my unconditional true nature and instead take on the complication of trying to make things happen.
  3. Big SurPay attention to and trust simple guidance from my inner wisdom, instead of following the fear-based prescriptions of ego. The perfect example of this point happened at the start of this retreat—let me tell you the story.

Keep Going

Last Friday, I completely trusted the Google Maps app on my iPhone to get me from work to the hermitage. After hours on the road, when my phone announced that I had reached my destination, I found myself at a state park, not the hermitage. I tried to call, but my phone had no signal. I quickly found myself leaving Big Sur, where the hermitage was supposed to be located.

I began to panic, as it was starting to get late. I tried to remain calm and access my inner wisdom, pleading, “What do I do? Please help me get there.” In response, I heard the familiar soundless voice of my inner wisdom saying, “Keep going.” I drove for several miles longer, but, seeing no sign of anything other than the mountain to my left and the ocean to my right, I doubted the validity of “Keep going.” So, I turned around and started driving back north.

I pulled into another retreat center in Big Sur in the hopes of finding a phone or an internet connection to get directions. Didn’t get either, but, upon asking (a somewhat surly woman who didn’t really want to be bothered), I was told that the hermitage was still another half hour south. I got back into my car, and headed south—again. Some 20 minutes, not half an hour, later I saw the sign for the hermitage. Phew!

As I made the two-mile scenic steep climb up the mountain to this hermitage, I realized that my own inner voice was correct after all when it told me to keep going. But my fearful ego took over and overruled my innate wisdom. Not trusting the simple wisdom of “keep going” unnecessarily added at least an extra half hour to my trip. I couldn’t help but wonder: How many times in my life had I done that, i.e., ignored my inner wisdom and chosen to listen to ego’s fear-based counsel to give up and turn around prematurely, or to choose another safer alternative that didn’t get me to my desired destination, so as to avoid continuing into the unknown?

benchFrom My Head To My Heart

Aside from the above lesson of seeing simplicity in the complicated, I also realized how much I had been living in my head of late and neglecting my heart—no wonder I had been yearning to get away. That became quite apparent the first morning I was at the hermitage, sitting on a bench overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean, feeling the insignificance of everything that occupied my mind day in and day out.

As soon as I began contemplating what I hoped to get out of the weekend, a question of the heart immediately surfaced, as if my heart wanted to say, “Remember me? I’ve been patiently waiting for you to stop your striving and ego need to prove yourself at work to remember to tend to me.” With that realization, I changed my plan to read over the weekend, but instead just allowed myself to be in my heart space for the rest of the retreat.

Over to you: What do you think about living with a monastic heart and seeing the simplicity in the complicated? Do you tend to live more in your head than your heart? Would love for you to share your reflections below.

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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16 comments
mentalmystic
mentalmystic

Hi, Alice. Found you via Triberr. :-)

Out of the points you made, I would have to say #1 stuck with me the most profoundly because I do that myself. I get something in my head - abundance and prosperity are good examples of this - and if it doesn't manifest in the way I think it ought to, I become discouraged.  Things always come out "right" in one way or another. They just don't always look the way I think they will. Often, we just have to let go and let Spirit. :-)

So glad to have come across your site. Will follow along and check in often.

And3
And3

Hi Alice, One of the experiences I've had in following my inner wisdom took place about 2 year ago when I was living with someone else (my wife at the moment) and we were having lots of problems, violence related most of them, and after trying to solve things, there was something telling me to let go that person because it wasn't helping me to evolve in any way, instead she was drowning me, but at the same time I wanted to stay with her no matter the level of pain I was experiencing. Finally after looking for help and a lot of thinking and deciding which way to take (my ego or my inner voice) I decided to move on and amazing things have happened in my life since then, I'm evolving as a human being in different ways, I volunteer as a firefighter, im taking drawing lessons, I got back to the university and practicing skateboarding as well, things that I didnt have time before to enjoy....
I have one question tho, saying that the ego with what our brain is telling us and our inner wisdom with what our heart is trying to say,  how can we distinguish one from the other?? I found myself in that place and I went craaazy haha, it took me a while to know which was the right one.
Thanks for your words of wisdom Alice, keep going.

karenjolly
karenjolly

Alice,

 What a beautiful journey! Learning to let go and trust our inner wisdom is one of the most powerful lesson we can learn - and it seems to always be on-going! I really appreciated your points and am grateful once again that you are sharing what you've been learning. I must check out the Hermitage. I've been wanting to spend some extra "internal time" myself. :)

Thank you Alice! 

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,


What a wonderful post, my friend. The point you made about ignoring our inner wisdom and following the ego really struck a chord with me. It reminded me of how many times I've done this, too. It makes me wonder just where I would have ended up had I had faith in my inner wisdom? Indeed, within each of us is such a powerful yet peaceful inner wisdom. I think we can all improve our lives by being guided by this inner wisdom for longer periods of time.

