As some of you here may recall, at the start of each year I like to set an intention – a focus, if you will, for the year ahead.
Typically the intention just pops up – I ask myself, “what should this year’s intention be?” and then wait for my own answer.
Most of the time, my response surprises me. This year was no exception. When I heard “this will be the Year of Sufficiency,” I was like – the year of what?
Then I got very excited.
Ahhh….perfect! Yes! Sufficiency is what I’ve been missing all these years. Instead of resting in sufficiency, I’ve been drowning in scarcity, paralyzed by ongoing fears of not enough, stymied in nearly every area of life by a belief in my own personal incompetence, inadequacy and insufficiency.
When 2017 began, I had just turned 46, and I truly felt ready for sufficiency. For this reason, I embraced this particular New Year’s intention with so much enthusiasm I then began to worry I had scared it away.
Happily, sufficiency has lots of courage.
Instead of fleeing, it began to teach me immediately. For instance, I have discovered I am often happier with less rather than more. I have learned I like to have less on my to-do list, less possessions, less optional responsibility – when I have less in these areas, there is more space in my life for peace, creativity, new opportunities and other good sufficiency-type things.
I have also learned sufficiency isn’t about my bank balance, my bucket list or my opinions of myself (or others’ opinions of me). It is way deeper than that.
Last night as I was finally finishing a difficult but worthwhile book, “Search for the Golden Moon Bear” by Sy Montgomery, sufficiency decided it was high time to deliver my next lesson. It came in the form of a story.
In the book, Montgomery relates the story of an encounter between a Southeast Asian rice farmer and a group of U.S. aid volunteers. The volunteers were arguing persuasively that the farmer could use their new modern farming techniques to cultivate more rice from the same land.
The farmer was repeatedly missing the point. Finally, he said to the aid workers:
I have enough for my family. I have seen the King, and he looks well fed, so he must have enough too. Why bother with more?
Why, indeed? Montgomery then goes on to share some thoughts from one of her Western colleagues who is still living and working in the region:
…to Western minds, if you live with just enough of everything, there’s something wrong. “Enough is not enough,” says the voice of progress, the World Bank, the antipoverty charities; you need more!
So the World Bank comes in and says, “let me help you.” The villages get electricity, and the people see television. They see these things on TV and now they want them…and now you have poverty where there was none before.
Like Montgomery, I have traveled to places where the locals have far less in terms of “stuff.” But none of the people I’ve met on my travels ever seemed to struggle with a sense of lack. When I was in India, more than once a local villager would go out of their way to tell me that what they lacked in “stuff” they made up for in inner riches.
I have never forgotten these words, or the contented, calm voices of the people who shared them with me.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is summed up by Montgomery’s colleague, Jim:
The problem….was that government and charities, however well intentioned, did not understand the cultures they were trying to “help.”
They did not understand that in many cases, instead of meeting existing needs, they were creating new ones. “They’ve equated subsistence with poverty….but for many of the [local people], enough is sufficient. Why would you want more?
For the first time ever in my life, I am really starting to get comfy with having exactly what I need and being okay with that. I am not there yet in terms of a tangible, daily experience of it, but that is more about bringing my mind around to experiencing enough as enough, rather than seeing enough as a clear indication of impending scarcity-doom.
So long as my mind continues to insist on counting up every dime and dollar and penny, comparing every opportunity and interaction and connection that comes my way against bigger, flashier, richer examples that are so plentifully available on television and in magazines, and worrying its way through every month that there won’t be enough right at the moment when enough is needed, I will still have more work to do.
Of course, thankfully, it is only July, which means I still have five more full months to immerse myself in all things sufficiency.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever found yourself battling yourself when you had a choice between “enough” and “more?” Have you felt uneasy or even afraid that, if you didn’t have more, enough might not cut it if the unexpected occurs? Have you, like me, ever had periods in your life where you actually did have more – plenty, so much – but the worrying didn’t stop? How do you relate to the Western focus on more versus enough?