Bruce Lee applied this idea primarily to his martial art, but he also applied it in life—moving towards simplicity of movement, thought, and being. It’s about cutting away everything that isn’t essential, and restraining our impulse to keep adding on and accumulating. Bruce started out studying Wing Chun, a martial art with very stylized movements. But through his personal experiences of fighting in real life, Bruce ultimately became very obsessed with the idea of “what actually works” in a fight. He studied boxing, how to punch somebody or not to get punched by somebody, and how to fight someone who fights differently from him.
“Avoid the superficial, penetrate the complex, go to the heart of the problem, and pinpoint the key factors.”
Sometimes when you add so many “features” or “add-ons” to something, you lose focus and clarity. You can get off track of your task or mission when “shiny objects” distract you.
“Do not beat around the bush. Do not take winding detours. Follow a straight line to the objective; simplicity is the shortest distance between two points.”
This doesn’t mean taking the shortest route, but asking what is unnecessary in REAL life.
This also applies to how we communicate. We can be verbose or use circuitous language to obscure the truth or to sound lofty. Sometimes there is a feeling that being too direct will cause offence or come off as rude. This can be a cultural thing in the west. However, you can be direct without attacking or being rude. It is cutting away the detritus to reveal the real work of art.
“Scratch away all the dirt your being has accumulated and reveal reality in its nakedness.”
We accumulate this dirt as protection and security, and it’s not easily shed, you have to want to get rid of it. There are so many distractions clothed as things to make your life easier, but they distract and clutter instead.
“It is not difficult to trim and hack off the nonessentials in outward, physical structure. However, to minimize inwardly is another matter.”
A way to practice minimizing inwardly is to do it from the outside, clearing your physical space (for example your bathroom or closet!) and then taking that practice inward and clearing your mind of negative thoughts or things you can let go of.
“The more aware you become, the more you can shed from day to day what you have learned so that your mind is always fresh and uncontaminated by previous conditioning.”
Here, Bruce is really talking about the dropping of habits. Not just bad habits, but also examining if your good habits are still working for you. You should meet the moment as it is, with immediacy, and in that context, there is no space for habits. Ultimately, we are talking about being able to respond simply and honestly in the real moment.
“To obtain enlightenment means the extinction of everything which obscures the “real life.” At the same time, it implies boundless expansion.”
So much of our current consumer culture is about obscuring this “real life.” You’re buying things to distract, numb, or entertain yourself for a moment. This keeps you away from that “real life.”
There is currently a shift in our culture from the older generation’s model of needing high-priced things for status, like a luxury car, to the younger generation’s choice to use money for different life experiences rather than status objects.
“The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. Halfway cultivation runs to ornamentation. This is the problem of ripening. This ripening is the progressive integration of the individual with his being, his essence. This is possible only through self-exploration in free expression and not in the imitative repetition of imposed patterns.”
Once you’re grounded, you no longer need to impress or validate, and you can drop so many of your habits and just operate from within. Take a moment to pause to look at ALL of it, from the thoughts in your head to your physical environment to how is your approach to living, and ask, “What of these things is essential to my real life?”
Sometimes we keep objects that clutter our physical space due to an imagined sentimental value, but if you never use them, do you need them?
“The tools, your natural weapons, have a double purpose. To destroy the opponent in front of you, or the annihilation of things that stand in the way of peace, justice and humanity, and to destroy your own impulses caused by the instinct of self-preservation, to destroy anything bothering your mind, not to hurt anyone, but to overcome your own greed, anger, and folly.”
“The spirit is by nature, formless, and no “objects” are to be harboured in it. When anything is harboured there, psychic energy loses its balance, its native activity becomes cramped, and it no longer flows with the stream. Where the energy is tipped, there is too much of it in one direction and a shortage of it in another direction. But when the spirit harbours nothing in it, nor is it tipped in one direction, it transcends.”
Take a look and examine your life and say, “Am I living the life I want to live? Am I having as much joy as I could? Where are areas where could I have more joy?” What can you let go of? How can you be more direct? How can you un-clutter your environment? How can you un-clutter your mind by letting go of a negative thought?