Simplicity, Complexity and the Yonder Shore

In this post, we explore Simplicity, Complexity, and the Yonder shore.   The quote below has been invaluable in my career and personal development.

“For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that, I would give you anything I have.”― Oliver Wendell Holmes

This statement is genius and provides us a rare clarification that there are different kinds of simplicity.  In my work career, keeping things simple is often cited as “preferable”.  Not many can argue with that.  The issue is that some simple solutions do not address the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve, and therefore do not work.  Simplicity on “this side” of complexity is not a solution at all.  The wisdom of the quote suggests we must understand complexity, and a simple solution is derived on the other side of that understanding,  This is extremely difficult to do.

In my personal development over the years, some authorities have delivered solutions that I would personally award the label of “simplicity on the far side of complexity”.  The nature of a concept that meets this condition is interesting.  It is a simple statement that summarizes complexity.  If you were to “squeeze” that simplicity, complexity will come pouring out of it.  You could use some of these concepts to be your standard for living your life and they would produce some results for you.

Here are some examples I consider being vehicles of “simplicity on the far side of complexity”:

    • Joseph Campbell’s “the hero’s journey” and “follow your bliss” concepts
    • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
    • Getting Things Done by David Allen
    • Bruce Lee’s martial art Jeet Kune Do (the way of the intercepting fist)

Many of these authorities have written multiple books trying to refine and clarify what they are trying to say.  It takes a very long time of persistent work, usually over a lifetime, to simplify and clarify their insights and test them out when possible.  When we apply these tools or concepts, they generally do give us a structure to work our way through real-world scenarios.  They offer us a way and work to some degree, thus helping us grow.

The Yonder Shore

Bruce Lee said of his martial art “Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a boat to get one across the river, and once across, it is to be discarded, and not be carried on one’s back”.  So the end goal is to reach the “Yonder Shore” of the river, then leave the boat behind.  Not to stay in the boat or carry the boat with you.  The idea is to subject oneself to training and understanding and then integrate that into a larger base, on the other side of the training.  Bruce then leaves us with two additional powerful statements.

    • “Use no way, as way”:
      • Our personal path is unique and is on the yonder shore of training and adventure.  If you are using someone else’s concept for yourself, you are still on the boat, limited by that concept.
      • Your style needs to be your own.
    • “Use no limitation as limitation”:
      • The human body is limited, you should transcend it.
      • Express yourself maximally.
      • The ultimate style is to have no style.

The training/concept/tool is the boat that takes us across the river of complexity.  The yonder shore is the simplicity on the far side of complexity and there are multiple ways of explaining it.  Boats that can take you across the river of complexity include The 7 Habits, Getting Things Done, Joseph Campbell, and JKD.  They are valid vehicles, each expressing characteristics of the grand mystery we find ourselves in.  What is super cool, is that each boat has commonality in the skill areas of spirituality, mental thinking, and taking action.  Each concept incorporates all three but prioritizes differently.

    • Spirituality
      • “Follow your Bliss” by Joseph Campbell represents his latest thinking in terms of personal development.  The spiritual message dominates.
    • Mental Thinking
      • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey encourages us to step back from the stimulus, think, and choose a better response.  Here we are trying to optimize, to strategically think about what our plans should be before executing.
    • Taking Action
      • Getting Things Done by David Allen emphasizes the next action management to real-time stimulus, fighting multiple enemies at once to keep your head above water.
      • JKD is about expressing your physical body with speed, power, and flexibility all while conserving as much energy as possible.

We need to be good at spirituality, mental thinking, and taking action

So which concept is best?  Which one do I need?  You need all three to be ready for deployment at any time.  These three critical competencies are interdependent.  Each one affects the other two positively or negatively.

Let me mention three other subjects we all need:  happiness, brain function, and survival.  All of these are incorporated in books that discuss these important topics and offer suggestions on how to overcome their respective challenge.   The suggestions on how to understand the challenge subjects are yet again, variations of the above methodologies.  Below I try to show how these three topics use the above critical skill areas.  What I am trying to show here is that each topic requires all three critical competencies.

