Ode to Simplicity

Back in early 2006 I had the joy of participating in an intense meditation retreat for a week. Leading the practice was Lama Changchub Dorje Sondup, an eighty year old man from Nepal.

Mind as sharp as a razor, crystal clear like the blue sky on the peak of Mount Everest and, most importantly, emanating unconditional love and compassion for anything and everything. Some experience, to be in his presence.

I remember, when the week was about to come to an end, conscious that Lama Changchub would soon go back to Nepal, I asked him:

"Lama, what is the most important thing to do with our minds?"

I wanted to know on what to focus my future efforts. His answer was simple:

"Cultivate a benevolent mind".

I really liked that answer, so I asked a second question:

"And what is the most important thing not to do with our minds?"

"Cultivate a malevolent mind."

This apparently obvious answer slowly plummeted into my very core, and from there it transformed into an epiphany. It's been almost 15 years, but I remember that moment like it happened yesterday.

Back then, I was on my way to becoming a Buddhist myself, but I still wasn't that familiar with concepts like Bodhicitta: the most powerful driving force for those who wish to attain enlightenment. The spontaneous wish to become a Buddha in order to benefit all sentient beings. The heart of awakening.

Lama Changchub embodies it with his every cell. In Nepal he is treated as a living Buddha.

Back in that room, I was awestruck. That answer was so simple. So brilliantly simple.

Nowadays we have the tendency to want to simplify everything. The tools we use, the jobs we do, and basically almost every other aspect of our lives.

This might be thought as something good, or beneficial, and sometimes it is, sure, but when we cross a certain line, simplification comes with a price.

For example, ordering stuff on the web with a click of a button is super simple, but it comes at a great price for the environment. Another example is the interfaces we use every day: our phones, our laptops, our devices: the more we simplify those interfaces, the more we have to relinquish control of some of their functionalities, because a machine is now taking care of them. Sometimes it is undesirable.

So for me, simplicity, intended as the natural outcome of the process of simplification, is all about balance. We have to find that sweet spot between the different desired features, and then we can start hacking away at the unessential. Do a bad job with a piece of software, and you won't become a millionaire, but what happens when we simplify too much in our personal practice? Or when we simplify a ritual that belongs to a tradition that has been there for 2600 years, just because we find it a bit too difficult?

Are we entitled to simplify rituals and practices that belong to millennial traditions? Some practitioners of those traditions have trained for years, sometimes for 10 - 20 hours a day. Are we sure we are correct in thinking that something is too difficult, when we dedicate 30 minutes to it, maybe not even every day?

This is a very slippery slope, and I find myself reflecting on this subject quite often, especially when I teach and practice Reiki.

Some Reiki lineages advocate rituals that are quite complex. I know practitioners that have to prepare for 5 minutes before they can finally start a treatment. Do this symbol on this hand, then this other one on the other hand, then do this mudra, then repeat this mantra, then set your intention like this and like that, then do the cleansing, then imagine the light here and there, and so on... It would drive me nuts.

On the other hand, there are other Reiki teachers and practitioners who advocate that Reiki just works, and it doesn't matter if you practice, or if you are angry, worried, not grateful, etc.

I think these two examples are at the extreme ends of a broad spectrum, in which all of us Reiki practitioners find our spot. For me, the best way to practice Reiki is somewhere in the middle. I don't think we need complicated rituals. I do love and teach some rituals, but they are all quite simple, and in their simplicity I find they have a deep meaning, and a purpose. But on the other hand, I don't think that Reiki just works even if we don't practice, or if we're angry, worried, and so on.

I think Reiki is our birthright. We are Reiki. But like everything else, if we don't practice, it will remain a seed, an untapped potential within our hearts and minds. We have the gift of music, of producing delicious food, art, science, etc., but no-one would put a violin in the hands of someone who never practiced it, and tell them "just go on stage and don't worry, it will work". No. It won't. They will make dogs howl.

Practice is everything. And within Mikao Usui's instructions there are pointers to it almost everywhere. Moreover, one could wonder, if Mikao Usui found it necessary to instruct us to work on our anger, worry, fear, gratitude, truthfulness and compassion, how can it be that if we don't do that work, Reiki just works anyway? This is something to think about, especially if you find yourself disagreeing.

There is no "Just for today, play tennis for 3 hours" precept in the Reiki Gokai, so I guess being good at tennis is not a requisite to be a good Reiki practitioner. But anger, worry, fear, and all the rest? Indeed we need to address those. Those are vital.

So, in the process of simplification, especially when it comes to a spiritual practice, we need to be able to understand if we are removing something that is not essential, or if we're just being lazy because we don't want to do the hard work, and we are removing something that is part of the heart of the system.

We need to be brutally honest with ourselves, which can be challenging, at times.

Having a good teacher helps a lot. Someone who can guide us, who is not afraid to tell us "you are not ready for this yet" or "you need to practice more". Someone who doesn't lie to us because they are afraid that the truth will send us straight into the arms of another type of teacher.

True teachers aren't easy to find these days. They are becoming more and more rare. They rarely can make a living in this world where to get more students you need to market yourself offering the new incredible thing, all the time. Meditation is meditation, and you should be what is new every day, not the practice. But this doesn't sell too well.

So when you find a good teacher, grab on, and don't let go. Keep in touch with them, and keep training with them, support them, because spiritual practice is a life long journey, and it's not easy.

It requires effort, especially at the beginning, and discipline, honesty, humility, courage, and several other qualities, but it's a wonderful path, on which life does become simpler. Priorities shift, we are less confused, less opinionated, calmer, more openminded. We love more, we breathe better, we let go, and everything eventually transforms.

So, one could say, simplicity is not found in removing what we don't like or find difficult in a practice, but actually it lies in its opposite: in sitting down and practicing it!

So, don't allow laziness to dictate the simplification rules and you'll be fine. And always remember the most powerful piece of advice I have ever received, which I leave in your hands like a precious gift:

"Cultivate a benevolent mind. Don't cultivate a malevolent mind".

Everything you want to be, is hidden in those two sentences.

Thank you, Lama Changchub.

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