Enoughness Instead of Never Enough

Alternative Orthodoxy: Week 2

Enoughness Instead of Never Enough
Friday, February 19, 2016

Most of us have grown up with a capitalist worldview, which makes a virtue and goal out of accumulation, consumption, and collecting. Normally we cannot see this as an unsustainable and unhappy trap because all of our rooms are decorated with this same color. It is the only obvious story line that our children see. “I produce therefore I am” and “I consume therefore I am” might be our answer to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” They are all terribly mistaken.

This foundational way of seeing has blinded us, so that we now tend to falsely assume more is better. The course we are on assures us of a predictable future of strained individualism, severe competition as the resources dwindle for a growing population, and surely perpetual war. Our culture ingrains in us the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. This determines much if not most of our politics. In the USA there is never enough for health care, for education, for the arts, for basic infrastructure. The only budget that is never questioned is for war and armaments and military gadgets.

Anything you need more and more of is not working—as the people in addiction recovery love to say. That’s exactly why we always need more of it. The fact that we need more and more, and better and better—of almost everything except love—tells us that we are in a finally unworkable situation. But there is an alternative worldview, one that has been deemed necessary and important by most spiritual masters. It isn’t a win/lose worldview where only a few win and most lose. It’s a win/win worldview, which alone makes community, justice, and peace possible.

E. F. Schumacher said years ago, “Small is beautiful,” and many other wise people have come to know that less stuff invariably leaves room for more soul. In fact, possessions and soul seem to operate in inverse proportion to one another. Only through simplicity can we find deep contentment instead of perpetually striving and living unsatisfied. Simple living is the foundational social justice teaching of Jesus, Francis, Gandhi, and all hermits, mystics, prophets, and seers since time immemorial. [1]

The Franciscan alternative orthodoxy asks us to let go, to recognize that there is enough to go around and meet everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. A worldview of enoughness will predictably emerge in a person as they move to the level of naked being instead of thinking that more of anything or more frenetic doing can fill up our basic restlessness. Francis did not just tolerate or endure such simplicity, he actually loved it and called it poverty—a word which we often view as a bad thing. Francis dove into poverty and found his freedom there. This is hard for most of us to even comprehend. Thank God, people like Dorothy Day and Wendell Berry have illustrated how this is still possible even in our modern world.

Francis was known in his lifetime as the joyful beggar. He communicated happiness, freedom, humor, and joy to everyone around him. Francis and his followers wore ropes for belts to indicate they had no money (at the time, leather belts were used to carry money). Francis wanted people to see that humans could be happy even without money. I have met some poor people and some homeless people who prove to me that this can still be true, although I don’t think we need to make it our goal as Francis and Clare did. But we can indeed be happy in mutual interdependence with nature, with the kindness of others, and with our own hard work and creativity, while living in the natural rhythms of life.

Francis knew that just climbing ladders to nowhere would never make us happy nor create peace and justice on this earth. Too many have to stay at the bottom of the ladder so I can be at the top. It is a zero sum victory. I suspect simplicity and a worldview of enoughness will forever be an alternative orthodoxy, if not downright heretical, in most of the “developing” world.

Gateway to Silence:
A long loving look at the real

References:
[1] For more on simple living see Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), chapter 3.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Sounds True: 2010), discs 1 and 2 (CD).

Image Credit: Habit of St. Francis of Assisi (detail), Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy.
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