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I’m very visual and audial. I thrive in breathable, open spaces filled with luxurious silence. It’s terrible to have too many things; it is far better to treasure but a few. Without clearing and clarifying, energy gets blocked and stagnation sets in. I miss wading in the gently winding river of chi: the light-filled positive energy allowed to wash through my apartment and my life when I keep the area plain and clear. In writing this month’s column, I have come to appreciate the significance and spiritual nature of the practice of simplification.

The definition of to “simplify” has itself been rendered complex by Meriam-Webster. To simplify means: to reduce to basic essentials; to diminish in scope or complexity; or to make more intelligible. I was in desperate need of all of the above; so in reflecting upon each as a distinct stage in a process, I envisioned a way of surfacing from my own oceanic wreckage.

“To reduce to basics” is an obvious infinitive phrase. I surveyed every room for a redundancy of Buddhas, Quan Yins and candles. I culled knickknacks from all directions, wrapping and donating them. I wanted to free myself from the disabling degree of amassed possessions. I’m not a hoarder; I rationalized: I’m a connoisseur of sacred and beautiful things. Right — that’s how I got in this predicament in the first place. My dad’s bumper sticker slogan now sounded strangely like wisdom: “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Simplicity next asks us “to diminish in scope or complexity.” We need not procrastinate, overwhelmed by the mere thought of inventorying our life’s stores. We need only ask: should an exigency arise — should the meteor finally strike the earth and force us to flee — what should we take? I would grab just my pipe bag, hand drum and purse: everything else is incidental. When considering what I truly valued for survival and happiness, the list diminished significantly in scope and complexity.

The first two of the above steps are rudimentary: clearing clutter and letting go of attachments are fundamentals. I could follow those steps and enjoy a slight measure of Feng Shui. How was I to navigate the last, most difficult challenge in the voyage toward simplicity, that of making life “more intelligible?” Extranea had given rise to distraction over time, entangling my thoughts in murky waters. The remains of my highest ideals were dashed ashore, my dreams nearly vanquished by dark waves.

As I cleared more empty space, a dream began clarifying, buoyed on a tide of lucid possibility. Why not treat my apartment like a lakeside getaway cabin? With that image in mind, I pared the place down, simplifying the interior and, concomitantly, my life. I left several walls bare, hanging only artwork or painted sayings that held deep personal meaning. I cleared counters and surfaces of their mélange, leaving only those objects possessed of both beauty and utility.

Tables and shelves would remain natural, stripped of altar cloths, doilies and dresser scarves. Each piece of furniture now shone in its distinctive, essential condition. As an irretrievable bibliophile, it was time I faced the question of how many books I would part with in favor of a reduced, less complex, intelligible existence. Here was the test: if I hadn’t opened a book in half a year, it was extra. I bravely cleared shelves and carried stacks of books to sell to Half Price Books.

I now delight in the glossy, reflective surfaces of my small wooden dining table, dry sink and bookshelves. All the white objects — three Quan Yins and four vanilla candles — look more beautiful, having been rendered more isolated and visible. There is room for energy to flow around them. The task of clearing yielded for me instant rewards. Likewise, the remaining icons on my altars seem pleased and appeased.

Already I imagine a Yoga mat spread evenly over the burgundy Persian rug. I feel more energized, believing I can accomplish things, maybe express myself again through art, music and writing. Simplification is more than a concept: it’s paramount as a precursor to emotional vitality and spiritual growth.

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Janet Michele Red Feather
Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., has taught literature and composition for 18 years at the university, state, tribal and community college levels. She is currently a tenured English Faculty member at Normandale Community College. Janet enjoys her role as Ceremonial Singer for Native American ceremonies, singing traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota. She made a career shift into teaching after serving nearly eight years as a defense litigator in California. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. She welcomes correspondence at JanetRedFeather77@gmail.com.

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