Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - August 2023
Gratitude turns what we have into enough.
This month, I want to paint a picture of how the “prevailing wisdom” in our world detracts from the quality of our lives, and even our sense of who we are. It’s based in experience of my own life journey as well as observation of the world around me, including coaching hundreds of clients. I see three elements here, which together support and reinforce each other’s message.
- Society’s prevailing wisdom tells us that living a good life means making your life happen – that striving more and achieving more allow you to have more, which is key to being more … like happy or free or peaceful.
- Common lessons of our upbringing echo this message, and are familiar to us all: work hard, try harder, stay busy, be productive, get things right, avoid mistakes, compete, don’t rock the boat, be socially acceptable.
- Together, these messages create a set of rules to live by, all-too-familiar to most of us: I’m not good enough; I don’t have enough; I don’t/didn’t do enough; there isn’t enough; they didn’t do enough; I don’t deserve that. You know some of these, right? I mean, if you hold yourself accountable to society’s wisdom and to all its lessons, how could you possibly feel you were good enough? Problem is that we don’t see the connections among them.
Now, it would seem odd enough that we 1) believe somebody else’s lessons as truth, 2) then adopt them as who we believe we are, 3) and then live lives of stress, overwhelm and dissatisfaction trying to uphold them … largely unaware of the chain of events that even brought us to this place. But worse, there’s a hidden fallacy in the strive/achieve/have school of thought that’s at the root of our societal (and individual) obsession with “work,” and in turn the levels of stress, anxiety, malaise and dissatisfaction we seem to know so very well. The fallacy is that we rarely learn to ask, and therefore have no answer to, the question, “how much is enough?” And, although, again, we don’t see this as a problem (largely because we just don’t see this), the impact it has on our well-being is staggering. The fear that comes from a sense of “not enough” causes us to feel separate from others, life, world. This alienation causes us far more damage than whatever we may think we’re lacking.
Think about it. If you work to achieve something, but don’t know what that something is, what you’re left with is … working. If you want something more in life, but don’t know what that something is, what you’re left with is … wanting. Perpetually “wanting,” we’ll never feel satisfied, because nothing ever feels like enough. Stress, anxiety and exhaustion are caused by the energy of wanting, not by failure to achieve. Yet we misidentify the culprit. (Note here is that business loves people who believe they’re “not enough” in some way, simply because they work harder … a futile attempt to make them feel like they are enough.) Of course, all this happens without asking the question: what is enough?)
I acknowledge that [perhaps] the intention in our old lessons was to encourage fully engaging with life and making it our own, yet the way we interpret them leaves us lost, uncertain and “wanting” … to be “enough.”
So … for a moment … imagine what things might be like if you had learned instead that life is an invitation … an opportunity … an adventure — into learning and growing and becoming. And that you can have more (freedom, peace, happiness) simply by being more … of who you truly are. Just imagine. And yes, you will hear the voices of “prevailing wisdom” telling you how silly this imagining thing is. (That voice is just afraid … of not being enough.)
While you’re imagining, take a look at “the way it is” for you right now … and imagine that “the way it is” right now were enough. (I’m not asking you to believe it IS enough, but only to imagine how you’d feel if it were.) How much might you have to be grateful for? “Enough” is what fills you, not what constrains you.
Exercise: Your view of “enough.” No matter whether it’s about your money, possessions, status, luck, or self-confidence, what’s “enough” is personal to you. In no way would I ever suggest what might be enough – for you. But what I do suggest is that you become aware of your relationship to what “enough” means … in each of the many aspects of your life … and with awareness alone, begin to adapt your choices [naturally] to your growing sense of what matters to you. You may need more work in growing your sense of “being good enough,” while your friend may need more work in growing a sense of “having enough money/possessions.” Either way, the journey begins the same way: start noticing. Notice what is true today. Just be honest with yourself. No need to try to change anything – that will come on its own through growing awareness of “what is.” For now, just get to know where the idea of “not enough” traps you into striving/achieving/forcing/worrying. When you just learn to see the energy drain that comes from this kind of compensation strategy, that energy will start to wane, all on its own.
See the “book” suggestion below. A gratitude journal can be an unbelievably powerful source of awareness and perspective here.
Life Lessons from Nature: Nature’s creations have a built-in sense of “enough.” (That means we humans did too … until we “forgot.”) It doesn’t matter what you observe in nature, whether it’s a tree, a cactus, a chipmunk or an eagle. None takes more than it needs. This is one of the miraculous aspects of nature that keep life “in balance.” True, a cactus will absorb and store enough water (when it rains) so as to sustain it until the next rain. But it’s not hoarding. Predators don’t kill more than they (and maybe their relative) can eat. A chipmunk doesn’t store five years’ worth of acorns. And, best we know, chipmunks don’t fret about whether there will be enough to carry them through winter. Each creation just keeps on “being its inner guidance,” thereby holding the web of life together sustainably. We humans have strayed so far from this model that the waste, and the greed, are almost criminal.
Book of the month: your own gratitude journal. A truly amazing way to transform your thinking is with an awareness practice devoted to seeing “what is.” It’s a really simple practice. You might use one of those desk calendar books with a week showing on two pages. Each day, write down three things from the day for which you are grateful. They need not be “big things.” Everyday things matter just as much – the sound of children at play, the sight of a wild animal, the smell of a flower, a phone call from an old friend, a smile from a stranger. I did this practice every day for a year, and, for real, it changed the way I see and think. No, it doesn’t make “issues” go away, but it casts them in a different light, making them occupy less “space” in your head. In keeping with this month’s article, it helps you focus on “enough.” AND … it’s also a way for you to consciously become the author of your life’s story.