I spent a while again today watching a chunk of my forever most favourite movie – Into Great Silence. It reminds me of the 23rd Psalm – thou leadest me in green pastures . . . thou leadest me beside still waters . . . thou restorest my soul. Whatever’s going on, whatever may have shaken or ruffled me, half an hour with Into Great Silence will restore my factory settings and have me up and running again. Beauty, order, light, purpose, quietness – the things I love. It teaches me, it challenges me, it calms me.
Today it reminded me afresh of what I so easily forget – that the beauty of simplicity has to be guarded and prized.
At one time in our family life we lived next door to an elderly man who lost the will to take care of his garden. The neighbours on the other side of him had mare's tails in their garden – and those plants spread like wildfire! They travel (I think) by sprouting from an underground root system. Before too long they infested his garden. Then they started to appear in ours. Because he had ceased to tend his plot and the folk beyond weren’t bothered, there was nothing we could do about the continual uprising of mare's tails in our midst. So we just pulled up every one that appeared as soon as it appeared. We got rid of a convolvulus infestation completely that way. If you try to dig up convolvulus you just propagate it, because it sprouts from every root fragment; but I figured a plant needs aerial parts as well as roots to survive, so I just picked every baby convolvulus plant that put its head above ground, eventually winning the day.
With the mare's tails we were successful, but because of the way they spread they travelled on to the next garden. That also belonged to folk halfhearted about tending their plants – they did mow the lawn, but not much else. Our garden soon became the sole plot in the row with no mare's tails; and the only thing that kept it that way was unremitting vigilance.
So it is with the beauty of simplicity. Watching Into Great Silence again today – feasting my eyes on the beauty of sunbeams in the empty cloister, of plain wooden floorboards and scrubbed stone, of a white linen towel hanging against a rough whitewashed wall, I remembered that you have to exercise unremitting vigilance to keep it like that.
In her book The Magical Art Of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (KonMari) has a wonderful moment where she describes the unthinking action of putting some item down on an empty shelf, and forgetting to put it away in its proper place. She says it’s as though the discarded item calls out to all the other items in the house “Gather round everybody!” and before you know it you have a whole shelf full of clutter.
And then, where are the sunbeams slanting across the room, the loveliness of the wooden floor, the clean simplicity of a linen towel? Well of course, they are still there – and yet they functionally vanish as the eye becomes distracted by the accumulation of objects.
So I sorted through my things again, and could hardly believe the cling-ons I’d acquired – a button; a washer; fairy lights; the product box for earbuds; four (4!) uncomfortable bras; the plastic top from a cardboard poster-roll; a useful little plastic bag; a bobeche; a special electrical cable with a transformer, a plug at one end and a cylindrical jack at the other for – what? Not to mention the 3 ex-margarine-tubs I’d washed and kept, to store these things, in my drawer.
I paused Into Great Silence while I sorted them out and disposed of them as appropriate. Then back to the sunbeams and stone.