By Kellie Schorr
I was 15 years old the summer I met Indiana Jones---the most rugged, confident, daring and whip-skilled archeology professor in all the world.
To young me, “Raiders of the Ark” was a revelation. The movie gave me an appreciation for action films, an awareness that you could be feminine, smart and strong at the same time (Thanks, Marion Ravenwood) and affirmed my already oversized fear of snakes.
Growing up in a household without religion, Raiders sparked my interest in the Ark of the Covenant and the whole idea of relics. Eight years later when Indiana went searching for his father and the Holy Grail, I was far more educated about the world of college professors, cultural consciousness and biblical narrative history.
The magic was gone.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the penultimate scene where Indy must find the Grail in a room full of fancy golden chalices to save his father’s life.
The stakes are high. Indy is advised by a depressingly passive 700-year-old knight, “The true grail will give you life. The false grail will take it from you. Choose wisely.” Frantically, he looks around the room. The villain has already picked a wrong one and died a horrifying special effects death right in front of us. Dr. Jones grabs the crappiest looking cup there is, ragged brass with clay outside, dusty and dented.
“This is a carpenter’s cup!” Indy proclaims with authority. The audience breathes a collective sigh of relief when he takes a sip, and we realize he’s picked the right one. Thank goodness for all those years he spent getting his doctorate so he can navigate the dishware.
Except, it’s not the right cup, really. At the very least, it’s not the right reason. The Holy Grail, the cup of Last Supper, wasn’t a “carpenter’s cup” because it didn’t belong to Jesus in the first place.
In the biblical book of Mark, chapter 14, we find Jesus telling his disciples to follow a man carrying a water jar and ask the owner of the house he goes to, “Where the guest room in which I might eat the Passover meal with my disciples.” When they arrive, the room is described as “furnished and prepared.”
The cup belonged to the owner of the house. Considering the upper room of the house was large enough to hold 13 people, the owner was financially secure enough to feed 13 people, and it was a cup used in a highly valued annual religious ritual---it is highly likely one of those glittering gold cups would have been more correct.
Why do movie audiences fall for this oversight? Because it’s an action movie, not a documentary. More importantly, the writers designed this effective, albeit inaccurate, narrative because we have an insatiable love for the “simple” things. The idea of a “common carpenter’s cup” holds far more appeal than a fancy-dancy goblet buffed to a shine. The shabby chic chalice makes us feel good because it meets our expectations of simplicity.
The False Simplicity
In a world where simplicity is a driving desire, why is Western society notorious for complexity, anxiety and struggle? We have tidied up with Marie Kondo, meditated with YouTube videos, and purchased no less than five “creative planners” designed to straighten out our messy day-to-day. Where’s the peace? Where’s the order? Where’s the “carpenter’s cup” of our being?
Sadly, we have not chosen wisely. Mistakes were made.
We often mistake poverty for simplicity. Poverty of funds, materials, education, critical thinking or social standing often get slotted into that honored space we save for simplicity. Like our nostalgia-laden childhoods, our myths and inspirations are filled with impoverished people thriving on improvised gadgets, exhausting hard work or "down home wisdom."
We champion lack as a virtue and ignore the real challenges of class and obstacles.
We talk of our ancestors and how they didn’t need cell phones, college degrees or mental health days. They just relied on what they had. It was a “simpler time.” It was also a time when preventable/treatable diseases killed people because they didn’t have enough money to go to a doctor. The parents who worked every waking hour to give their kids a home also left them with abandonment issues and emotionally stunted communication patterns. The “we didn’t have all these needs back then” group seems to also not have a sense of connectedness or empathy.
We wax nostalgic about simplicity because it pushes away our moments of fear, dysfunctional family dynamics, the challenges of “hard truth” conversations and those awkward feelings as our bodies change and our experiences get more outdated by the second. When we are compassionately courageous, we can admit that in the journey of our lives and those who came before us; there was nothing simple about it.
Simplicity is a currency of Western Buddhist culture. We speak of it as a sign of enlightenment---an easy-breezy "do or do not" Yoda-inspired way of looking at the world. We are always waiting for or wanting something that brings simplicity to our busy, clogged, chaotic realities. Then, at some point, worn out from sitting still and broke from the many singing bowls, books, malas, bells, cushions and retreats we've purchased, we sigh that "simplicity" is oddly complex to achieve.
It doesn't have to be that way.
Simplicity isn’t throwing everything away so the top of your desk is clear. Sure, it feels good, until you need those notes you tossed out, a pen, that small fan that kept you from feeling hot and bored, or an object that represented a memory which inspires you. Then, nothing is as peaceful as you hoped. A simple path is not something you can buy, make, or project manage. It’s not a thing. It’s not a situation. It’s not an act. It is an awareness.
Simplicity is being present in the moment you are in with attention, clarity and acceptance. It is:
-Listening to the person talking to you and the words they are saying.
-Giving the moment exactly what it needs. If you need sleep, sleep. If someone needs help with their electric bill and you can do it, help them. If you can’t do it, help them find who can.
-Doing whatever the moment requires. If you’re in line and you have to wait, then wait with patience. Stop running through a list of all the things you could be doing at this moment. Just wait. Do one thing. Then, the next.
-Letting the people who share your moments be exactly who they are. Don’t get caught up in what you don’t like or understand or “how could they think that…” just be in the moment with them. You’ll find relationships of all kinds are simpler and more fulfilling when you’re just enjoying the ride together, not trying to be a mechanic.
-Learning from the truth at the heart of each moment. Each moment can teach you something if you pay attention to it, even if the lesson is just how very fast the best moments seem to pass.
-Connecting to everything inside of a moment. If you’re washing dishes, connect to the people who used them, or the farmers, inspectors, truck drivers and clerks who helped you put that delicious food together. If you’re navigating a difficult discussion with your “almost adult” child, connect to their position, their feelings, their longing. It doesn’t mean you have to give them what they want, but often having someone who is really present with them is what they truly seek in the first place.
There’s nothing wrong with all those phone apps to help you manage your calories, appointments, movie lists and meditation sessions. It’s really okay (in fact, necessary) to have a Marie Kondo inspired joy-sparking closet clean out. However, if simplicity is really what you want for your life, you’ll have to choose to embody it moment, by moment, by moment.
False simplicity, built on nostalgic ideals and acts without awareness, will take joy from your path. Simplicity grounded in presence and empathy toward yourself and others will give peace back to you.
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