Thursday Thought: On Subtraction

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  “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” — Horace I once met a man who has all of the conventional trappings of success — money, health, material goods, etc. But when I asked him what loves most in life, rather than discussing his wealth, he said something that gave me a moment of pause. “I love travelling. I love travelling because I travel to suffer.”  We paused and looked at each other for a moment. He continued. “I don’t stay in luxury hotels. I don’t ride around in taxis. I take the seedy trains. I take the fewest supplies I can. I go into the slums. But what results is usually the opposite of suffering. Yes, there are some difficult moments, but I’m reminded of how free one can feel without that burdens and trappings of every day. I’m reminded of the simple pleasures: of listening, of connecting via a smile. I’m reminded of what things really matter.”  I held onto those words ever since that exchange. It reminded me of one of my own practices. On a near daily basis I’ll look in the mirror into my own eyes and say “I wish you hardship. May you find new strength today.” It’s a reminder that the hardship is necessary in order to continue this very delicate process of human refinement. I often think about how many brotherhoods and sisterhoods have a piece of polished gold, silver or marble as a prominent symbol in their organizations. These symbols are often designed to represent that at the end of life, one has hopefully chipped away at the debris — the hardness, the vices, the negativity — in order to become a kind and cultivated person. But this process only occurs as move through the…

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