Most of the conventional wisdom about spiritual growth focuses on the many things we need to add to ourselves. We read the great books to add to our spiritual knowledge. Repeat positive affirmations to add to our ability to win the war against negative thinking. Eat the right foods to add to our body’s ability to enhance spiritual growth.

But spiritual growth doesn’t come from adding to ourselves. It comes from ridding ourselves of the “stuff” we’ve accumulated over our lives. In other words, it’s about subtracting, not adding.

That’s not to say that reading, being positive, eating well and all the rest, are bad for you. It’s to say that if they’re not helping you shed, they’re not doing their job.

Examples of egoic baggage

Shed what, you ask? All of the hurts, the slights, the “I’m not good enough”, the “I’m right, you’re wrong”, the judgments about people. All the roles we assume — mom, dad, executive, teacher, etc.

Essentially, everything we think about ourselves and everybody and anything else. We need to let it all go.

And what is one left with after doing that? The beautiful, peaceful, radiant consciousness deep inside you, aka, the real you.

Sculpt Like Michelangelo

I’ll use a visual metaphor I’ve used before to illustrate the point. Imagine that you are Michelangelo, the most talented sculptor who ever lived.

For his greatest work, Michelangelo took a massive block of marble and started chiseling away, day after day, for over two years, at the end of which he gave the world the sublime statue of David. His process consisted of chiseling/subtracting small pieces of marble, by the thousands, in a quest to unearth the divinity that lay deep within the originally massive block.

Similarly, our block of marble is our entire psyche, within which exists a David-like masterpiece. The chiseling required to access that masterpiece consists of thousands of instances of subtracting, or letting go of, the egoic junk I mentioned above.

There is no adding to be done — just letting go. And letting go. And letting go. Chisel, chisel, chisel…

Now if I’m you, I’m asking the $64,000 question: “That all sounds great, but how the heck do I just subtract and ‘let go’ of all my inner junk?” I’ve written about this several times before, but because it is so critical for growth, I’ll explain it again.

How to let go

As Mickey Singer teaches, when something happens that stirs up our stuff, we first become aware that that has happened. Then we immediately relax. Everywhere, but especially in our head, chest and stomach areas. Then we simply watch and let go.

We don’t engage with the feeling, whether it’s anger, fear, sadness or anything else. And we don’t think about it and pinpoint it and try to figure out where it came from, etc. We simply feel it. Then relax and let it go. And we do this over and over and over again.

If that sounds daunting, remember this: There is nothing more important that we can do with our time and attention than letting go. Why? Because this is the path leading you to your inner David, the path leading you to that calm, beautiful presence that is your natural state, which is blocked by your egoic stuff.

Everybody’s got stuff. No one is immune. What’s yours?

What’s your “stuff?”

Maybe you’ve battled with your weight your entire life. And you’re out to lunch with your mom. You order a cheeseburger. And she gives you “the look.” Or worse, she says, “What about the veggie burger? It’s so much healthier.” At which point lava explodes through the top of your head and you let your mom have it.

Or maybe you grew up with a father who didn’t listen to you, so after your husband tells you he doesn’t remember you telling him something (which you told him three times), that latent anger from your childhood surges up and you scream at him.

The letting go process

Well, next time something like this happens, the very first thing to do is STOP. Catch yourself. Don’t react. Just notice the anger. Then close your eyes and relax. Take a few deep breaths. Then let go.

The key to the whole process is practicing the act of noticing when your stuff gets stirred up. You can’t relax and let it go unless you first get yourself to notice that it’s there.

And in the beginning, that’s hard. Why? Because all of your life this stuff has come up and you’ve been in the habit of just reacting to it. So it will take a lot of practice. And vigilance.

Meditation Will Strengthen Your Ability to Notice

The absolute best way to strengthen the noticer inside you is to develop a meditation practice. All meditation consists of is sitting quietly and following something happening in the present moment, like your breath.

Then, when your mind wanders, and it will, you simply notice what has happened and bring your attention back to your breath. That’s all it is. When you practice this on a regular basis your noticer “muscle” inside will strengthen.

How does this manifest in your everyday life? You’re at a red light and you notice that you’re getting annoyed, just the way you notice when your mind has wandered off during meditation. But now you cut it off at the pass. You notice the feelings of impatience and frustration, then relax, then let it go.

How do you get started with meditation? When I started meditating 11 years ago I created my own program. I made it simple, doable and designed it so that a regular person, like me, would be successful in developing a long-term practice. Click on the link at the bottom to get started.

The takeaway

Spiritual growth comes from subtracting. From shedding. From letting go.

We don’t need to add anything! We simply need to do the things that aid in that letting go process; like meditating, practicing mindfulness, praying and other activities that still our insides.

This “stuff” has been inside us for most of our lives and is lodged in there nice and tight. So it will take work to dislodge it and let it go.

But no work produces a more valuable and profound benefit, which is the emergence of the real, natural, calm, compassionate, beautiful being that resides inside every one of us.

We’ve talked about adding and subtracting so I’ll send you off with the most beautiful mathematical equation ever created. It comes from the 20th century Indian saint, Meher Baba, who captured the subtraction concept perfectly with this equation:

Man minus mind equals God.