When Does One Minus One Not Equal Zero?

When Does 1 Minus 1 Not Equal Zero?

By Matthew Joyce

Here’s a seemingly simple equation. What’s the answer?

1 – 1 = ______
a.    Zero
b.    One
c.    Infinity
d.    All of the above

Choose an answer before reading further.

The answer you choose reveals quite a bit about your perspective on the world.


If you chose a) Zero, then you see things “as they are.” This is the mathematically correct choice. Whether you are balancing your checkbook or you are a child who eats the last piece of candy, it’s self-evident that when you have one thing and you eliminate it then nothing remains. But if you approach the equation from a spiritual perspective then other answers arise.


If you chose b) One, then you appreciate that this isn’t really a math question (Which is as you might expect from a spiritual website). Moreover, if you decided that the answer was One, then you understand the concept of an underlying unity of all things.
The ultimate goal of a great many spiritual paths is to eliminate your sense of ego or separateness. When you dissolve your self-identity as a separate individual you experience a unity with all things. Thus, in a spiritual sense, the act of subtracting your self-identity from the equation leaves you with a feeling of Oneness with all things.


If you chose c) Infinity, then chances are you’ve actually experienced that underlying unity for yourself. When you immerse yourself in that universal unity you move beyond time and space and you see them as constructs for experiencing your identity as a separate individual. From within that unity you realize that eternity does not mean one moment after another forever. Eternity means the eternal now. Similarly, you realize that infinity does not mean distant points that stretch on forever in every direction. Infinity means right here because that is all there is.

All of the Above

If you chose d) All of the above, then you can hold more than one perspective at the same time. Moreover, you recognize how the perspective that you choose changes the way you experience your life.

When you approach life from a linear and pragmatic perspective you enjoy a shared set of expectations with the rest of the world. This enables you to function in daily life whether you are driving your car, meeting a friend for lunch on a certain day and time, or counting the bills and coins that you receive as change after you’ve paid for your meal.

When you recognize the oneness of all things and your place within that unity you enjoy a sense of context and purpose that escapes those people who focus solely on how they are separate from all else in their lives. This applies whether you count yourself as member of a sports team, as someone in a committed monogamous relationship, or as someone who knows and appreciates your place within the great circle of life.
When you know the infinite as yourself you have realized the underlying truth spoken by mystics and sages that enables you to enjoy the sense of peace and calm that is available to you within every moment regardless of your life circumstances.

The Question Is More Important than the Answer

There is no single correct answer to the question 1 – 1 = ____. But it’s worth asking yourself the question because the answer for you often depends upon what you are trying to achieve and the perspective that is best-suited to your purpose.

Next Step

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One Response to When Does One Minus One Not Equal Zero?

  1. Dan says:

    I liked the article a lot Matthew–very thought provoking!

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