The late jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was once asked what he thinks about before he plays, to which he replied, “what to leave out”. Jazz as I mentioned recently (ref. Abundant Living Vol. V, Issue 30) is unique to most other music in that it doesn’t resolve, that is very little of it is read from a score. Instead it is a kind of music created by improvisation, at which Miles Davis whose head was filled with infinite creative possibilities was an absolute master. His greatest genius, however, was not in the accumulation of music that existed in his head; rather it was in his ability to deliver the best authentic musical expression to his audience. And in order to do that with maximum effectiveness he had to figure out “what to leave out”.
“De-accumulate!” is the term Richard Foster uses in his magnificent book Celebration of Discipline. “Masses of things that are not needed complicate life,” he explains. “They must be sorted and stored and dusted and re-sorted and re-stored ad nauseam. Most of us could get rid of half of our possessions without any serious sacrifice.”
Too many of us I’m afraid have come to believe that our value in the world is determined by what we accumulate – money, possessions, successes, education level, and so forth. Such accomplishments are indeed commendable, but if we are not careful they can become a disguise for who we were uniquely made to be. We use them to cover up who we really are, and in doing so deprive the world of the best authentic expression of ourselves. It’s like the early days of my corporate career when I would work long hours with the excuse I was providing for my family, only to be reminded by my wife that my family needed my presence much more than the money. In other words, I was actually doing more depriving than providing. The remedy was to figure out what to leave out.
Miles Davis became a legendary jazz trumpeter, and more than a small part of his success must be attributed to the fact that he was always thinking about what to leave out – what was not necessary. He understood as does Richard Foster that “masses of things that are not needed [only] complicate life”, and when that occurs the healthy thing to do is “de-accumulate”.