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Addition and Subtraction


I must admit, when I’m seeing a patient for the first time and I ask what’s brought them to me, I don’t get excited when they say they want to be “more in balance.” I’m still happy to help, and I’m never bored by the human condition. It’s just that, as you might expect, tangible problems are usually a bit more interesting, and it’s easier to gauge the effectiveness of our work together.

If we can see a rash shrinking or a patient reports fewer migraines, we know we’re doing something right. If someone tells me they had one day of feeling depressed rather than seven, we’re moving in the right direction.

But, balance? It’s a harder thing to measure, and we’re always going in and out of it. And, when we do make progress on it, the thanks I get is nothing in comparison to the sobs of gratitude I get from men I’ve treated with the ancient penis-lengthening acupuncture point.

This concern about balance is a relatively recent thing. How many people do you think went to their doctor with a complaint of “feeling out of balance” 100 years ago? Probably zero. But, the fact is, the world is a dramatically different place. It’s easier to feel out of balance nowadays than ever before. With electric lights, caffeine, and shift work, it’s easier to have sleep that’s out of balance. With millions of restaurants and factory-made foods, it’s easier to have a diet that’s out of balance. With television, computers, and cell phones, it’s easier to have a mind that’s out of balance.

Just as we’ve added countless distractions and obligations that compromise our sense of life balance, one of the hurdles we face when trying to fix this problem is a tendency to believe that the solution involves adding something more – that imbalance means a lack of balance. “I need more [whatever],” we think, “then I’ll be balanced.” Even if the biggest impediment to a feeling of balance is a feeling of being too busy, we’re likely to desire more space and more free time rather than less busyness. I think most people would actually prefer to keep their busyness, because busyness makes us feel productive and engaged, yet also have more leisure.

We see happiness, too, as an additive process. “I’ll do this, and add this habit, and this romance, and this knowledge, and this skill, and this house, and these friends, and this achievement, and the sum of these acquisitions will be happiness.”

But, what if balance – and happiness – are actually our native state? What if balance is how we naturally are? Then getting there – or recognizing where we already are – would have to be a subtractive process, a process of removing whatever is getting in the way.  

Briana and I do encourage people to “add” new habits to their lives for the sake of balance, like cultivating more sweetness, building meaningful rituals, integrating intelligent structure, and carving out deliberate space. But, this process should involve at least as much letting go as adding in. It should be a course of simplification, allowing us to more clearly see the activities that are tipping us one way or the other.

This week, try subtracting. Whenever you have a thought of wanting more of something – energy, time, fun, love, art projects, money, anything – ask yourself, “What could I have less of, or what could I let go of instead?” Without making your goal wrong, the idea is to see if you could arrive there through subtraction rather than addition. When you ask, “Rather than wanting more fun, what could I have less of?” perhaps your soul answers, “seriousness.” When you ask, “Instead of feeling like I need more energy, what could I let go of?” maybe your soul answers, “heaviness” or “resentment.” When you ask, “Instead of always feeling like I need to find more free time for creative endeavors, what could I remove?” perhaps your soul answers, “the idea that I’m not doing enough,” or “Facebook.” Explore it and let me know what happens.

Meanwhile, sorry fellas, but one thing you can’t have more of is that ancient penis-lengthening point, since it doesn’t exist. However, I’m sure there’s something you could let go of in order to have more self-love.

Be well,

Dr. Peter Borten

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