Simplicity

There is something about human nature that seems to believe that the more complex something is, the more likely it is to be true. That flies in direct contradiction to such things as the Law of Parsimony, which holds that the simplest explanation is most often the best one. Nevertheless, we forge on, often attracted to spiritual practices that are wildly complex – and if they come from complexitywherever we decide is an exotic land, perhaps like Cleveland, we like them even better.

I believe that, when it comes to the spiritual life at least, part of the reason we are drawn to complexity is that is helps us avoid getting down to the real work that needs to be done. For example, in parts of Buddhism there developed a preliminary practice of doing ten thousand eight hundred prostrations. And, I am quite certain, it developed for a very good cultural reason and is a very wonderful practice – but under the best of circumstances it takes a couple of years to complete. I am sure there are some westerners drawn to the practice because they think, “wow, I can get it shape AND do spiritual practice!” That’s an exercise in missing the point, and if people enter the practice with that attitude I can almost guarantee they won’t finish it. What’s more, they can use the practice as an excuse to avoid looking at what’s really going on in their lives – and that’s avoidance, not spirituality.

One of the best reasons to go on silent retreat is that it will force you to look at your issues. Even if you aren’t a meditator or a contemplative prayer practitioner, sitting in the silence without distractions like cell phones, computers, televisions, or even books, forces us to look at what’s going on. It’s a simple practice, but extremely effective – which may be why so many people avoid it!

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