Via Negativa: Subtract to Perfection


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What is one thing that if you eliminated it from your life today would change your life for the better? A rule of No that will make your life full of more “Yes”. Via Negativa is the negative way where we subtract all the ways in which we are not, to come to our fullest center. 

Think about what are you saying “yes” to as a consequence of what you needed to have said “No” to in the beginning.

It will be something uncomfortable and nagging.

Like a pebble your shoe. 

For those of you not in the Mafia, we have a saying:

Only focus on the pebble in your shoe.

What do we do when there’s a pebble in our shoe? We remove it, right? Easy. Let’s pretend we lost that intelligence.

How do we get rid of it? May be we go to and search ‘how to get rid of this nagging thing in my right shoe’.

Maybe we buy special lotions and creams to soothe the rubbing on the skin.

We might go to workshops with other people who have pebbles in their shoes.

And maybe we go to happy hour with other friends who commiserate about the pebble in their shoes, too.

It’s like nobody is getting anywhere, because they just haven’t figured out how to get rid of the pebble in their shoe.

Yet, all of these things do not work.

The ego doesn’t want to face the basic truth that the only way to get the pebble out of your shoe, is to take off your damn shoe. Maybe get your hand in there and shake it a bit. 

Because what the problem is not, is your work ethic, the size of your dress, your hair color, your makeup, the text you sent to jerry last week. The problem is that there is a pebble in your shoe.

And you ignore it. If you smoke cigarettes that’s your pebble. Sorry guys.

Take off your shoe. Remove it.

“It’s not the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” Muhammad Ali

Are you with me, people?

Q: Keep that in mind. What is that pebble in your shoe?

Key point get rid of pebble in shoe by focusing on removing what isn’t the pebble in the shoe, rather than adding. So, rather than adding processes and ways of being and our limp, and therapy we must only remove until we get to the pebble in our shoe. For some of us that mean getting naked.

What is Via Negativa?

It is the negative way. Theologically, it is a way of explaining God by saying what he is not.  

Like sculpting. Or getting shredded.

Saint Thomas described via negativa in that “this is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know Him.” 

Is partly an endorsement of killing buddha. Let me explain

In zen, there’s the lesson of getting caught staring at the finger pointing at the moon. If we get stuck staring at the finger, we will miss all that heavenly glory.

God is not the finger.

This is where, as a side, I think people get religion wrong. We argue over the finger, and miss the moon.

This can only be found through subtraction.

Body sculptures and Statues.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

That is, the moment we think we have a solid understanding of what life, god, nature is, let it go. 

And thus much of the learning in life is in what to avoid. 

The downside of adding

“Every problem was once a solution.” 

And if you’re wondering if I am hinting at do nothing, and to John Lennon’s, “Let it be,” you’re right.

Dams. Military interventions. The food pyramid with carbs at the base and fats at the top.

-Adding more antibiotics to our cattle has led to super germs

-Heroine was once a cough suppressant that replaced a different suppressant.

-Every military intervention leads to, shockingly, more long term war.

-More debt always leads to more problems.

Our Story might flow like this: Toxic relationship > Depression > Pill> bad sleep > another pill > therapy > aggressive workouts > physical ailments > more pills.

We continue to add even if adding before added nothing.

*Intervening has an infinite number of negative consequences and makes us vulnerable to some bad stuff. 

If it isn’t adding. Subtract it.

The upside of subtracting

*Omission has zero side effects

*Knowledge grows more from subtraction.

Fast for even one day and see what you find out.

Sit and do nothing for 20 minutes and see how you feel.

I have a lot of student loan debt and it makes me immensely vulnerable to financial vulnerability.

Letting go.

-Fasting. Science is catching up to what religious and spiritual practices have been telling us for years.

-“If it’s not a “F Yes” it’s a No.” -Mark Manson

-“If the doctor has an MBA hanging in his office, leave.” My Grandfather.

-“If she is holding an alcoholic beverage in her online dating profile, swipe left.” Timo

A Challenge for You

New Years Challenges die after month 2. Walk past the gyms and tell me I’m wrong.

Additive goals, like most New Years Resolutions, fail:

I want to get in shape, get healthier, get a new relationship (for me I went against my own advice and said 100 blog posts. Failed.

Embrace the negative way.

Pick one thing, right here, right now, that you will say no to

And Remember:

Even perfection is negation, because perfection lacks nothing. 

To find out what you are not, what will you say No to today to reinvent yourself? 


Related Reading

  1. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) – Nassim Taleb. A must read.
  2. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius. A must read.
  3. A Big Misconception About Happiness, by Neil Strauss 
  4. Via Negativa – The Art of Manliness
  5. Via Negativa

The Way In
The Way In
Via Negativa: Subtract to Perfection

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