Growing the Soul

Our soul grows by subtraction, not addition.
-Meister Eckhart, 14th century theologian
We live in an age of continuous addition, an age in which the amassing of stuff—any kind of stuff—has become an all-consuming passion. More of this, the latest upgrade of that—a consumerist ethic of accumulation and amalgamation that, not coincidently, leaves little room for joy. I used to wonder why a certain celebrated real estate mogul/TV personality who trumpets (pardon the pun) the continuous accretion of wealth is perpetually scowling. Now I know: The soul expands by letting go, not by accumulating, and it is the expansive soul that is the joyful soul.

Where do we most frequently encounter this joyful soul? In the presence of a child . . . who owns nothing and is content with the simplest of life’s gifts—to be held, to be hugged, to be loved. I suspect that when Jesus encouraged his disciples to be like little children, this is what he meant: Let go of the stuff of life, open yourself to another’s love, let your soul grow. Is that also what he meant by his words to the rich, young man who wanted to know what else, besides following the Law, was needed for salvation? Sell all you have—i.e., simplify your life, let go of stuff—and follow me.

How do we return to that state of simplicity? It is through Meister Eckhart’s insight that for our soul to grow we must subtract. It is by freeing ourselves of all that distracts us, including negative and limiting thoughts. It is by focusing on the gift of the present moment, learning to live with less, and opening ourselves to the deeper love that rushes in to fill the unburdened and receptive soul.