Embracing Life and the Art of Subtraction

How lightly can you do what you do? Whatever you do, is there something that can be subtracted so that it is more authentically what it is?

– Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho


What do artists, writers, avant-garde musiciansstart-up entrepreneurs, life-hackers, innovative designers, and zen masters all have in common? They practice the art of subtraction, day in and day out, in search of simplicity.

The two most powerful words in the world? Yes and no. While some people espouse the virtues of saying yes, others preach about the importance of saying no. Finding a happy medium between the two is the best strategy for living our best lives. However, practicing the art of subtraction can be a challenge given our Western society’s “glorification of busy.”

Sometimes it can feel like society is cheering us on to be as busy as possible, complete with Flight of the Bumblebee providing our life’s soundtrack. But what if we stopped to smell the proverbial roses in our daily routines instead?

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

When it comes to saying no, Poorna Bell of Huffington Post recently declared that 2014 will be the year of missing out:

“There’s a new trend forecast for 2014 (and one that will make our lives a lot easier) – this is the year of JOMO, also known as the Joy Of Missing Out. As a backlash against FOMO – aka Fear Of Missing Out – the term is a rebellion against saying yes to everything, and is about giving yourself the space to think and experience things without freaking out about what you ‘should’ be doing instead. Trend forecaster JWT – one of the world’s biggest marketing communications brands – has listed ‘Mindful Living’, reports News.com.au, in its top 10 predictions for 2014.”

I admit that I laughed about mindful living being branded as a trend: mindfulness is not something that goes ‘in’ and ‘out’ like midriff-bearing tops or tilted fedoras; it is not something we haphazardly decide to don one day just because a popular magazine has decided it’s now the cool thing to do, or because, hey man, living in the present moment is so, like, hip.

On the flip side, I’m able to see the broader benefits of this trend if it genuinely inspires more people to get excited about rocking a mindful lifestyle. If it proves to have a long-lasting positive ripple effect, then I’ll stand behind it — tilted fedora and all. (No belly-shirts for me, thanks.)

Have you ever felt like you’re living two different lives — one for yourself, another for other people? Or maybe we feel split because we’re over-extending ourselves. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to re-connect with our authentic selves and eliminate areas that aren’t helping us move forward.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

The simplicity of Zen practice is the practice of things as they actually are. It is not an attitude or a stance or an affectation. It is not something extra. It is actually feeling the cup in your hand when you lift it.

– Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho


Part of living mindfully means being attuned to when it feels right to miss out on stuff, or dive headfirst into the deep end. We begin each day with a limited supply of energy. Depending on what’s going on in our lives, that supply might be overflowing — or already verging on empty. It’s up to us to notice of how we’re feeling — physically, emotionally, and mentally — and find ways to nurture these needs. Saying no to anything that doesn’t add authentic enjoyment of life is one way to achieve this.

What marks do you want to leave on your life’s canvas? Saying no to activities (or people) can be incredibly freeing, allowing us to get closer to our authentic truth.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

3 things to which I’ve recently said no

I do try to practice what I preach; here are some examples:

1. I said no to a dance meditation facilitator training course that I was intending to do. During a late-night phone call last week, I believe my friend’s exact words were: “Kim, I don’t want to have to scrape you off the ground!” Accepting that I simply don’t have time in my schedule to do this right now was really relieving.

2. I said no to a position as assistant to film director Mira Nair on her upcoming film in Uganda. Mira’s current assistant extended this offer to me over the Christmas holidays. Although this is one of my dream jobs, I knew it wasn’t the right time: I already have work I love dearly; I don’t have enough money saved to comfortably make an immediate transition between countries; and I want to stay settled in my current city for a while. I trust that a similar opportunity will come again, in a way that works for me.

3. I said no to multiple dinner dates, parties, and nights out. Why? Because I wanted to sleep, or wander around the city by myself without making conversation, or work on my photo stuff. Giving ourselves permission to chill out is always a viable reason for saying no.

Remember those proverbial roses I was talking about earlier on? By saying to no, I’ve given myself more time with which to dilly dally around my neighborhood and, yes, smell the beautiful flowers! It makes a difference to my daily quality of life.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Art, in all its forms, is ultimately about subtraction. With limitless ideas to splash on a canvas or words to type out on a keypad, artists must practice ruthless elimination: murder your darlings — or, Kill Your Darlings — is the most moral crime we can commit. (This is something on which I am personally working!) If we look at our lives as art, saying ‘no’ becomes a way to eliminate unnecessary marks on our page, leaving us with something, hopefully, closer to our authentic truth.


Open to the fullness and richness of each moment and subtract anything you are adding.

– Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho