As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.
-- Henry David Thoreau
I thought the word complexify was a neologism until I discovered it actually is listed in the unabridged dictionary. It means, as one might guess, to make complex or to become complex. It seems to me that human history writhes with increasing complexity. Examples abound, but my favorite example is the US Tax Code. The modern tax code debuted in 1913, comprising 400 pages of definitions and instructions. Now, in 2012, 99 years later, there are 73,608 pages in it. Indeed, the tax code is so complex that almost any change made by Congress will result in conflicts with some other part of the code.
Most of the tax code is unintelligible to the vast number of Americans, so an industry of tax preparers, programmers, and accountants has grown to meet the need. About 80% of Americans use a tax preparer or software to complete their tax return. The IRS does not know how many tax preparers are in business nationwide, though estimates range from 600,000 to 900,000. I’ll bet it is higher.
The tax preparation industry itself cannot properly follow the code. Every year, Money Magazine hires a bevy of tax experts to calculate the tax on a relatively complex financial scenario of “Mr. John Q” taxpayer. Invariably, every preparer’s final number differs from the others, so no one gets it “right”. Usually there are multiple ways of arriving at the final taxable amount. Herein is the rub: if we simplified the code so the average-intelligence American could perform the calculation, it would put another million people out of business.
Tax owed = $5,723...
or maybe you get a refund of $2,891 ?!
In college chemistry, I learned about the universal energy property of entropy, the measure of a system’s heat energy that is unavailable for doing useful work. In a closed system, like our universe, entropy always increases. It is not a reversible process. The analogy to an ever-increasing tax code that does not do useful work is obvious.
I find my own life filled with entropic complexity, always increasing, sometimes bringing confusion, and always causing me to wonder about simplifying. However, that being said, I like to collect, organize, and play with STUFF. I occasionally wonder about simplifying to the max, like Thoreau or Gandhi, men who were able to distill the cacophony of living to an essence that bespoke wisdom.
The awakening man grows in his awareness of how he complicates his life. He discards first the dross of dishonesty, denial, and bigotry. He cleans up his house, trashing all those useless character traits that no longer serve him. He looks at all the material things he has accumulated and starts to eliminate the useless, the old and tired, the meaningless. He opens up to letting go of his addictions, his negativity, and his diseases. He understands that this purging opens up space in his world for positive change, new directions, and more of the values he wants. Perhaps he simplifies to the extreme, or perhaps he lets go of an old photo that brings painful memories. Perhaps he follows a simple middle ground.
What would be the most extreme way you might simplify your life? Would you want that? What about letting go of your depression, anxiety, or resentment? What about awakening to the simple code of love?