The Complexity of Simplicity

The complexity of simplicity is a paradox worth exploring

Lessons in Un-Piling — a Lesson in Simplicity


a postcard by Darbella

This road–

no one goes down it,

autumn evening.

Matsuo Basho (1644–1694)


photo by diametrik (modified WC Allen)

Speaking of the Paradox of Simplicity

Perhaps nothing is more important than truly grasping the paradoxical nature of reality — and the complexity of simplicity. Most of us hate paradox — we want things to be simple, predictable, and emphatically, we want things to be the way we think they ought to be. Flying in the face of our little foot-stomping rants about how things ‘ought to be’ is ‘how things are.’ I call this side of the equation reality.

Here’s a common paradox. People say they love someone, and their actions say the opposite. Criticisms (for their good, of course), the silent treatment (I’ll show her!), public humiliation. As opposed to loving someone, unabashedly and unreservedly — Hey Darbella!

Or, as James Taylor put it: (just downloaded his “One Man Band” live album. On that album is the best recording of “Shower the People” I’ve ever heard.)

one man band

Notice: the definitive term is: “SHOW them.”

Shower the people you love with love

Show them the way that you feel

Things are gonna be just fine if we only will (If we only will)

Shower the people you love with love

Show them the way that you feel

Things are gonna be much better if you only will.

Have a paradox, on me.

I often get requests to teach. In late February, I’m doing a 2 hour lecture/presentation on alternative approaches to pain relief. Specifically, I’ll be looking at breathwork, Bodywork, yoga, Qi Gong, and meditation as possible approaches. But key to my presentation is the idea of learning a new approach to living without adding in a list of techniques. Despite just having presented a list of techniques.

Last week, I wrote a list of 10 ways to transform 2008. The first idea was “Simplify.” My experience with clients, friends, and to a small extent, myself, is that simplification is misunderstood.

Deck Chairs, Rearranged


One client recently bought me a coffee. During the conversation she mentioned how having another kid had complicated things. She noticed that they had their kids enrolled in a bucket load of classes and teams and social stuff, and that they’d become taxi drivers. She thought perhaps limiting the kids to one sport might be an answer. I was about to agree. Then she said,“And we need a bigger house.”

I realized that she was busily doing the opposite of simplicity — she’s doing what I call rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The prevailing western myth is that ‘more is better,’ and so we make piles of stuff. We then stand back and compare our piles to the piles of our neighbours and friends. Our pile does not satisfy, so (and here is the insanity) we add more to the pile, or start a new pile!

Marketers love this.

When you think about it, my friend who thinks she needs a new house will initially feel better. First, she has surpassed “the Joneses” in her old neighbourhood. Second, she has more space for her stuff, so superficially it initially looks like less stuff. However, and here is the kicker, what tends to happen almost always is:

  1. she’ll begin to compare herself to the “new Joneses” in her new neighbourhood, and
  2. she’ll fill the empty places with more stuff.

Why? because we surround ourselves with stuff to escape from dealing with our empty lives.
Far better to look at external piles than internal meaninglessness.

Nothing is ever enough if your goal is to fill the emptiness inside (and, of course, I want to convince you that emptiness is a good thing!) with stuff. It’s the meaning of the first Basho haiku:

Even in Kyoto, Hearing the Cuckoo’s cry, I long for Kyoto

When we long for something, we are saying that ‘what is’ is not good enough.

Whatever ‘it’ is, is not good enough, strangely, when compared to ‘what is not’ — our fantasy — our longing for Kyoto, while one is IN Kyoto. It’s captured in the following line:

This isn’t as good as I remember it.

She’s Not Quite Right

I was re-reading OSHO’s Zen: The Path of Paradox on the weekend, and at one point he describes this in terms of relationships. If you want my longer ‘take’ on this, see my free Relationships booklets.


I can FIX her!”

The “YES” Stage

Anyway, a man meets a woman, or vice versa, but let’s make the description simple. In the beginning, he sees what he wants to see — the ‘good stuff.’ He’s already pre-chosen the woman on the basis of what he finds attractive physically. He puts his best foot forward, behaves, as does she. She dresses up, flatters, smiles. All is well in Fantasy Land.

The “NO! Stage

At some point, around six months, the first ‘no’ happens. Remember, up until then, it was “Yes, yes…YES!” Because he has a fantasy about how his woman ‘ought’ to be, up until the first ‘no,’ things seemed perfect.

