The art of adding and subtracting

‘I have had my results for a long time: but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them’. Karl Friedrich Gauss.

It has only been in the last year or so that I’ve understood how maths is a creative process. For many years I’d relied on my childhood memories to tell me maths was simply something ‘I couldn’t do’ as my Primary school teacher informed the entire class one lesson. I was a ‘creative type’ she said as she made me reveal to everyone the hands I was hiding behind my back to count the times table with, not a girl of the maths and sciences.

As an adult however, seeing those formulas and subsequent equations spill out across a blackboard, or watch, as I have had the privilege to do recently, a student ponder over possible solutions to a mathematical problem their teacher has posed (…watched as they ‘worked things out’ on scraps of paper until they found what ‘x equals’ and how ‘x’ makes the answer ‘y’), I’ve noticed that maths isn’t too dissimilar to the arts. Both require a mind that desires to stretch out into the unknown, to scribble with furrowed eyebrows as they journey through the possibilities. Where they differ perhaps is that creatives seem interested in mapping the possibilities not necessarily documenting the solutions.

Life seems sometimes a mathematical equation. What we add and what we subtract produces a result. As a woman of the arts, finding new respect for the world of maths and science I’m wondering how I could use my fingers (perhaps less ashamedly in front of me this time rather than behind my back) to ‘work things out’, to use maths to predict better outcomes for my life at present. Of course I need to apply creative thought to arrive at the solution.

To begin, I need a problem.

Of course I want to laugh a little here.

Just one?

The one I will choose is my inability to achieve balance at the moment. My acupuncturist painted the picture thus in fact: ‘It’s like you have a credit card you keep spending on …but you have absolutely nothing in your savings account’. As a result I’m exhausted.

When I look at the long list of weekly commitments I have now until November 12th and how wonderfully good I am at adding to an already full calender, I begin to see some patterns emerging. That I say yes to opportunities because I’m hungry for experience …but also because of a fear of missing out, that if I don’t say yes I might not get the opportunity again. I also wonder how much at the time the opportunity presents itself that I say yes for fear of what the person offering me the role will think if I say no. That I put this person in a place of high esteem and so saying no would suggest to them that I am not worthy of the position, that I’m not committed, that I can’t juggle things.

But do I even have to say no? If this person is offering me the role then perhaps they want me as much as I want them? Is there room therefore for negotiation?

Like a good Sudoku puzzle the patterns only reveal themselves as I do the creative working out. As I wonder I begin to see what it all meant. If I am present and patient to each step I will find the patterns I need to solve the puzzle, or at the very least, to continue moving forward.

Unlike Sudoku however (and rather paradoxically) subtracting seems to be the way forward for me i.e for me to be able to solve my problem of balance I need to take away some things so that I can achieve others.

When confronted with this equation however, I find myself very uncomfortable.

I recently read on one of my favorite blogs ‘Zen Habits’, a series of ways one could ‘de-clutter’ their life. As I read I became abundantly aware of how confronting some of the things they were suggesting was for me.  Throw out things I don’t use? What if I need it some time in the future?! Only check my emails once a day? What if I miss out on something because I didn’t get back to them in time?!

And the bigger question…let go of extra commitments I have made so that I don’t fall over before the end of the year? But I WANT to do those things I’ve said yes to. I want to do it all.

In light of how confronting this last, bigger question is, it seems obvious that I need to start small first. The mess and stuff therefore the gentler place to start this mathematical process of subtraction. But even here, to borrow from one of my favorite books, Moira Mirka’s ‘Love and Clutter’ and to refer back to a previous blog I wrote about the nature of ‘found treasures’, each of the objects in my room, in my home, I have imbued with love. I have a connection to much of the ‘stuff’ of my life and so parting with it feels a little like saying goodbye to a part of my history. Of course it doesn’t have to be this way, that here is where I could summon up my mathematical brain and consider the importance of the solution. I need to be well, so what do I simply have to do to get there?

I suddenly get the image of a stompy child standing at the door with their blankie, refusing to let go. ‘But I neeeeeed this, I simply must have it in order to leave the house’ I state. Clearly my ‘stuff’ has become a security blanket and I need to let go gently. They are patterns of behavior  I began a long time ago for a purpose or reason I felt was important to me at the time.

But in my ‘working out’, discovering that they do not service me in the present, it is indeed time to let go.

As I began the process of letting go this week, of de-cluttering my life, I was amazed at what presented itself. Unexpected additions that were more in-line with the solution I am seeking, the balance I need to survive physically and mentally the rest of the year, appeared at my front doorstep.

The phone rang with an opening for an acupuncturist appointment I had not been able to get for the week. And it was for exactly the time and day I could make it.

A friend text to state she had bought me a ticket to the football that I could not afford so that I could go with her and all my friends to yell and laugh.

Someone who I adore arrived in the country, someone who I feel I can be myself with, who I have an intimate connection with …and I will see her tomorrow night.

And the hardest thing I had to do, to let go of, indeed proposed that if not now, next year as they would love to have me whenever I was ready and able to join them.

Wonder. Meant …that subtraction can lead to addition and that a solution is indeed possible if I do the creative process of ‘working out’.

x Kate

ps When looking up what the dictionary defines as ‘intimacy’, one of the definitions was ‘a private, cozy atmosphere’. I love that a friend could be and provide that : – )

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