Living in this World

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

#89 Enjoying Enough

When we have easy access to more than we need, how can we enjoy what we have, and how can we tell when it’s enough? Few of us believe that a fabulously wealthy person needs one more excess to tip him from dissatisfaction to happiness, yet we haven’t worked out that equation for our own more modest lives. And the work of recognizing “enough” may be more important than we know, as we come up against the limits of our planet’s resources.

I’ve been noticing recently how this plays out for me with food. When I stepped on a scale recently, I was dismayed to see a number I hadn’t seen since pregnancy. Usually I set aside a quiet week or ten days in the summer for very disciplined eating to lose the weight that has accumulated over the year. But I didn’t get around to it last summer and I definitely indulged over the winter, so I started my eating discipline earlier than usual, with a bigger goal.

Part of me wants to be rigid and put absolutely no carbs or sugars into my body, and get that that weight down fast. Yet I find myself experimenting. Somebody bought some tasty-looking crackers and left them invitingly on the kitchen counter. So I filled a tall glass of water, took one little cracker, went to the office, and proceeded to eat it, very slowly. It was tasty--every single tiny little bite. I felt like I’d given myself the full cracker experience, without sacrificing my goal. The same has been true for chocolate chips, my main sugar indulgence at home; a single one can provide a powerful long-lasting chocolate taste. Four chocolate chips in a day, enough to fully satisfy my craving for indulgence if experienced fully, won’t set me off track.

Even though the quantities are much smaller, I am getting the same amount of enjoyment out of things that I love--or maybe even more--simply by putting more attention to enjoying them--and I’m losing weight! I have to wonder: could this be true for other people and in other parts of our lives? Of course it’s easier to see our excess weight as a problem that we’re motivated to do something about than our excess shoes, for example, or excess stuff, or excess hours of being entertained. But I think the principle is the same.

If we can’t pay attention to enjoying what we already have, then going for more is probably a waste of resources--because we’ll keep seeking fulfillment through the getting rather than the enjoying, and it will never feel like enough. This is bad for our own well-being and, multiplied by millions of fulfillment seekers, bad for the future of our spaceship earth.

Some people in this world don’t have enough to lead decent healthy lives, and they really do need more. But for most of us, the path to feeling like we have enough lies more in our attitude and where our attention goes than in greater consumption. Maybe we’d actually be helped by more scarcity--if there’s only a little bit, then our only path to happiness is to enjoy it a lot!

Garden help

I met her at an urban green skills workshop in the dead of winter
She wanted to start a garden
involve the children of the neighborhood
but had no space.
I introduced her to some people in the know
got her number, said I’d love to help...

A young woman I met through my son
lives in a blighted part of town
next to an empty lot,
was doing what she could to make a garden grow.
Vacant lots call out to me.
I dreamed of taking time off work,
digging, getting compost,
bringing life into a barren place.
I said I’d love to help...

I did free up a morning
found her blighted neighborhood and lot--
and deep rich soil.
No need for compost here, or elbow grease
Someone else had done the heavy work.
I settled in to help her weed.

A friend of hers came by
she’s making gardens, raising food
in neighbors’ yards
giving them a share and marketing the rest
I took her card, and said I’d love to help...

I call the green skills woman--learn she has her lot!
She’s also flown out to Wisconsin
learned at the feet of a master urban gardener
met a man who wants to fund her dream
greenhouse and all. She’s done the work.
All I can give is pleasure at her news.
We say we’ll stay in touch.

I go the website of the backyard farmer
looking for a match that fits my life.
They want perennials--flowers to go with food.
I have plenty to share, write a note
wonder if she’ll get it, or respond.

The days go by. I dig and weed and plant familiar ground
long past the days of rubble and abandonment.

She writes back, thanks me for my warmth
says they’d love my extra plants!
I gather pots and compost, dig out the black-eyed susans
that have multiplied so happily and overrun their space.

Those black-eyed susan plants,
a little weeding in good soil,
some warm words and encouragement—
what a paltry set of offerings
compared to my great dreams
of helping nurture life in barren ground.

I could despair, am tempted to, and yet
there’s goodness all around
and seeds of help are mysteries.
I cannot know how long they take to sprout
how much they spread, what kind of fruit they bear.
It’s mine to cultivate the longer view,
to sow and water, and to wait
trusting good seeds in good soil to grow.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

That neighborhood woman who is farming in people's backyards and vacant lots in a blighted part of the city, giving them some of the harvest and making the rest available in the community.

Jimmy Carter severing a six-decade religious affiliation over their unequal treatment of women.

Maryland Governor O'Malley's recent announcement of the launch of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), an alternative economic indicator to the GNP that will allow the state to keep track of which activities actually contribute to quality of life--and which detract from it.

A woman who is passionate about respecting and helping teen mothers--and millions of others like her.