“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” Lao Tzu
I am bracing myself for the onslaught of excess and scarcity. It is so easy to move from a sense of wonder at autumn’s abundant and bountiful harvest to feelings of inadequacy and deprivation. I speak of the advertising barrage that begins before Thanksgiving, pulling me toward the worst of consumerism. Black Friday’s shopping spree claws into Thanksgiving’s lavish feast–even before the leftovers are packed away. Like vultures, big-box merchants strip the meat off the carcass of Thanksgiving’s holiday. We leave gratitude in the rear view mirror as we push toward competitive shopping.
Ever present Muzak sings of Peace on Earth while shoppers fight their way to bargains, artificially limited by time and number. Be the first to get the lowest price! Only for a limited time! You’ll never see prices this low again! It is all under the pretense of showing your love and affection when, all too often, it is us we are buying for–the newest electronic device, the perfect kitchen gadget, the too-good-to-passup bling. My heart starts racing just thinking about it!
I am not against gift giving, nor am I against bargains. I take pleasure in buying presents, anticipating the surprise and even delight as someone dear to me unwraps the gift I’ve chosen. What I don’t like is the sense that whatever we have, it is not enough. Last year’s must-have is stashed with the year before’s bigger-and-better. Meanwhile our homes resemble storage units and we spend January brooding over how much time and money we spent.
It isn’t only the shopping that is excessive, it is also the doing. Warm memories of past holidays are filled with baking cookies, crafting decorations, attending concerts and spending special time with family and friends. Each year I struggle with how much time, energy and stress I am willing to spend to choreograph the perfect holiday. Like my storage shelves, my holiday calendar is too often jam-packed.
I wonder how we so quickly devolve into a sense of scarcity? Like winter’s flu, it spreads in and through whole communities, besetting even the strongest. Login to Facebook and up pop ads to remind us of what we don’t have and surely need. Newspapers, magazines and electronic media spread the word that we will never have enough. We aren’t thin enough, rich enough, exercised enough, attractive enough, popular enough, successful enough. What is enough? Notice, the marketeers don’t answer that question.
Perhaps I suffer from too much more than I suffer from not enough. A wall full of pictures looks like abundance until we walk away and cannot remember a single one. A wall with a single picture draws us in. Think of those grand buffet lines filled with amazing foods! We begin with a scoopful of this and a slice of that and a helping of this and tad of that until by the end we have a plate overflowing with wonderful foods that all run together. We lose the distinctions. It all melds into a single taste. Too often too much is too little — too little contrast, too little focus, too little delight.
Unfortunately, we don’t see the too-little until we are fully immersed in our too-much: too much shopping, too much screen time, too much work, too much partying. Soon we see what we have too little of: too little alone time, too little family time, too little sleep, too little space between what I just did and what comes next.
What makes us so vulnerable to sirens of greed and want and excess? Our culture raises our expectations for love, family and joy and our marketplace tries to meet them with electronics, bling and food. It is a mismatch from the start!
Brené Brown says that for her, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance, it is enough. What is enough for me, for us, for our families?
Enough doesn’t have to be bare-bones. I can imagine that I could live very simply with much less than I have now, but I am not wanting to move to survival mode. I want to manage my activities and my stuff into a space of thriving. I am looking at the sweet spot between too little and too much.
One of the questions I ask myself is how much pleasure does this thing give me? I own a kayak and while I don’t use it a lot, when I do I am delighted with a sense of spaciousness as I skim across a lake, watch diving loons and experience the magic of being water-borne. My kayak is not particularly fast or beautiful or intrepid, but it carries me to places that linger in my memory. I could live without it, but I don’t want to.
Another question is how does this fit my values? Beauty, hospitality and relationships are all high on my value list. Therefore, I am willing to invest a fair amount of time, energy and resources in creating a welcoming space for the holidays with traditional foods and an open door for friends and family. I am not interested in giving or receiving expensive gifts, meeting social obligations or spending time in crowded malls.
Thirdly, I ask, what am I willing to expend in dollars, time and energy? What is enough? Enough money to spend, enough cookies to bake, enough gatherings to host, enough concerts to attend, enough time to devote, enough me to share, enough sleep to get, enough quiet to buffer me from the frenetic pace. When I know what’s enough it is easier to know what’s too much and what is too little.
Enough is a sacred word. Keep it at the ready during this season of excess and scarcity. To recognize enough is to live in the freedom of choice.
Mary Lou Logsdon provides spiritual direction and leads retreats in the Twin Cities. She teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Certification program. Mary Lou has an MA in theology and a certificate in Spiritual Direction from St Catherine University. Write her at logsdon. firstname.lastname@example.org call 651/583- 1802.