Here’s the joke. The ‘no’ was there all along, unexpressed.

The ‘no’, paradoxically, is the point when you find out that there is another side to your partner. The paradox is this: when all you see is the “yes” side, your partner is incomplete. The pain of hearing “no” means you are now living with a real person. (There’s that “reality” word again”¦)

Which is fine, if you are awake and present. Most are not.

So, what happens normally? He thinks he’s been lied to. Deceived. Here she was, all “Yes, yes…YES!” and now she dares to disturb his fantasy, his ‘longing for Kyoto,’ by “no-ing” him. The manipulations and judgments happen, and misery is the result.

This is otherwise known as contemporary relationships.

Waking up requires radical acceptance.

And the first is this: you do not have the right to make others live up to your fantasy about who they should be or how they should act. Your longing and fantasy is nothing. It’s just a game you play in your head. Reality is what is really happening.

Or as John Lennon sang,

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”



Most people are heavily invested in their piles. Their title at work. How much stuff they have in their piles. Oddly, most in the west have bought their piles on credit, and therefore do not even own their piles.

I can own that one. I half-jokingly say Darbella and I are still paying for our European vacation, and that happened in 1986. It has only been in the last three years that we have dumped stuff and begun to pay down our debt. After 20 some years of adding to our debt pile, we have reduced it two years running. Not easy. We still want what we want, when we want it.

We now, however, see this, consciously and clearly. No excuses. So, we pay cash. Here’s a hint: you can’t get into debt using cash. Simplicity!

Back to Pain and Workshops — and Paradox


The people in pain who will attend my seminar have spent months or years in the ‘system,’ and the system has one answer for pain — medication/surgery. Most are stoned on drugs and not particularly mobile.

I’ve gotten this gig through a friend a client of mine, named Gerry. He blew his back out a few years back. We’ve worked together, and he’s a fanatic for having a disciplined approach regarding his pain. He does yoga with my yoga teacher, he meditates, he is deeply into Native Spirituality, and has never, once, taken pain medication. He’s in his 50’s and is back in school, working toward a Social Work degree. He wants to work with injured workers.

Does he have pain? Yes. Is he managing his pain? Yes.

So, what’s different here? He has changed the way he lives. Every aspect of it. He did not add on something.

He simplified.

The first simplification is a dropping of the fantasy, the longing to be pain-free. Nice fantasy, not possible. Once he accepted this as his reality, he could look to changing what caused it in the first place. His behaviour toward himself changed, and his flexibility increased, both physically and internally. He gave himself permission to experiment with new ways of being. In so doing, his pain became Muzak — background noise.

This is the no-path path.

  • If you insist that you have the ‘right’ to force others (or the cosmos) to manifest your fantasies, despite the fact that your fantasies (by definition) fly in the face of reality, you are
    doomed to a life of misery.
  • If you think that the best solution to being overworked and over-stuff-ed is to add more work and stuff, you are doomed. And yet, many people come to me with just such a request. “Teach me something simple to make what is not working for me work.”

OK. I will. Stop doing what does not work.

Be empty. Empty of your fantasies, demands, ego-driven demands for the world to put you first.

Basho’s second haiku:

This road–

no one goes down it,

autumn evening.

Read it again.

The road is the Path — the way of emptiness. Basho himself walked this path, and calls himself “no one.” Egoless, demandless,“no one” walks the path — and his total reality is:

no one, autumn evening.

No piles, no identity, no ego, no demands, no fantasies, no expectation. Just walking.

This means total freedom. You choose to do whatever you want to do, and you simply do and be it. You turn pain into Muzak, drama into comedy, all by letting go of wishing for magic.

You take your life as it is, own it all, blaming no one (in both senses of that expression — no one is to blame, and “no one” is responsible for where you are, right now) and make a choice.

In 2008, take the opportunity to notice your piles. Then, seek simplicity

You piled it there, and you walk around it, worshiping it. You think your piles makes your important, special. And someday, your relatives will own your piles, and you will be dust.

Remove the piles, stop piling more, let go of what does not work, and choose.

Choose emptiness, peace, walking, simplicity. Walk a new road, pick stuff up, put it down. Change your focus, change your path. Add the new path of adding nothing.

It’s a paradox. As is simplicity.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

2 thoughts on “The Complexity of Simplicity”

  1. I found your article to be truly alive with simplicity and truth. Loved It ~ Will Share ~ Looking forward to reading more in the future.


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