  • What Happy People Know by Dan Baker Ph.D.
    • Fear is our #1 enemy of happiness and we are to overcome it with spirit and intellect.
    • Happiness tools are about taking action.
  • Your Brain at Work by Jacob Rock
    • We need a director to help control what gets loaded onto your mental stage and to not be stuck in our default “lost in thought” existence.  Otherwise, you are missing the needed information because you are not paying attention.
    • Five functions of understanding, deciding, recalling, memorizing, and inhibiting make up the majority of conscious thought.  These functions are re-combined to plan, problem-solve, communicate, and to perform other tasks.  They use the prefrontal cortex intensely and require a lot of resources to operate.
    • There are severe limitations to optimal brain function.
    • The brain requires everything to be just right for it to operate at peak performance.
    • No matter who you are you cannot sit and make brilliant decisions all day.
    • Once you take an action, an energetic loop commences that makes it harder to stop that action.
  • Deep Survival, Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales
    • Survivors go inside.
    • Some people update their mental models better than others, they are called survivors.
    • Take correct decisive action – transform thought into action, take risks, large jobs into small tasks, do each task well, deal with what is within your power and leave the rest behind.

Wow, this simplicity stuff is complex!

Exactly.  Simplicity and complexity are opposites.  One does not exist without the other.  As the Yin Yang symbol shows, there is a little bit of one in the other.  Simplicity has complexity in it.  Complexity has simplicity in it.  Squeeze one, and the other pops out of it.  Simplicity is order, complexity is chaos.  One begets the other. This is the cycle of change.

The “Yonder Shore” is the completion of the journey. The return.  Having completed the journey, crossing the threshold to the unknown (complexity) in a boat (adventure with certain gear, team, rules, concepts), battled against obstacles, finding treasure, and returning it back to the known (simple) world, we are bigger for the experience.  Saying no to the boat ride means stagnation and no growth.  Saying yes to the boat ride is saying yes to adventure, physically or in our mind. We should not carry our boat with us on our backs, we should find another one to adventure in the next time.

The “who we are today” in the simple known world, must adventure into the complex unknown world, overcome trials and tribulations (fight/wrestle with), obtain the treasure, and escape/return back to the known/simple world to grow the individual self into the “who we are after the adventure”.

OK, I need a boat to adventure in that is robust to ensure my safe return.

Luckily, we know that our survival/effectiveness/happiness kit is inside us.  We just need an efficient way to load massive complexity on our extremely limited mental stage, in a simple fast way.  The method must address spirituality, mental thinking abilities, and taking quick decisive action.  We roll this up into striving to be Radiant, Prepped and Frosty.

  • Radiant – spiritually alive
    • Lead with your strengths, they are your weapons of salvation to cultivate your personal power.
    • Trust in yourself and keep fear at bay.
    • In the end, security is an inside job.  Learn to live inside out, not outside in.
    • Align your inner-outer worlds for greater performance.
  • Prepped – strategic planning
    • Use your brain as much as possible, but it is extremely limited.
    • Your brain is powerful, but not sufficient.  You simply do not have all the necessary information and never will, even with a computer chip implanted in your skull.
    • Fear lives in the brain and will challenge us our entire lives.  It is the #1 enemy of our happiness and growth.  We must have the courage to adventure into the complex/unknown realms that are out of our comfort zone.
  • Frosty – tactical action
    • Be able to take quick action on instinct without thinking.
    • Hesitation can be deadly, you cannot afford to intellectualize every moment.

Simply saying the phrase: Radiant, Prepped and Frosty loads your mental stage rapidly with the tool-set needed for any and all situations known and unknown.  As the complexity of life oozes out of the Radiant, Prepped and Frosty mindset, you now have a flexible, adaptable, and powerful tool-set to deal with it competently.  They function independently when necessary, and complement each other into a balanced solution for the majority of life situations.  Make Radiant, Prepped and Frosty your core, then add your own needs on top of that.  The universe made you to be you.  Let’s make that happen!

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