Saturday, 5 May 2018

New Math

I’m not good at math. But lately I’ve been noodling over some interesting equations. This new math is pretty simple. There are no rules to follow, no “carry the one” to worry about.

                                    1 + X = 2 much.    1 - 1 = enough.

I’ve been noodling over these equations since the beginning of the year, when I chose the word SUBTRACT as my word for the year. (See blog post January 27).  I chose it because of a quote I read during a very busy period in my life, when I felt as though I was shriveling up inside.

Growing the soul: that is, growing the most essential part of us. When we’re born, we come ‘trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home,” as the poet Wordsworth expressed it.

There's nothing quite like a prairie sky to give us an image of "clouds of glory." This fibre art piece was created by Saskatchewan artist Cindy Hoppe. Check out more of her amazing work at this link:

But the clouds of glory – the delight in every living thing –  that children express so openly, often disappears quickly. The bumps and bruises of life inflict wounds, and our essential selves, the best we could be, is covered over with scar tissue.

Who are we really, after all? What’s there under the scar tissue? It’s a question so many people, especially as we grow older, ask ourselves. Have we been living our best lives? Have we been authentic, and do we live with integrity? Does what you see on the outside measure up to what you are on the inside?

These are big questions. Perhaps that’s why they often rise to the surface as we get older, when there is more time to noodle about such things. And some of us noodle deeper and harder than others. Perhaps, even now, your eyes are glazing over, wondering what on earth this old crow is squawking about.

If so, dear reader just skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to the end. SUBTRACT  a large piece of this blog post from your to-do list. There, did that feel good? Then you've got the gist of this blog.

But if some of you are ready to dig a little deeper, read on.

When we realize that we can’t always answer the big questions, we often blame ourselves for not engaging enough with spiritual practices. We should be praying more, we tell ourselves; we should be meditating more, taking more yoga classes and living with more mindfulness. We need more and longer quiet times, times of reflection. More. We need to do more.

Meister Eckhart disagrees. Our soul – the very essence of who we are – does not grow by adding all kinds of burdens; instead, it grows when we subtract, pare down, simplify. This concept appealed to me. 

Now the year is already 1/3 gone. How’s this word working for me, I ask myself. Actually, it is a good word, and more than once in the last few months I’ve been stopped in my tracks by it.

It echoes in my mind as I mull over the purchase of yet another pair of pants or essential collectible in the local thrift shop. Subtract, not add, I remind myself. Instead of buying more, I cleaned out my closets and drawers and gave much of it away. It felt good. Even better was the soul searching that accompanied it. Have I fallen  into society’s addiction to material goods? Why? And if I indulge, am I just adding more distractions to my spiritual growth?

I also hear the word  SUBTRACT whispered in my ear when I am restless, driven with the compulsion to jump into yet another project. People who are creative are prone to get carried away by great ideas that all clamor for fulfillment. But the reality is that as you grow older you have less energy. You find you just can’t do it all! (Sob, sob.) Maybe making that onion jam wasn’t such a great idea, considering how many hours it consumed of your time. Live and learn, I tell myself; not all these projects are conducive to becoming your best self. Narrow down your choices.

Subtract is my watchword as I give away three boxes of research books I used when I wrote Sunday School curriculum – it was one of the tracks on my career path, but I am not on that path anymore. It is time to subtract it from my life – fondly kiss it goodbye and fill that empty space with gratitude for a wonderful experience.

Subtract, I tell myself, as I consider environmental issues. My choices today impact the future of the world, the future of the children who come after us. We are connected to every other living thing. Our actions now have lasting consequences. Subtract the number of indelible footprints you leave behind for the next generation. 

I can think of many more compulsions, habits, and attitudes to subtract: harsh judgements, negative thoughts, unkind criticism to name a few. Every subtraction makes room for better things – mercy, hope, compassion, kindness -- that nourish my soul and let it gently unfold. There are a lot of layers between the outer me and the inner me, but I am peeling them away bit by bit. It’s not easy to subtract these ingrained patterns of living. I am definitely a work in progress, and have a long way to go.

But at this point in the year, I like how the new math is helping me grow.

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