I read somewhere that we spend the first half of our lives adding things, and the second half subtracting most of them.
I recently crossed another year and I realized that the answer to most of our problems is indeed found in subtraction, not addition.
Bruce Lee got it dead right when he said –“It is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away the unessential”.
There is, in fact, a term for such a subtractive process. It’s called Via Negativa, which is a Latin phrase used in Christian theology to explain a way of describing God by focusing on what he is not, rather than what he is.
Even as per some theories in Hinduism, the word “Shiva” means literally, “that which is not.”
Nassim Taleb has a chapter in his fascinating book “Antifragile” on this topic of “Via Negativa”. Therein, he argues that the solution to many problems in life is by removing things, not adding things. Like, avoiding the doctor for minor illnesses or removing certain food from one’s diet to improve health.
Taleb writes – “I would add that, in my own experience, a considerable jump in my personal health has been achieved by removing offensive irritants: the morning newspapers, the daily commute, air-conditioning, television, emails from documentary filmmakers, economic forecasts, gym “strength training” machines, etc.
He further adds, “If true wealth consists in worry less sleeping, a clear conscience, reciprocal gratitude, absence of envy, good appetite, muscle strength, physical energy, frequent laughs, no meals alone, no gym class, some physical labor (or hobby), good bowel movements, no meeting rooms, and periodic surprises, then all of it is largely subtractive.”
Steve Jobs would agree with the concept of Via Negativa too, given what he once said –“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.
Looking back at my life over the past few years, Via Negativa is one of the most critical lessons I have learned and practiced, and that has helped me simplify my life considerably and brought me tremendous peace.
Saying NO to blame game, negative news, toxic people, and anxiety, and worried sleeping, and fear, and self-doubt, and the need to be liked, and victim’s mentality, and fear of failure, and perfectionism, and multitasking, and the need to control everything, and saying yes often; it seems this journey has brought me a really long way.
I am still far from good, and that’s fine for I have something to work on for the next few years that I may have left. In the story of this life, I’m sure they’re still are many chapters – happy and sad – to be unveiled, many new characters – good and bad – to be met, and many new lessons – right and wrong – to be learned.
These, I look forward to with an open heart and arms.
As I look back at the past years, I have run into quite a few bumps and climbed over a few mountains. And who hasn’t? But the fact that I have survived to tell you the tale makes me realize how lucky I am to be here, right now, writing these words.
And how grateful I should be, every waking moment, for this miracle called “life.”
Thank you for being a part of this journey.
Thank you, God, for this wonderful life and the wonderful people to share life with!
Stay Blessed Forever.