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season of subtraction

Season of Subtraction

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This morning a quote popped up on my Insight Timer –

Perfection is attained not when no more can be added,
but when no more can be removed. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for quite some time, as evidenced in past blog posts such as 2019’s “The Sweet Art of Doing Nothing“. Now, as the trees prepare to lose their leaves, it’s come back to the forefront – what can I let go of? how do I do less? It’s a blasphemous thought in a culture where more is more, and we’re inoculated with the idea that doing the most will get you the most.

This week, I attempted to add an hour of chanting to my morning without subtracting anything (except sleep, obviously) thinking that I’d be more grounded and relaxed than when I was just waking up to do yoga and sit quietly. Long story short – within days I ended up with a massive pressure headache behind my left eye and with noticeably less patience.

It’s all in the service of “efficiency”, isn’t it? We add one thing that’s supposed to make us better/faster/stronger, and then we add another and another and another. Because there really is no shortage of “shortcuts” on the internet.

For what? When we speed read a self-help book, listen to a parenting podcast while in the carline, sign up for another class, or join another group – what are we hoping for?

Better question: what do we fear? That someone’s going to beat us to the finish line. Spoiler alert: we’re all headed to the same end; no need to get there faster. Or maybe we fear what we are giving up when we don’t do the thing. That we’ll miss out somehow.

We’re distracting ourselves from this unavoidable fact of life – there are limits. That for everything you say ‘yes’ to it’s a ‘no’ to something or someone else.

The first time I heard this voiced aloud was when I was a young solo-parent struggling to create a life worth living. At Temple Judea in Miami, I heard author Jonathan Safran Foer say something I still carry. He said, “every time you choose to write, you’re not being a good parent and every time you choose to parent, you’re not being a very good writer” (paraphrased).

Every yes, is also a no.
Every no, is also a yes.

Like the trees, I’m trying to let more things fall to the ground. I’m trying, however imperfectly, to ask myself what can I say ‘no’ to before I consider what is worth saying ‘yes’ to.

My hope for you is that all your ‘no’s are complete sentences, and all your ‘yes’ are ‘hell yes’! That when you let a leaf fall, you don’t try to pick it back up. And that the cult of efficiency holds no sway over you. I wish you a present Fall.

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