Add, Subtract

June 1, 2015

The Tao Te Ching says, “To gain knowledge, add something every day.
To gain wisdom, remove something every day.”


STUFF I KNOW BY ME © Kathleen McKern Verigin

Add, Subtract

I excelled at addition in elementary school math, but not so much subtraction. It didn’t seem fair. I just learned how to add something and now I have to learn to take away something? It’s a puzzle that has bugged me my whole life—add or subtract? It feels good to add something, and feels bad when something is taken away. Unless, of course, when I’m losing extra pounds. I love seeing the numbers subtract themselves from the scales, but what will happen if I add back those pounds? Add or subtract? Feel good or feel bad? The wisdom to know the difference is by honoring the space between.

One of the tenets of Celtic Spirituality is the respect for the marginal, the space between two things, that which dwells neither here nor there. Doorways should be walked over, not walked on. Dawn and dusk are the between times of day, therefore filled with the potential for magic and mischief. The cross-quarter days are more important that the solstices and equinoxes. Their ceremonies honor the delicate times of transition. How might this idea, practiced by my Celtic ancestors, help me when I am in thought modes of add or subtract, this or that, yes or no? I again borrow from the Tao Te Ching:

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.

We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.

We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.

Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.
As I read this–and I invite you to do the same–I pause, sit back and focus on the lines between the paragraphs, the space between the words, even the hollow parts of the o’s. I am restored to a new sense of fluid balance. I can add and subtract, but not at the same time. First, I must bless the space between. A reminder to breathe, deeply and often. Will you join me?

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