Personally, through my meditation practice and living mindfully, I find periods when I'm living more in my heart. However, daily life being the way that it is, I can quickly move to living in my head, where the ego enjoys itself the most. Your post has inspired me to focus more on living in my heart.


Thank you.

Samantha_S_Hall
Samantha_S_Hall

Beautiful post Alice. Part of our journey (and struggle) in this life is learning how to discern the messages of our own intuitive heart and spirit.  Many of us were conditioned and taught to doubt it.  Whenever I've doubted my own inner guidance and wisdom, more often then not, circumstances would eventually reveal that my inner sense of knowing had been right all along.  Thanks for sharing such a wonderful example from your own life.  xo



ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Alice,

Insightful! What an opportunity to participate and learn. Seeing the simplicity in complexity is a gift, which can developed. It is something we need to work on as it is about keeping a calmness and a mindfulness to what is unfolding. We cannot control all that is happening, but we can "corral" our response. Good things to think about and use.... Thanks! Jon

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Alice, It sounds like this retreat really enabled you to step back into your heart and truly listen.  I've never been somewhere were the listening was totally internal by design but there is so much value in getting quiet - even for a weekend... or an hour.   I know that I complicate life and I get in my own way far too often.  I'm getting better with intentional focus and practice.  Recently, I've had two big things happen that would have sent me immediately to my head swirling with complexity... but that's not how I reacted.  I choose to breathe deeply, look around and accept what is.  

Also, you mentioned that physical things do not equate to happiness.  That's a lesson we're working hard to teach our children.  Our daughter has two hands but ten dolls.  We've talked about other ways to use our money and our time that brings us far more joy.  Instead of more toys, it's more time together that makes our hearts sing!

As always, touched by how much of yourself you share in your posts and in turn how you touch my heart.  

Thanks, Alice!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@mentalmystic Thank you for visiting and commenting on my article. Glad Triberr introduced us. :-) Yes, #1 is a very common human trapping. I know I still fall prey to that more often than I'd like. Learning to let go and surrender control of what isn't mine to control is a lifelong commitment. Thank you again, and see you back soon!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@And3 Thank you for sharing your experience here. It is indeed amazing what opens up for your highest good when we let go of what our ego tells us we must hang onto. As for your question for distinguishing between ego and inner wisdom, it can be challenging to decipher at times, especially if you already feel confused/troubled. However, there are some telltale signs, which I wrote about in my book. The most obvious "sign" of a message coming from your heart, perhaps, is if the message evokes emotional resonance when it comes through. You'll feel it in your body that it's the truth. Thanks again for sharing and commenting here.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@karenjolly Thank you, Karen. Yes, learning to trust our inner wisdom indeed takes an on-going commitment. I've heard my enough times to know what it "sounds" like, like on Friday night when it told me to keep heading south. Yet, I still doubt it. Not giving up, though. :-) Not sure where you're based, but if you're in California, the hermitage I went to is definitely worth checking out.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Many thanks for your heartfelt and genuine contribution here, Hiten! Yes, as I was responding to the comment by @Samantha_S_Hall , few of us have learned to listen to and trust our inner wisdom, while we've all been encouraged to respect and value thinking. It's ultimately about finding the balance, knowing when it's good to engage our minds for things to run in an orderly fashion in our lives, for instance, and when to drop into our heart space and be true to ourselves in how we live. Thank you again, Hiten.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Samantha_S_Hall Many thanks for joining in this conversation, Samantha. It's so true that we were never taught to pay attention to or trust our intuitive wisdom. Also, the more educated we are and the more we spend time in the business world, the more likely we are to lean on our mind to live, instead of listening to our heart. That balance is something I'm committed to striking. Thanks again for sharing your comment, my friend!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Thanks, Jon. You're exactly right in terms of the ability to see the simplicity in complexity as something to cultivate. We reflexively think that we react to what goes on around us when we subconsciously weave all kinds of stories about what we're perceiving in our experiences. Without being mindful, we easily weave far more complex stories than they need to be. Thank you again for sharing your voice here, Jon.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Many thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt comments, Alli. Its' so very true that we can so easily get sucked into reacting with complexity, and yet we can choose to breathe and respond differently. Also love what you're teaching your daughter. It will serve her well as she grows up to recognize the difference between delights and true joy. Really appreciate your joining this conversation, Alli. You always add to my writing here.

Trackbacks

  1. […] session, what I got was essentially a continuation of the theme I wrote about last week, i.e., finding the simple in the complicated. More specifically, the guidance I received fell into these four related messages about living and […]

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