What’s Enough?

It seems to me that even if you have no interest in Taoism you should be interested in much of what Boldt says in The Tao of Abundance. In fact, so far any ideas he’s put forth he has supported with quotations from important 20th century thinkers, not just ancient Chinese Taoists. Still, I was intrigued enough by this quotation from the Lieh Tzu that I ordered the book from Amazon:

When it comes to determining how much you need, there are two important categories to keep in mind. First, there are the material things you need to keep body and soul together. Second are the areas of “need” related to social status and position. With both, you have a great deal of discretion. The ancient Taoist masters were keenly aware of the cost of money and were particularly skeptical of the cost of attaining social status and position. In the Lieh Tzu, Yang Chu says:

[People) “realize happiness is not simply having their material needs met. Thus, society has set up a system of rewards that go beyond material goods. These include titles, social recognition, status, and political power, all wrapped up in a package called self-fulfillment. Attracted by these prizes and goaded on by social pressure, people spend their short lives tiring mind and body to chase after these goals. Perhaps this gives them the feeling that they have achieved something in their lives, but in reality they have sacrificed a lot in life. They can no longer see, hear, act, feel, or think from their hearts. Everything they do is dictated by whether it can get them social gains. In the end, they’ve spent their lives following other people’s demands and never lived a life of their own. How different is this from the life of a prisoner or slave?”

I would have thought that this feeling of being enslaved by consumerism was strictly a modern perception, but apparently I was being a bit naive, which is not to say that there is still not more opportunity to be free of such demands than in previous generations.

It seems impossible to deny that here in America most of us live in abundance unimaginable by those in a not-too-distant past:

… the important point here is to recognize that the way we define wealth has a great deal to do with our individual and collective experience of abundance or lack. Moreover, each of us can benefit from challenging the assumption that we live in a world of scarcity and lack. On a more immediate level, we each might ask ourselves, if we don’t already live in abundance. Certainly, on a material level, most of us enjoy an abundance unprecedented in human history. Think about all you have and enjoy. First and foremost, you have your life. I’m willing to guess that you have enough to eat, ample clothing, and a place to sleep, out of the elements. Beyond the basics, the average middle-class person in the developed world has a higher standard of living than the kings and queens of earlier eras enjoyed. We have running water and indoor toilets; we have central heat and air conditioning, and refrigeration. We eat exotic foods from all over the world. In the dead of winter in New York city, one can enjoy bananas and other tropical foods, something even Queen Elizabeth I would have been unable to do. In addition, we have means of communication and transportation that would have seemed fantastic even a century ago. Through most of their time on this planet, the life expectancy of homo sapiens was about forty years. Today, a good many will live twice that long.

Once the basics of life have been met, it becomes largely a matter of personal definition whether we are “rich” or “poor.”

After attempting to establish that most of us actually live in a world of abundance, Boldt points out the importance of understanding why we often feel we do not have enough and how to counter that feeling:

Now, if in fact, we live in an abundant world, there are three primary tasks for us on the journey to a life of total abundance. The first task is to recognize the inner and outer forces that conspire to make us believe in scarcity and thus to feel lack. Awareness of these factors will help us to overcome their influence over us. The second task is to cultivate a spirit of abundance in our lives, celebrating the gift of life with joy and thanksgiving. As we focus in our thoughts and actions on things that bring a feeling of connection with all life, we begin to move with the flow of the Tao. In this way, we allow blessings to come to us as a part of the “overflow” of an abundant spirit-not as things we crave and struggle for from a sense of lack or desperation. To come from lack can only bring lack, even when we get what we think we need. On the other hand, when we come from the spirit of abundance, we attract ever greater abundance.

I suspect that Boldt is being overly optimistic when he argues that

Finally, as we move in the world from the spirit of abundance, we become a liberating and empowering force in the lives of those we interact with. We help them see, not by preaching, but by example, that we all live in an abundant world and that they as well can free themselves from lack consciousness. Together, we can unite in a spirit of abundance and create new patterns of community and social organization, new lifestyles, and new ways of relating, based on cooperation rather than competition. As envy greed, and competition flow from lack, so do compassion, service, and cooperation flow from a spirit of abundance. It is this spirit of abundance that will be our guide as we embark on the journey to creating total abundance in our lives.

I’d like to believe that such cooperation is possible in creating a better world, and I doubt that these desires are limited to Taoists. In fact, I’m sure that many of my Christian friends have devoted their lives to promoting exactly the kind of world Boldt envisions.

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