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Take It Away

Take It Away

"Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away.”
-- Saint-Exupéry

I couldn't be less interested in perfection, but this is just such sound advice for so many areas of life -- design, food, living space, websites . . . .

A similar concept is the essence of the Latin phrase, via negativa. "The negative way" helps us keep reducing an idea to its essence through the process of continuous elimination until we're left with only what can’t be taken away, i.e. the essence of the idea.

It's hard (but very much worthwhile) to apply this continually to our personal lives: to our work and living spaces, our clothing, our possessions.

But it's even harder to do with thoughts themselves.

Most of us are so bombarded with distracting thoughts and emotions throughout the day that we barely notice that we're completely lost in thought. We miss so much of our present lives being in a kind of trance, a past-dwelling trance and a future-imagining trance, and so rarely concentrate on what is, right now, in the present.

Making a habit of noticing your environment, your breathing, the sounds around you, temperature, pressure on your body . . . is the art of ceasing to be distracted, if only for a few minutes.

It doesn't come naturally, at all. We have to continually practice it.

I try to take 10 full minutes at various points in the day to practice this, but even one minute of doing this -- ceasing to get swept up in thought -- can have a profound effect. And it does get easier with practice.

Sometimes I'll even take five seconds if that's all I've got the bandwidth for.

It seems to work best between ending one activity and starting another: sitting down at your desk, picking up the phone, starting to wash the dishes, getting in your car, starting dinner. Just a few seconds of clear seeing -- pausing the torrent of thought -- somehow makes all the difference.

Keep taking away until there's almost nothing left.