Seek out Excess

I love it when things turn out to be more than the sum of their parts.

For example, I love mountains. But what we can see of a mountain is so much less than what we get. If you add up all the dirt, trees, animals, trails, and air that make up a mountain, all you have is a picture of it. Even if we include the history of a mountain, the tectonic movement that formed it, the people who named it, and all the people who have ever hiked it, I still think we will miss something.

I hesitate to call it the soul but it is an accurate concept; it is something immaterial and immortal, the essence of it.

Perhaps it is a personal connection that is born when we decide, unconsciously, that a mountain means something to us. Our feelings become bound up with the object and all the history of it. Our emotions get twined with the emotions of everyone else who has ever experienced something similar with this mountain.

In this way, the mountain becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. It becomes something more, something extra.

Thinking back on my backpacking trips, I can rarely distinguish one panoramic view from another. However, I can recall very clearly the feelings I had, the emotions I felt, and the friendships I formed. And they are feelings so specific that I fail constantly to describe them in words. I can seldom look back at my pictures and maps and not have intense emotional reactions. These emotions have less to do with the beauty of the place and more to do with my memory of the connection I found to that geography.

Paradoxically, our encounter with the corporeal elements catalyzes our connection with the something-more. We see the trees, hear the birds, feel the air, and then something more happens: we make a deeper connection with it all. It is through the concrete that we discover the abstract.

I find a similar connection to music. I study the notes, rhythms, phrasing, historical context, and practice it constantly. At the end of all that, something extra in the music emerges.

Maybe part of it is the reverberations of the composer’s emotions while writing it. Maybe it starts to mean something to me, something immaterial and indescribable. When I add up the constituent elements of a piece of music, I find the sum is far larger than I expected.

If we want to find joy in life, we have to seek out this sense of excess. We can take something we love and subtract all the stuff we can easily perceive and, beautiful as these objects might be, whatever is left over is where all the truly amazing stuff is.

Featured image: Window Rock, Philmont Scout Ranch, NM. I woke up to this view one morning and the experience has never left me. A traveling chaplain met our crew and stood next to that rock as he talked to us about his hiking philosophies many of which have become my own. This is one of my most powerful connections the excess of a place.


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