"Enuff is enuff, Jeffrey!" as my Jewish grandma Anne used to say! "Be satisfied." Mahatma Gandhi, another wise elder I follow said that: "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed." This was the essence of his prescription for his ashram's eleven vows of simple living, harmony, purity, truth-telling and fearlessness. Why try to squeeze the most out of every single thing, every moment, always striving to optimize and thus becoming the workaholic and desire-aholic striver and grasper? Don't we all know someone like this (maybe us)? The ancient Greeks thought there is no such thing as enough. American-born Duchess of Windsor famously stated, "You can never be too rich or too thin." Isn't this the very core of insatiability? This overweening, craving and grasping is a prescription for dissatisfaction and is not what it means to live fully. In fact, it's a kind of garden variety addiction. I've heard that God alone is perfect and humans are infinitely perfectable. Addiction is the insatiable striving for a specific thing with complete disregard for its impact on one's life in general. Pursuing the specific with disregard for the universal is the trap of how we find ourselves unfulfilled!
What is enough? When is enough, enough? And -- is enough ever enough? I mean, really enough for us, for me? Who sets the standard? Are these not queries we might ask ourselves, now and then, and check to see whether we're functioning more from greed than from need? We all have needs, and they are valid; and a little more is also fine, but what about greed? What's the cost to us personally and individually, societally and globally?
"Contentment is the greatest form of wealth", opined the preeminent Buddhist philosopher saint of ancient India, Pandit Nagarjuna. But, who is actually content? When I posed that question to a wise and witty psychiatrist friend (while we were watching the Red Sox on TV), he said, emphatically, "No one!" Then he turned back to his beer and nuts. Thus, I wonder and ask you: Is anyone content? And if so, for how long? And what is contentment, anyway: pleasure, satisfaction, fulfillment, endless bliss, heavenly beatitude, or simple peace? Have we ever really sorted through these different levels and stages of happiness development and the cultivation of authentic well being and lasting fulfillment?
My assistant Kathleen recently shared with me her sister-in-law's beautiful, simplistic outlook on life. Mary, a successful entrepreneur whose life is complicated by balancing the needs of her young children and assisting her aging, ailing parents could choose to boast of her many homes and exciting adventures or lament of her burdensome days. When asked how things are she is satisfied with saying, simply, that "Things are good enough." She practices a daily ritual of focusing on her many blessings and feeling grateful. Kathleen has found great wisdom in these words, encouraging her to adopt this philosophy and allowing her to focus more completely on contentment and satisfaction.
Buddhism teaches us that the root of all evil/suffering is the addictive quality of our desires for that which can never satisfy us in the long run. My Thai Buddhist preceptor, the late master and abbot Ajaan Chah, used to have a saying: "Just this much." What he meant was that this is it, whatever it is, right now, right here, in front of one self. This is what is given, and it's enough. Appreciate, observe, and if necessary, attend to it. A-O-A, as I like to say. It's not a bad mantra or motto, moment to moment. Appreciate, observe and attend. You must be present to win, because, "This Is It". Enjoy and appreciate it. That's why Christian mystics say give thanks for everything, whatever God sends, and "all is well and all will be well in this, the best of all possible worlds." Gratitude is the best form of prayer, I've heard. I love that! The lens of gratitude helps us focus upon appreciating things as they are, recognizing and savoring the inherent abundance of "Just this much", and stops the not-enough thinking of always wanting to add more which is the disease of always coming from scarcity via the addictive desire mentality.
I've heard that, psychologically speaking, what you resist, persists. Acceptance certainly has its own potent transformative magic. I know that your inner lawyer might stand up immediately and shout "Objection! If I accept everything nothing will ever get done or improved, and problems overlooked and ignored." Moreover, without existential angst and other forms of human suffering and misery, where would many of the great artists, poets and thinkers of this world have found inspiration and the necessity of creating their works? One might well wonder about such things.
No one here is suggesting total complacence and indifference. Yes, the world has plenty of problems, and there's no denying it. I believe it is incumbent upon us, each of us and all of us, to participate, help as we can, and have a healthy concern about making it a better place. Still, cultivating objective detachment helps leave room -- time, space and clarity -- to see what actually is, in reality -- thus cultivating the wisdom of allowing -- before reacting and entering the fray, leaving room for the arising of intelligent, considered response rather than mere habitual knee-jerk reactivity. Far too often we simply react blindly and retaliate in kind, bringing unwanted results we might not have otherwise chosen if we'd taken time to reflect consciously before responding. Acceptance helps us to see better, recognize and diagnose a problem or situation, and does not preclude intentional action in order to remedy it. For example, a doctor must recognize and diagnose a problem, and actually accept that evaluation, before beginning any kind of suggested treatment. In fact, conscious reflection and nowness-awareness might be what's missing from much social activism and partisanship today. Reflective thought and clear thinking, like the mind itself, resembles a muscle; if we don't use it, it atrophies. Are we becoming like The Pancake People, spread so thin that we lack depth and substance?
Let's talk a bit more about acceptance. Think about your intimate relationships for a moment. Haven't you tried again and again to change your mate, your partner, whomever? A little acceptance can go a long way towards actually transforming your relationship - which is the real point after all, isn't it? A common hidden deception here is that when I am so busy trying to "fix" you, I fail to pay attention to and work on me. So, it is acceptance both of the other and of one's self. Acceptance has its own potent alchemical power. This is not to suggest mere passivity or quietism or acceptance of mediocrity. Great peace, inner peace and serenity, goes far beyond the dichotomy of noise and quiet, stillness and movement. It is always available, at any speed or decibel level. Serenity and centeredness are an inside job, and a joy to be - hold.
"Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering, conditioning us to never feel good enough, adequate or self-sufficient," says mindfulness teacher and therapist Tara Brach at the start of her illuminating book "Radical Acceptance". This constant suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork-all the forces that keep our lives constricted, anxious, stressed and unfulfilled. When we learn to trust our innate goodness and accept ourselves better, we can develop the balance of clear-sightedness and compassion that does not mean self-indulgence or passivity, but instead "empowers genuine change: healing fear and shame, and helping to build loving, authentic relationships. When we stop being at war with ourselves, we are free to live fully every precious moment of our lives." Accepting oneself, the whole world accepts us. This is an ancient and timeless truth.
A Twelve Step program friend of mine tells me that "Good enough is the enemy of the best/excellence". I like this. It reminds me of the tyranny of mediocrity in our egalitarian mass culture today-- and, personally, not to compromise too much, like parking too far from your destination before doing what you can to park your car exactly where you need to be. Of course it's important in life to strive mightily for excellence and follow our dreams and highest aspirations, as well as to beware of the downsides of perfectionism. Meanwhile, we can learn the Buddhist practice I call "being there while getting there, every step of the way -- by being here and now" and satisfied just to be on the journey, rather than waiting to get "there" or one day find any fantastical pie in the sky.
Perhaps the Buddhist monk's "Just this much" isn't the final answer. Only you and your inner true-ing device know for sure. Truth-seekers must learn to dig deeply, be very honest with themselves, and trust their intuition. Check it out. A-O-A.
Lama Surya Das, one of the foremost American Lamas in the Buddhist tradition, has been an integral part of Buddhism's surge in popularity in recent years. From his first bestselling book, Awakening the Buddha Within (Broadway Books; 1997) to his newest release The Mind Is Mightier Than the Sword (Doubleday Religion; August, 2009), he has made Buddhism accessible and inspiring to serious practitioners and neophytes alike. For more info: http://www.surya.org/.