Whereas a lot of Buddhism concerns itself with stages of enlightenment, various precepts and moral codes, and even power structures and hierarchies, Zen is just like, ‘Shut up, sit down, and observe your thoughts – oh, and by the way, what you perceive as you’ doesn’t actually exist.’ I loved the minimalist approach of it. – Mark Manson
I’ve been thinking a little bit about the things that matter recently – and it caused me to take another look at minimalism.
There are people for whom material things are very important – they are a symbol of status and achievement and power, or they are just things that they like to have and believe they deserve because they’ve worked hard for them.
The thing with stuff is that it weighs you down in a way that other things don’t.
Take learning the guitar, for example.
Once you’ve learned how to play the guitar that’s something you take with you – and you will always be one of those people that can sit strumming the instrument with a circle of people listening to you.
The things you learn, the skills you develop have no weight at all – they stay with you as long as you have your faculties.
So while there is no limit to what you can learn and how you can develop yourself – that’s not the case with stuff.
The more you have, more it has you – you have to deal with it and move it and clean it and maintain it and upgrade it and suddenly you spend all your time being a servant to your stuff.
Or maybe not.
So I went back online to see what people were saying and not much had changed.
One set of voices link minimalism with having less stuff – to the point where you have 100 things or less, 50 things or less.
Or you have less but better or some variation on that theme.
But it comes down to quantity and volume and generally just spending your time counting.
The other side of this coin is that you keep things that make you happy – things that spark joy according to Marie Kondo.
Which is a nice term and obvious to some and airy-fairy to others.
But you’ve got to remember that minimalism as a term probably originated in the art world – as artists tried to strip things down to the essentials – keeping only what mattered and creating sparse works.
Or, if you wanted to be more prescriptive about it limiting themselves to simple shapes and geometric patterns.
In the midst of all this you have a few furious Guardian columnists who denounce all this as a fad for the rich.
And they have a point.
There does seem to be a tendency among people to turn everything good into some kind of competition or formula.
They focus on the act rather than the intent and in doing so what they end up making are empty gestures.
And this leaves them open to accusations of being stereotypes.
For example, minimalism is a thing that men do because women are the ones that like fluffy stuff – how many men go out and buy throw cushions or whatever those things are called that litter every surface you want to sit or lie on.
It’s a form of shaming – isn’t it?
And it’s also something only rich people can choose to do – you can live without money only if you have enough.
When you don’t, life is too hard.
And all these are valid criticisms but I felt they missed the point.
Which is what?
Well… it seems to me that the only reason you would get stuff or get rid of stuff is to become free?
Free from what?
The Buddha probably got it right there.
Freedom from Suffering.
The actual word is “Duhkha” – and it’s not suffering in the sense of a wound or a sore, but the opposite of happiness or comfort.
It’s the opposite of what Pirsig terms “Peace of mind” in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
Wikipedia says the word originated as an axle hole that isn’t in the centre, and so the cart bumps along giving you an uncomfortable ride.
And how do you solve this?
By becoming more aware of yourself and what you really need.
Because that understanding is what matters – and it may or may not lead to a more minimalist lifestyle.
But it may lead to one with more “Sukha”, or happiness.