Vancouver, 2015 (photo by Cindy Nguyen)
Vancouver, 2015 (photo by Cindy Nguyen)

Dear friend,

One new word I’m trying to integrate into my life is “ultralight” — reducing weight in my life. Physical weight, emotional weight, and spiritual weight.

“Heaviness is the root of lightness.” – Tao Te Ching

I’ve dealt with a lot of heaviness in my life.

Heaviness in terms of traveling with way too much stuff.

Heaviness in terms of emotional heaviness— heaviness from family, personal relationships, work, money, and business.

Heaviness in terms of spirituality — heaviness of sins, guilt, and blame.


Heaviness has weighed me down a lot in life. Heaviness has suffocated me, and prevented me from spreading my wings and flying.

Everyday, I’m trying to shed some weight. Rather than adding things to my life, I’m trying to lighten my burden. To get rid of more physical possessions, to get rid of more distractions, to get rid of more negativity.

That means me trying to remove thoughts of blame, praise, envy, jealousy, impatience, and frustration (with others, and myself).

That means me trying to reduce the amount of desire I have for money, wealth, power, and influence.

The benefits of lightness


Personally, I have found so many benefits in terms of lightness — in so many areas of my life.

In photography, lightness has helped me walk more, with less fatigue, which allows more mental energy to make more creative photos.

In the past, when I lugged around a heavy DSLR, I could barely walk a few miles without becoming exhausted. My camera bag was heavy — I had too many lenses, bodies, and superfluous equipment.

Now I try to use the lightest and most compact gear. By aiming for “ultralight” equipment — I have been able to walk longer, with less fatigue, which means more time shooting, more time enjoying my walk, and less stress.

Emotional lightness


One thing I’m trying to also do in my life is to integrate lightness into my emotional health. I aim to be “ultralight” in terms of my heart and feelings.

For example, a lot of guilt from the past, regrets, have weighed me down. Rather than moving forward and appreciating the present, I would always look back — and blame myself. I would always think, “What if?” and second-guess myself.

I would second-guess my decisions— in terms of what I decided to do, and what I decided not to do.

This became emotional baggage that prevented me from growing. From evolving. From becoming the best version of myself.

Ultimately I realized that this emotional heaviness wasn’t from others — it was a cage and weight I put on myself. I had an “atlas complex” — putting the weight of the world on my shoulders.

I’m still not completely healed or cured— I am still trying to remove some of the emotional heaviness in my life, day by day.

Spiritual lightness


I feel a lot of my dissatisfaction in life is from not being appreciative or grateful for all the blessings in life. Rather than being grateful for what I have, I always look for more. I look for those who I consider more successful than me, those who have more money than me, more influence, and more followers than me.

I want to be spiritually “ultralight” — by constantly counting my blessings, and being grateful for everything in my life. To be grateful for my loved ones and family, to be grateful for my health (both physical and mental), to be grateful for modern technology, to be grateful for the simple meals I eat, and to be grateful for the (lots of) coffee I drink.

I want to rid myself of the heaviness of negative thoughts. Of blaming other people. I want to subtract the heaviness of guilt, shame, and sin.

I want to let my spirit soar. I can’t do that with any sort of heaviness. I need to be “ultralight.”


You can take the concept of “ultralight” literally or metaphorically.

To be ultralight physically means to be physically weighed down less by stuff. To own fewer possessions, to own lighter possessions, or to have less clutter in your home.

To be ultralight metaphorically means to have less emotional and spiritual weight in your mind. To be less encumbered by negative thoughts, and more uplifted by positive thoughts. To have less regret from the past, and more optimism about the future.

How to become “ultralight”

If you want less stress, physical pain, or mental pain — I recommend a prescription of lightness into your life. Here are some things I’ve tried and done, which have worked for me:

1. Subtract one thing a day



Rather than trying to figure what to add to my life, I always try to figure out what to subtract from my life.

This can mean subtracting negative influences, parasites (physical or metaphorical), distracting applications, distracting websites, or negative emotions.

I always try to push myself — because when I reach a point where I think I have subtracted enough, there is always a little more I can subtract. And that is what pushes me to be creative, to innovate, and to be ultralight.

2. Don’t be afraid of “what if?”



One of the hardest things of subtracting things from my life is the fear of “what if?” What if I’m traveling— and I need this thing to help me out? What if I subtract this negative person from my life, and they end up hurting me? What if I’m taking photos, and what if I need that lens or camera body?

I say don’t fear “what if” — rather, think of having less as an opportunity to be more creative.

By having less, we are forced to make the best of what we have.

For a long time, I was dependent on reading books on a Kindle. Then I tried to get rid of it. I started to read on my phone. Then I tried to spend less time on my phone, so now I read more books on my laptop. And now, I’m trying to spend less time reading books, and more time coming up with ideas, and more time writing.

When it comes to photography, by having less gear — we need to make the best of the gear we already have. This forces us to be more creative with our compositions, framing, and shooting. Rather than relying on a zoom lens, we might need to use “foot zoom”. Rather than using a wider-lens, we might be forced to just take a step back, or focus on a certain detail in a photograph.

When it comes to life, by having less money — we need to learn how to be more economical with the little money we have. Or if we have a little home, we learn how to be more economical with our space, and more efficient. We stay lean, and don’t have anything that is superfluous or wasteful.

So don’t think of having a lack of something as a downside. Rather, see it as a benefit.

3. Bigger is not “better”



Often things which are bigger, heavier, and bulkier are “better.”

We think a bigger home is better— because we have more room.

We think a bigger car is better— because it is “safer” and has more room to put in more stuff, and transport more people.

Things which are bigger, heavier, and bulkier often have many downsides.

Things which are bigger and heavier tend to break down more. Bigger and heavier animals tend to go extinct easier than smaller organisms. Things which are bigger and heavier tend to be more expensive to maintain.

Therefore we need to shift our perceptions — bigger is not better. Bigger is often more complex, more complicated, and more stressful.

For example, bigger cameras tend to have more functions, more megapixels, better image quality, and better handling. They also tend to be heavier (because they are full of so many components). But the heaviness tends to be a disadvantage— you enjoy the shooting process less (because of the weight), and you can travel less (you feel more fatigue with the weight).

The problem is also psychologically — we equate weight with quality. The heavier the gold bar is, the more it is “worth.” We do this with cameras— an ultralight camera seems cheap, plastic, and disposable. Heavier cameras seem more sturdy, have better quality, and therefore we value them more.

You were born to fly


For a month, just do an experiment— try out this “ultralight” lifestyle in terms of your day-to-day-living, in terms of your photography, and your travels. See if it works for you, and by reducing heaviness in your life— you can add more physical, emotional, and spiritual lightness to your life.

If you’re less weighed down in life, will you be able to spread your wings, and soar higher?

Keep it ultralight,

Learn more: Philosophy >