Newsletter - November 2022
What Is “Enough”?
“We can never have enough of what we don’t really want.” I came across this quote and it got me thinking. Why would we want to have something we don’t “really want”? Isn’t there a contradiction in there? Interestingly, I think the answer is no. What’s more, the Tao Te Ching has things to say on this topic. Let’s take a look.
The quote came from a documentary film which looked at how much needless consumption goes on in the world today. It made the point that not only do we consume things we don’t need, we also consume things we want only because our society tells us we should want them. And the one thing that all these wants have in common is that we can never have “enough” of them.
A least two questions spring to mind. First, what keeps this state of affairs in place? Second, can we step outside it? I think the short answers are: big business, and yes. Let’s explore the longer answers.
Businesses succeed when they make money. Unfortunately, they can often do so while sidestepping questions around the consequences of the way they work. In our society, the big businesses of advertising, manufacturing, and consuming can succeed while giving little or no thought as to whether we actually need what we consume (e.g., the fashion industry), the human cost (e.g., sweatshop working conditions), and environmental damage caused by bottom-line-focused manufacturing processes which will always pollute if this is the cheapest option. (My goodness, this sounds like a bit of rant, doesn’t it? However, let’s continue.)
As members of this society, are we trapped by this system? I think the answer is no. Can we step outside it? I think the answer is yes. So here is the longer answer to the second question.
I think we step outside the system when we stop for a moment and recognize we’re actually content with what we have. When that happens, we simply don't want "more." Often, the very idea of "more" doesn't even seem to apply. It's at this point that we find ourselves (finally) outside the system, looking in on it, and saying no thanks. More important, however, is that we didn’t look to the system to tell us whether or not we had “enough.” We looked inside. And looking inside is what makes all the difference.
If you think about it, the advertising industry defines "enough" as that which is always just around the next corner. All we need to do is buy the latest thing... and then we'll finally have "enough." Needless to say, this never happens because the industry makes sure we never run out of corners. This definition of “enough” is obviously self-serving, but it only works as long as we don’t call its bluff.
Here’s the Tao Te Ching calling its bluff. “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the ways things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you” (chapter 44). There’s the bluff being called, because you – and not anyone else – is the one realizing “there is nothing lacking.” Obvious exceptions, of course, are basic human needs such as food, shelter, safety, etc. But, beyond those, I think when we find ourselves wanting "more” of any material thing then chances are good that it's something we "don't really want."
So, what does all this mean to us? I think it means that every time we find ourselves wanting “more” of something, we should look very closely at it. Here’s a test question. Will we be able to tell when we have enough? If we don't know what "enough" looks like when we see it, then I think that should be a massive warning sign.
Okay, it’s time for me to get off my soapbox! After all, who is anyone to tell anyone else what is “enough”? Good question. Do you need that extra pair of shoes, or car, or house, or vacation? Who am I to say? But I think you know what I’m getting at. The point is that “enough” is something which should come from inside, not from outside.
Here’s the Tao Te Ching again. “If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself” (chapter 44). In both cases what you’re looking for, or depending on, come from outside yourself. Similarly, “Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench. Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner” (chapter 9). Same idea; notwithstanding that security and people’s approval are not material things like shoes and cars.
However, you will likely also have noticed that money, security, and people’s approval not only depend on things outside yourself, they are also things you can never have enough of. To me, that’s what a trap looks like when you see it. At least, that’s what I think. But perhaps I should soften my language and simply say that chasing after them is unlikely to bring freedom, peace, and serenity.
In summary, I think it is interesting to look twice at what we think we want and ask ourselves some tough questions. Do we in fact already have it? If not, will we be able to tell what “enough” looks like when we see it? What are the consequences of chasing after it, both for ourselves and for everything else that is affected directly and indirectly by the chase?
Here’s an interesting question to close on. What if, in this very moment, there were nothing lacking? (Leaving aside the obvious exceptions which I mentioned earlier.) How would your thinking change? What would you let go of? What would no longer attract your attention? What if this moment were “enough” exactly the way it is?
If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, you can get in touch with me by:
replying to this e-mail
reaching me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FrancisPringMillAuthor
using the Contact page on my website www.inharmonywiththetao.com
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