Flexing the Imagination. Simplicity is Beautiful

April 8

Sufi saying: “Blessed are the flexible for they will never be bent out of shape.”

Find the laziest worker who is still getting the work done well and study his motions. That was the philosophy of industrial engineers and pioneers of time and motion study, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. That’s not a quote – but rather what I remember from reading many years ago the humorous telling of their life story in “Cheaper by the Dozen”.

My son has adopted as a favorite maxim Occam’s razor, “the best solution is most often the simplest.” As a family we have co-opted this theory when something needs fixing. If the lamp isn’t working, first check to see if it’s plugged in.

In its own way, each of these is saying something similar; sometimes we struggle needlessly because of our own rigidity around ideas, or ways of doing things, or a desire to have what we want at whatever cost.

Occam’s razor and Galbraith’s engineering show us that innovation in technology requires an openness, even playfulness when considering a problem or an obstacle.  It is my experience when a solution to a complex and seemingly stumping problem doesn’t come through focused concentration, it will suddenly come when I take time away from the problem, to play or to sleep. Jungian psychology explains this principle: when our conscious focus is withdrawn there is an opportunity for the unconscious or intuitive to reveal the solution. The creative solution that emerges from the unconscious is often so blindingly beautiful or simple that Deists recognize it as an inspiration of the Divine.

These same principles are equally valid in technology and social problems. I have often struggled with how to respond to or mediate a sensitive relationship concern, going to bed with a headache. Wisdom comes in the night and I awake with at least the knowledge of what part of the situation is my business and responsibility and what part is needless worrying about something that is not my problem to solve. This simplifies the problem by shaving off the solutions that are not mine to effect.

In her book “The Cosmic Dance,” spiritual director and author Joyce Rupp wrote: “I’ve learned how to not be broken from life’s unwanted things by watching a willow in the wild wind tossing and bending rather than pushing back against the storm. It’s taught me that I can’t always have everything go my way. Sometimes I need to bend a bit.” Spiritual wisdom of several faith traditions teaches that much suffering is caused from mental clinging to someone or something that I feel I must have or some inflexibility about a way that something has to be done. Our own rigidity about what we want and how to get it is the antithesis of living in peace with myself and the world around me.

Sometimes we have to struggle, resist and persist to reach a desired goal, as in training for a marathon. Many projects would be unfinished without pushing forward in perseverance. However, when we are facing an obstacle or challenge, we struggle more than we need when we are inflexible and clinging to what is comfortable and familiar. We can learn from nature’s path of least resistance – water doesn’t flow uphill; it chooses the simplest and easiest path to its goal.

The river flows towards the ocean, making its way around obstacles, sometimes moving slowly and sometimes quickly, sometimes going underground, but never losing sight of its ultimate desire and goal – which is always the ocean. We can be like a river.

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for the ability to see and cooperate with the energies and currents that help to carry me towards my heart’s desire.

Occam’s razor: “Plurality must never be posited without necessity.” Occam wasn’t the first and only one to articulate this principle…  Aristotle said basically the same thing in more accessible language, “the more limited, if adequate, is always preferable”) The principle has been used in developing theoretical science models, in Sci-fi plots and, in the case of our family, to fix machines and other equipment. The operative words are “simple” and “adequate.”