The Forgotten Art of Subtraction

Though it really seemed impossible to me at times, I have eventually settled in back at the cottage at Pebblespring Farm. I had set for myself the clear intention of having Christmas lunch with my family at the cottage. I am happy to say, we achieved this objective.

We had a lovely Christmas Lunch in the Cottage

Its been a lot of work getting the cottage into a semi-livable state again . I am not at all happy at all with the way in which the tenant I had treated the place. But I get the sense now that we will chip away at this project in our own time for as long as it takes.

There is something deeply satisfying about being here. Committing my energy to projects that feel that I “own” in someway. I am not exactly sure about why it feels so good, but the “why” of theses things is never really as important as just observing and taking note of the energy as it presents itself in my body and in my sense of well being.

I have been resting as much as I can in between the various cottage and farm projects. In my resting time at the dam in the morning, with my coffee, I have time to think a little. This morning I spent some time thinking about the work I love doing on the farm and in the forest. I notice that this work, over the last few years, has largely to do with taking away what I don’t want. It has largely to do with “subtracting” and not to do with adding. When I am working with the chainsaw removing the alien invasive Inkberry (Cestrum laevigatum) or the Long Leaved Wattle (Acacia longifolia), my strategy has been to remove what I don’t want, quite surgically, then sitting back and watching as the new forest, new life and new beauty emerges. In the forest, I do not plant the new trees. I do not introduce the new life or the new beauty. It simply rises up, as if by magic, after my work of removing and subtracting what it is that I did not want.

Mornings at the dam are really pretty!

When I take the time to sit and think, I notice how so much of what is going on in my life, with Pebblespring Farm for example , is some kind of metaphor, as if though,(in ways I can not possibly understand) my life is “fractal”, where the part reflects the whole and the whole reflects the part. Let me explain what it is that I think I mean. I can see that in my life my task becomes to remove those elements that do not suite me, that are not beautiful to me. Because my life, this existence, what I experience as reality is a living dynamic organism. The forest has a life of its own. It creates new and beautiful things all the time, especially if I can just help it along be subtracting that which is not good and which is not pleasing. (if the forest were pristine, and not infested and invaded by unnaturally introduced alien species, I would of course not need to intervene at all!) The forest is not inanimate. I must do my part, but the forest responds by making making beautiful spaces and views and habitats. I did not make these beautiful things, but here they are, clear as the light of day. And so perhaps in my life, I must be less anxious about what new stuff I feel I should build for myself, but rather spend time focusing on what it is that I must subtract.

I have seen that there are people that have followed a path of “spiritual” discovery that took the dramatic step to remove all the things from their lives. In the ancient way of the Sharman or the Monk, they give up all of their possessions, their loved ones, everything that they may have valued. But is this not perhaps the equivalent of bringing bulldozers to Pebblespring farm and flattening everything down to barren sand and rock. (Incidentally this is exactly what my late neighbor, Richard Hall, did next-door about five years ago at his place and I can tell you the land is lifeless and dead to this day.)

That is not the path I have chosen for Pebblespring Farm and that is not the path I have chosen for my life. Rather than flattening everything I have chosen rather to specifically and surgically remove those parts that do not work for me. In my life and at Pebblespring Farm I have also not opted for an “anything goes” approach. I do not just let the unsightly alien invasive bush take over, I do not allow my life to be taken over by social media or booze or carbohydrates or people that abuse me me. Perhaps the way I have chosen is a “middle way”?

In spite of all of what I have already subtracted, I am acutely conscious that there is still a lot in my life that does not work for me. Commuting does not work for me. Mindless admin does not work for me. Inhuman bureaucracy does not work for me. And people who do not love me. People who do not respect me. People who I do not “vibe” with. (“Vibe” is actually quite a nice word to use in this instance. It hints a the mysterious and unfathomable vibration that is beauty and attraction.)

I have already done a lot in the last few years to make my life simpler. (COVID has been helpful in this regard actually!). There is still a lot of work for me going forward to remove these unwanted aspects from my life. I am conscious that it will take a lot of time. But I must work methodically and consistently, but not so hard that I loose myself, and that I forget what I am trying to do in the first place. I must not allow myself to become so numb and so beaten that I cannot see the beauty. Because if I cant see the beauty, I will loose the energy I need to continue in the exercise of subtraction.

Perhaps I will report back on my progress here on this blog from time to time. Who knows??

Author: Tim Hewitt-Coleman

The World can be a better place.... But how? Taking the debate beyond the political, beyond the theoretical into the real economy, into the physical and spatial dimension where cities, landscapes and livelihoods take form.

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