Subtraction

Sometimes we need to shift perspective. A client said to me the other day, “It’s amazing what you can do when you stop trying so hard.”

When we have a problem in life, it is natural to go about solving it by looking at what to do rather than what not to do. But there is an ancient Chinese philosophy that purports: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.”

Writers and editors focus on what to leave out to make the piece flow and get to the point. Athletes focus on how to get maximum results with less effort.

Good to Great author, Jim Collins says great art is as much about what is not there as what is. “A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit — to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort — that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.”

It’s no simple endeavor to let go, to stop trying so hard. Maybe we are more vulnerable when we stop trying and just let it be, waiting, listening, watching, being aware and awake to the moment. Sometimes that’s scary.

Can you imagine yourself letting go of trying to control your life so fiercely that your knuckles aren’t white and your shoulders don’t ache? What will happen to all those balls you’re juggling?

I’m not suggesting you throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water. Changing perspective doesn’t require grandiose. Start simple. When you have the urge to solve and fix and figure out why or why not. Breathe.

Instead of worrying about what you did or what you didn’t say or who you don’t know or how something is going to work out, be still and be who you are right now. Do one thing that will bring you closer to the person you most want to be.

Sometimes you’ll want to keep attaching yourself to that worry and controlling life in ways you cannot. Freedom lies in the letting go. Sometimes the desire for something creates such haze we become confused and frustrated. It is not until we let go and stop trying so hard that the trajectory becomes clear.

Michelangelo defined sculpting “as the art of taking away.” Subtracting to uncover the beauty within.