“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15
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 you probably know, is a style of music created mostly 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, which he accomplished by figuring out “what to leave out”.
“De-accumulate!” is the term Richard Foster uses in his classic 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. While these may indeed be commendable, if we are not careful they can become a disguise for who we were uniquely made to be, covering 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, of course, was to figure out what to leave out.
Miles Davis became a legendary jazz trumpeter in no small part due to his ability to figure out 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”. After all, “. . . a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”