Do Less

I started writing this, my first post after taking a bit of a summer sabbatical, out in the backyard. We have a little patio set we inherited from the previous owners with only three chairs, one of which doesn’t match (RIP, other two chairs). I was sitting in one such mismatched chair, having dragged the footrest out from our solarium to accommodate the decidedly professional writing posture of “feet up, laptop where it belongs: on lap.” To that point in the day (mid-morning), I had skipped my morning workout to snuggle with my sleepy husband, got up and cuddled with our dog while I drank my coffee, walked said dog together with said husband through the lush waterside park near our house, made a smoothie, slowly read like 4 pages of a book on the grass with the dog, and swept the tiny walkway between our house and garage.

Just as I completed a first paragraph for this post, my musician husband finished his morning practice routine and came out to join me on the other of the two matching chairs. We started the usual conversation couples tend to have as they stare out at their garden: what improvements could we make to turn our already magical outdoor retreat into a truly glorious backyard oasis? These are half wistful, half practical conversations, where only about a third of what you ideate usually comes to fruition, and usually only a few years down the line. It’s more an exercise in unifying visioning: what do we picture ourbackyard to look like? What things are important to us? 

Well, for some reason, this beautiful conversation started stirring up in me the exact feelings I’ve generally tried to opt out of. I started thinking about the plethora of home projects I could get done on this long weekend. I started brainstorming renovations and cleaning projects and furniture upgrades. I fixated on how much time any one of these would take and how many I could cram into the three days I have away from the office.

How utterly foolish it would be to turn from *accomplishing so much in the early hours of the day through pure flow and enjoyment to pushing hard to tick off projects that hadn’t even existed five minutes prior! How sad it would be to waste what is looking to be one of the hottest, most beautiful weekends of the year – a long weekend, and the last weekend of summer at that! What utter brain-fuckery it would be to allow one impulsive turn by my ego to colour my entire staycation!

All musicians who have gone through the university or conservatory system at a high level will agree that in the top ten things most frequently repeated by instructors, “do less” has to be up near the top. How infuriating it was as music students, trying our damndest to perform to the best of our ability, to put endless hours in struggling and fighting and wading through music and technique and self-loathing only to master a difficult piece or passage, then play it for our teachers, who would look on with a combination of pity and encouragement before saying those two words: “do less.”

Of course we would be affable. “Ahaha… you’re SO right! I really need to just let it go.” Then we would scowl inside as we turned back to our instrument or gathered ourselves to sing, all the while thinking “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! DON’T YOU APPRECIATE THAT I’M WORKING MY ASS OFF HERE?!” Oh, the hot rage that can be produced by an artistic teacher’s commentary. It is truly like no other.

But, duhhh, they were always right. “Do less” was almost always the key to moving from technical accomplishment to musical performance. Doing less opened the door to personal interpretation and flair, it made the difficult appear effortless, and allowed a far greater amount of collaboration with our fellow performers. Instead of “do less,” our momentarily Buddha-like teachers may as well have said, “release your physical body and release your ego.” “Do less” was always an epic turning point.

So, what can everyone take away from the magical though initially infuriating moment that is the transformative “do less”? First, let’s look at how the musician arrives at that moment. The musician toils firstYears of training carve the physical body into a playing machine, able to conquer almost any obstacle. Endless days, weeks, months in the practice room build technical mastery for the specific piece at hand. Hours upon hours of listening to recordings, analyzing the score, and reading about the work in question lead to an informed, accurate interpretation.

In essence, the musician does all the heavy lifting to grind it out before showing up to have their brilliant teacher tell them not to undo their work, but to allow it all to sink beneath the surface, to become the rich earth from which theirperformance, their interpretation will now grow.

Prior to my almost-wrong-turn moment this morning, I was reflecting on this idea of “do less.” It’s come up for me a lot lately. In tackling digestive challenges or bad eating habits, simply go back to basics. Eat natural foods, simply prepared. Do less. In addressing unhealthy skin or hair, reduce the number of products used and the frequency of interference. Do less. Feel like you never have anything to wear? Pull out the twenty things you wear the most and put everything else out of sight. Do less. It works goddamn everywhere.

But, BUT, my friends… what does the musician teach us about not just doing less, but doing less transformatively? Let’s use the clothing example. IF you pull a capsule from what you already wear, I guarantee you will feel less overwhelm and find yourself more satisfied with your outfits each day. But what will really get you to the magical tipping point of “doing less” transcendence is if that pull emerges from time spent reflecting on personal image, best colours, objectives, values, wants and needs. If the items that are in the closet are of high quality from slow and mindful shopping, chances are there are going to be more exceptional winners when you’re ready to “do less.” If the soil is rich, the flower will bloom brighter, healthier, and more vibrant than if the work hadn’t gone in before it was planted.

Which brings me back to my own “do less” moment today. Rather than continue to push, to till the soil of my home and my life here over the weekend by doing, doing, doing, I stepped back and realized how incredibly rich it already was. I had already done so much heavy lifting that I just didn’t need to lift for a while. I delighted in my beautiful home and my beloved home life. I gardened, I read, I napped, I watched tennis, I went to the farmer’s market, I ate fresh carrots and strawberries, I fell asleep in the armchair in our livingroom… and I finished this blog post. The *productivity continues, because beautiful soil has already been nourished for all these things, and rather than continue to fuck with it, I’ve decided to watch the garden bloom.

So, on this beautiful Labour Day weekend, I invite you to ask yourself: what areas of your life have already been so richly tended to that “doing less” may be the key to blooming more brightly? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised (and, like me, relieved).

Cheers to a wonderful weekend, everyone!