Chip Away

What happens if you don’t eat for a few hours?

That wasn’t a trick question. The answer is obvious: you will get hungry. That clever body of yours will sense the lack of incoming food, and start giving you all these signals designed to get you to eat something. And how do you get the signals to stop? By obeying your body – scarfing down some food. Ét voila – you aren’t hungry any more.

To sum up: your body senses a lack, tells you to fill that lack, and then rewards you for doing so.

That little mechanism certainly checks out when it comes to physical hunger – beautifully so. But what about when you don’t so much feel physically hungry, as you feel – for want of a better word – spiritually hungry. Empty inside. Disconnected. Adrift. Stressed out. Joyless.

Well, I’ve been there a lot. I’m sure you have too. And if you’re anything like me, you probably instinctively assume that – just as a lack of food makes you physically hungry and a bag of crisps will solve the problem – a lack of… something… is what is making you sprititually hungry. And so the solution must be to fill that void. To add something. To go and get more.

And just like me, you’d be dead wrong. Every single time.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Albert Einstein

More is very rarely more. The solution is almost never to try and add stuff. That’s because the problem is not what you think it is. You are not empty. You are full to the brim… with the wrong stuff.

Imagine two big tables, and a wicker basket. On the first table are all the things you love. All the things that mean the world to you. All the things that make your days worth living. On the second table are enormous mounds of sawdust.

Well, it really doesn’t matter how many of the things from the first table you try to cram into your basket – if it’s filled it with sawdust, they just won’t go in. You have to make room first – empty the sawdust into the bin, then go back to the first table and take what you want. Now it will fit.

Your basket, as I’m sure you’ve realised, is your life. The reason you feel empty is because you aren’t filling it with things from the first table. But it’s not enough just to try to cram them in. First you have to make space. You have to get rid of as much of the sawdust as you can first. And in this little analogy, the sawdust represents EVERYTHING that didn’t make it onto the first table. Yes, the god-awful, the stuff you hate, but – and this is the difficult part – also the stuff that really isn’t that bad. The harsh truth is that if it didn’t make the cut to get on the first table, it’s sawdust. And not only is it taking up room in your life without giving you anything in return, it’s stopping you from letting in the the really magical stuff.

It’s painful, and it feels counter-intuitive, but when you let go of something you never really wanted in the first place, though you might appear from the outside to have “lost” something, you actually experience a net gain. It feels wrong, so wrong as to be untrue… until you do it. And then you wonder why you waited so long.

You know the famous quote by Michelangelo, right? In fact, I’m sure I’ve quoted it a couple of times in the last few months. Anyway, he said something like: “David was ready and waiting within the giant block of marble – my job was simply to chip away at everything that wasn’t David.”

Chip away at everything that isn’t you.

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