Last week I wrote that thinking about times of scarcity and abundance in our life improves our attitude, and gives both peace and hope. A friend asked me what I meant by “scarcity” and “abundance.”
“Right now, you wish you had more money, your foot felt better, and you had a buyer for your house,” I said. “I understand that. It feels like you don’t have what you want. You’re feeling ‘scarcity.’ At the same time, you can pay your bills, your foot’s healing, and you have a house that’s paid for. You could call that … ‘abundance.’ That’s what I mean.”
“You’re right,” he said, smiling. “I want more, but I have what I need. In fact, I have a lot. That’s pretty good. Thanks. You made my day.”
No matter what we have, it’s easy to feel that we don’t have enough (scarcity). We want more, better, bigger. The advertising that bombards us each day tries to increase these feelings of scarcity and desire, so that we’ll want things we don’t need. For example, a five-year-old car and one-year-old cell phone really don’t need to be replaced with the newest versions, unless they’ve been badly damaged.
Sometimes, however, not having enough is more than a feeling, it is reality. Our life has a hole in it (job, money, friends, family, health, stability) that can’t be washed away with a new attitude.
Imagined scarcity can be eliminated. Actual scarcity can be made more livable and less destructive. One way to do this is to balance our scarcity with an awareness of the abundance we have in our life. There are good reasons why people have, for centuries, turned their minds away from their troubles and towards the “blessings” and abundance in their life: Doing so calms the heart rate, reduces stress hormones and pain, and sets the mind free to be creative about both current stuff and future directions. We discover gratitude.
Here’s an example from my life. Many years ago, my family lived in the wild blueberry country of northeastern New York. Never having eaten wild blueberries, I remembered my mother’s stories about the tasty wild blueberries of her childhood. So my family went on a quest to collect the Holy Grail of blueberries: tiny wild blueberries from the slopes of the Berkshire Mountains. Mom was right. I’d never tasted anything like this before. We took buckets of fruit home.
I’d waited all my life for these little berries. Each time a berry slipped down the drain as I was washing them, I pushed my handed into the garbage disposal to get it back. I was intense.
Once as I reached in the drain, I felt a wall collapse in my brain. I suddenly realized that I’d been feeling and behaving as if I’d never get enough blueberries, when all around me were buckets of them. I hadn’t realized my abundance. Within minutes, I stopped obsessing and relaxed. Life got a lot better.
Twenty years later, I can still picture myself standing there with blueberry-stained hands, and feel the tension leave my body. My smile returns. My heart calms. The tension leaves my shoulders once again.
The most well-known prayer of the Christian faith is The Lord’s Prayer, also known as The Common Prayer and The Our Father. One of its sentences holds an antidote to the Never Enough Syndrome. In it, Jesus tells his followers to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread” (emphasis added).
Followers are not instructed to ask for a feast or even a full refrigerator. They’re told to ask for enough ordinary bread to supply that day’s living. When I keep that as my focus, I’m much more likely to be grateful for my daily bread and for the jam I’m fortunate to put on it.
… of course, the bread of Christ’s day was made of a wheat which would actually sustain you, all by itself. Sometimes I wonder if a major symbol of our age isn’t our wheat: far more abundant and far less nutritious than that which fed the more ancient people. We have lots, but we have less.