I keep stumbling upon books written by Zen monks. I keep purchasing them, and then I keep them nearby for quick reference when I need them. I do not know how or when I started to need the perspectives of Zen monks. This is where I have arrived in my life, and quite honestly, I am supremely happy about it.
The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno was published in 2019—on the eve a global, life-altering pandemic. How could anyone have known how prescient a book like this would be? As Covid-19 aggressively descended upon the masses, we all had to scale back the pomp and circumstance of our lives in order to be safe, thereby imposing upon ourselves the mentality of simpler living like staying home, shopping less (and online), severely limiting social interactions with people outside of one’s household, avoiding large crowds, and so on.
I cannot imagine that this book’s author would have wanted the world to accept simple living in this forced and unsettling way. Luckily, we, as any and all readers, have the ability and choice to accept a book purely for what it offers, regardless of the circumstances of the world it was thrust into.
At 399 pages, Masuno has written a guidebook on how to cultivate a simple and more stress-free life. He addresses daily practicalities like how to arrange one’s home as well as mental health and personal self-care. This book is ambitious in its scope but elemental in its presentation and design. It provides 100 techniques that virtually anyone from any walk of life can implement immediately. Each technique comes with an adorable little illustration and takes up two to three pages.
Here are the polka-dot pros:
- Steeped in Zen Principles and Japanese Culture
Each morsel of sage wisdom in this book references Zen practices and longstanding Japanese cultural sensibilities. The result is a tender and gentle portrait of a way of life that has been molded together across generations of people. This is not some stuffy academic tomb nor is it cheerful self-help fluffery. One gets the sense that there is great richness here.
- Gentle Tone and Quirky Storytelling
Masuno is more of a teacher in this book than someone simply doling out advice. His writing is clear and focused and uses simple examples to support each technique.
- Reader-friendly design and structure
You can open this book at any random page and find something useful to read. While it is formatted in a linear way and is divide in three distinct sections, it’s content can be received in any order that the reader see’s fit. Start at the end and work your way toward the beginning. Read one random passage per day. Or simply read the book in a traditional, sequential way. The book’s simplicity allows for much versatility.
Regardless of the forced simplicity that Covid-19 has imposed upon us, there are actually numerous benefits to living a simple life, particularly when we allow ourselves the choice and preference to pursue it. This book is useful at any age and with all genders and ethnicities. Its underlying goal connects to a worthwhile need—to live a meaningful, uncomplicated life. All 100 techniques may not apply to every reader, but that does not seem to be the point of it all.
Every ready has something to gain by reading this little, quiet gem, along with the power to use its wisdom in whatever manner feels best. With subtlety and nuance, Masuno hands us this power completely.