To Have and Have Not
[“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials” – Lin Yutang]
I have lived this journey, from perceived poverty to the discovery that what matters most in life is not material, and is, in fact, abundant. This shift in perspective affords me a feeling of wealth and well-being when I have holes in my shoes and not one penny in my pocket.I have a wise friend who talks about the Myth of More that our Western society is so addicted to: more Stuff, more Money, always seeking more materially, which, in the end, we discover does not fill the lack inside. Nor does it bring the end of Wanting that we expect, because there is always something More to be desired, or one more thing that is needed.
He sent me a hand-drawn quote once, when I was losing yet another home, which says, “You will never have Enough, until you are Enough”. It annoyed me at the time, but it is true.
I have started over from scratch with nothing many times in my life, have lost homes and possessions, once by fire, another time by illness, a few times by diminishing financial resources, most recently the shock of just how low the old age pension really is. Now I know why we see so many thin little old women in the grocery stores buying one potato, two carrots and a tin of tuna.
I perfected living in poverty when I was an impoverished single mom, raising four kids with barely any money. I learned huge lessons when I lost my home by fire, and the insurance company refused to pay. I had no resources to fight them with, I had to just let it go. I already knew back then that, while money could certainly ease my struggle, what mattered most was that we were all still alive. My mom asked, “How can you act so happy? You’ve just lost everything.” I replied, “But we’re all still alive, the sky is still blue and the sun is out.” The blue sky has gotten me through a lot of hard times in my life, and I am blessed, because everything I love most: people, animals, nature, trees – Life! – is available in abundance for free, for those who have the eyes to see and the heart to appreciate. Especially those who have the willingness to understand that the cycle of giving and receiving is reciprocal. A river never flows only one way.
When I was young, I used to think if I ever could afford a new couch, that would be the ultimate. For years we lived with thrift store furniture, and I never dared to dream bigger. When I finally had a good paying job, I bought that couch and discovered – it was just a couch.
My life has been one of always living in small quarters and constantly down-sizing to fit within the confines. My most recent move was into one room and you know what? I love my room. Everywhere I look are treasures I love. It is cute and comfy and cozy and is all I need. I am blessed to not have to worry about all the bills and overhead that goes along with living larger. My wants and needs are very simple and are easily satisfied.
I unloaded a ton of stress every time I have let go of what I could no longer afford to hold on to. I have had a ton of experience in Making Do and blooming where I was planted, whatever size the plot or, in this case, a pot!! My roots are as deep as a thousand year old cedar’s in Mother Earth, and my wings fly me all over the world as I sit at my desk.
When I was a teen I read a wise teaching entitled How Much Land Does a Man Need? In this tale, a man was told he would be granted as much land as he could walk in a single day. He walked so far, out of greed for more and more land, that he died. And it turned out all he needed was a plot six feet deep to bury him in.
We can certainly live more grandly than in one room, and aspire to far more than I, of necessity, limit my expectations to. But the secret of happiness, for me, has always been in the things of the spirit, not the goods of the world. I reckon when I walked the wild beaches of Tofino with holes in my sneakers and utter joy in my heart, that I was happier than many of the people who lived inside the huge Monster Mansions that lined its shore. In the beauty of nature, I am left with gratitude, and nothing more to need or want[in life]. In the love of family and friends – and, especially, dogs – in my admiration of humanity and reaching out to others, my cup is always full and brimming over.
Dear Reader, I wish you all the joys of the season. May your heart drink in its warmth, may your eyes feast on its beauty, and may you receive and give the gifts that are most essential: the things, as Rumi has expressed so well, that are invisible to the eye.