Faith is a funny thing. We often think of it in the context of religious belief. As a matter of fact, the words faith and religion are often used interchangeably — he was of the Christian faith, she was of the Islamic faith, those of the Jewish faith observe Yom Kippur, and so on. But that really is a kind of semantic theft. More broadly speaking, faith refers to our confidence or trust in something or someone. It can be fairly prosaic: She had complete faith in her dog's ability to find the way home. He had complete faith that his battered old Chevy would make it through the winter.
So in the context of our ordinary lives, our "faith" is our belief about the way in which the world works. And it is our faith in that belief that, ideally, shapes our own behavior. Sometimes that is an organized religion, sometimes it is a series of scientific laws, sometimes it is a personalized combination of religion and science, philosophy and politics. Faith — belief and experience — governs our everyday lives. We behave in ways that experience has taught us will obtain the results we desire; we have faith in those beliefs.
But Faith — writ large — stretches beyond our daily scrambles and challenges here on the third rock orbiting a minor star in a very ordinary galaxy. Faith writ large is our understanding of the universe, of our place in it and how we should behave in accordance with that understanding. It is similar to, but far greater than lower case faith.
I place my faith in something I have called by various names over the last couple of decades, Chord Theory, Universal Resonance, and now Distilled Harmony. But while the name has shifted, the core theory doesn't change as much as it evolves. It began with the three main tenets of Foster Harmony, Enable Beauty, and Oppose Harm. But I was always been bothered with a feeling that something was missing. It was as if I was walking around a four-cornered gazebo. It looked quite solid, but I couldn't shake the feeling that there was a column missing; that some swift Escher-like stage hand kept shifting the back pillar to the front, so three pillars took on the appearance of four.
I spent more than a little time thinking about the missing pillar. It seemed fond of teasing me awake in the little hours of the morning — 2, 3 and 4. Like a familiar face to which you just cannot connect a name. Almost there… and then it finally came to me in the form of the tenet we are currently discussing — Distill Complexity.
Funny isn't it, piling all those words up before a phrase that essentially says, "simplify." I knew for quite some time that the missing tenet was somewhere in that general “simplify” ballpark. But I was always afraid of seeming to condone simplicity, of conflating simplified with simple-minded.
But, then came that night — or that very early morning when Distill Complexity popped into my mind. It felt very, very right. Distillation, as all good tipplers realize, concentrates the essence of that which is being distilled. But the concept reaches far beyond the brewery. A good outline precedes a moving speech or a brilliant novel. A symphony winds around a simple melodic theme. E=mc2. At the heart of every mind-blowing complexity lies an essential simple core.
Consider Picasso. You stand in front of some of his late work, particularly his line art, and one is tempted to say "I could do that." And, in a way, maybe so. But when you look at his very early works — works that can easily be mistaken for the Dutch masters — we suddenly realize that the path to Picasso's line art was far more complex than would be our attempt to create a "Picasso-like" line. His line is distillation, ours, more likely, imitation.
I recently offered a toast at my younger daughter's wedding rehearsal dinner that dealt with Distill Complexity. Part of it bears repeating here:
"Despite the seemingly unchanged lake outside, the world has changed a great deal since your older sister and her husband held center stage here just four years ago. The good news is that much of what I said in my less-than-brief remarks to them is now available on the Distilled Harmony website, where you can watch me say it over and over and over.
But lest you think you are going to escape totally unscathed, I must point out that I have added an additional "rule to live by" since I played the professor for them. The new rule is "Distill Complexity," and I wanted to share a couple of ideas about that notion with you.
It is, you will not be surprised to hear me say, all Mark Zuckerburg's fault, a nice Jewish boy gone terribly astray. It was Facebook™, after all, that gave us the notion of relationships that are "complicated." Relationships are really not terribly complicated. If we distill that particular complexity we often discover that when folks describe their relationship as “complicated,” they actually mean "it's scary." You two are about make the simple but scary declaration that the other is to be the center of your life — mutually donning a pair of "I'm with stupid" T-shirts. Another bizarre manifestation of how scary our culture finds this ritual of pair-bonding.
Distill Complexity asserts that we counter the scary notion of a "complicated relationship" with the old KISS design principle — Keep It Simple Stupid! As you move forward in your life together, life will get complicated. Career decisions, current data say you'll face quite a few. Families? Nuclear? Extended? Children? Yes? No? Homegrown? Store bought? Dogs? Cats? Health challenges, etc. Yes, life will get complicated. Life may even get scary. But your relationship need not get complicated and scary if you remember KISS and keep it simple.
And the simple reality should be that whenever life tosses complexity at you, remember what you will declare tomorrow – that the two of you are as complicated as it gets. No job, no career, no family, no fame, trumps the simple declaration that whatever is best for each of you must be that which is best for both of you. And as the great philosopher F. Gump once said "That's all I'm going to say about that."
Poor kids, I know. But how often do they have to sit quietly and listen to you?
The charge then of this tenet is to reduce that which appears complex to its purest essence. Come to know the skeleton that supports the exterior. When I tackled the task of sculpting busts of my daughters, my sculpting mentor would not allow me to simply take a big hunk of clay and try to carve away everything that didn't look like my daughters. Rather he insisted that I first create the skull beneath the face, define the more simple planes and curves that guide the complexity of muscle, skin and hair that would eventually look like my daughters.
Distill Complexity requires us to do the same with life. The three other tenets ask us to Foster Harmony, Enable Beauty and Oppose Harm. Distill Complexity says reduce those tasks to the skeletal — seek the more simple planes and curves of life upon which rest the seeming complexities of existence. Avoid moaning that it is all so complicated and Distill Complexity — just KISS.