OVERCOMPLICATING OUR LIVES
“My wish for Panama would be that we could all love each other and have the same opportunities; that we don’t complicate our lives. People here complicate and become entangled in life. I wish that they could realize that life is simpler and less complicated than we think.”
I met His Excellency José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta, the Catholic archbishop of Panama, as part of a combined business and personal trip to Panama. He shared with me a story from his childhood when he had a very personal encounter with God. I was deeply moved by his humility. But what surprised me most of all was when I asked him if he had a message for the people of Panama. His message was simple and profound—that we complicate our lives, that we become entangled in life, and that life is simpler than we think.
When I think about how I have unnecessarily complicated my life, and other people’s lives, it doesn’t take long to come up with a list: Being overly competitive, worrying about worst case scenarios that never happen, overfocusing on the self. One complication supersedes all of these— being addicted to busy-ness and activity. This led me in search of wisdom from many spiritual guides and I found two beautiful quotes, one from Thomas Merton, and one from Anthony De Mello:
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.”
~ Thomas Merton
“To find the kingdom of joy is the easiest thing in the world but also the most difficult. Easy because it is all around you and within you, and all you have to do is reach out and take possession of it.
“Difficult because if you wish to possess the kingdom you may possess nothing else. That is, you must drop all inward leaning on any person or thing, withdrawing from them forever the power to thrill you, or excite you, or to give you a feeling of security or well-being.
“For this, you first need to see with unflinching clarity this simple and shattering truth: Contrary to what your culture and religion have taught you, nothing, but absolutely nothing can make you happy.
“The moment you see that, you will stop moving from one job to another, one friend to another, one place, one spiritual technique, one guru to another. None of these things can give you a single minute of happiness. They can only offer you a temporary thrill, a pleasure that initially grows in intensity, then turns into pain if you lose them and into boredom if you keep them. Think of the numberless persons and things that so excited you in the past.”
~ Anthony De Mello
Addiction to busy-ness and activity is rewarded in society. It is hard to give up achieving. I once helped start a 12-step meeting for work addiction but I got too busy for meetings! I’ve noticed that no amount of achievement will make me happy— that my happiness comes from my “OK-ness” with myself and all that is. From Grace. From loving more than taking.
Thank you to the most kind and gentle Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta for reminding me to not make life overly complicated. May the people of Panama continue to be blessed by his spiritual leadership.