Week 7. On having enough

One of the most important lessons in Dojo Wisdom is the one that says, “If you think you don’t have enough, you will never have enough.”

The human appetite for more is enormous and insatiable. That’s the fundamental principle of philosophies such as Buddhism. And the cure is to stop feeding the craving. This is the hard part, of course, and why there are entire books/libraries/lives devoted to figuring out how.

But I want to talk about two aspects of this problem that have emerged for me over the last few years. One is that our cravings are often disguised as goals, and we know that goals are supposed to be good. So we make it a goal to write a book or to run a marathon. And as far as they go, such goals are fine, even laudable. But pursuing goals based on the insatiable hunger for more never satisfies. Such goals never result in what the person who set them intended.

If you think having a pile of money in the bank is security, then you will never have enough money in the bank. There will never be a time when you have enough. You can save a million dollars and it won’t be enough. You can save ten million dollars and it still won’t be enough.

If you think, “Gee, I’m going to save a month’s worth of expenses in an emergency fund because unexpected expenses do crop up,” that’s one thing. Thinking you can somehow protect yourself from life is another.

I made this point in an online conversation once when everyone was stressing over money and someone chimed in: “I agree with Jennifer.” Then she anxiously added, “But you have to have a bare minimum.”

But you don’t. That’s my point. Money does not equal security no matter how much you sort of wish it would. Money is a storehouse of value, but what it stores isn’t security.

Life is more difficult without money, obviously. But if you don’t have any, that wouldn’t mean the game was over. You’re creative, you’d figure it out.

I say this not as someone sitting on vast reserves of money but as someone who occasionally has precisely none.

You know what’s better than money in the bank? Faith in yourself. You need to feel secure? Go hug a friend.

Money has helped my daughter Jessica get good medical care but it didn’t stop her from being born with a devastating disease. Money couldn’t have prevented the accident that killed my friend Chantal. Money does not protect you from lifeā€”or from death.

I’m not trying to glorify poverty here. I like having money a lot better than I like not having money. I live in an area where I see daily the hard and hopeless effects of poverty. I’m not saying that’s any way to live. I’m just saying money will not save you from life. And maybe instead of being in desperate pursuit of it, you could be building the things that do give you security: a loving home, your own creativity, friendships with all kinds of people.

But I’ve hesitated to write this post for a long time because of the second aspect of this concept. The concept implies that you should be grateful for what you have and to be content with who and what you are. And I fully believe that. But I am so tired of the pressure on people, on women especially, to live their lives small, to be grateful for every scrap the beneficent overlords bestow on them, to not rock the boat or make too much noise, that I have to call bullshit on myself.

So let me be clear. I am not talking about making your life small. I am not talking about being okay with injustice or saying you should stick with the job you hate because you should be thrilled to have one in the first place. I am saying that you have to be very clear about what you want and why you want it, or you will be chasing desires that can never be satisfied, no matter how hard you try.

There’s a very old lore that says when you visit the fairy realms, you must be careful never to eat the food you’re offered, or you will sicken and die of want. The word “glamour” originally meant a fake facade, an enchantment meant to lure unsuspecting victims to their doom. Today we celebrate glamour and think how much we want the things that glitter instead of being suspicious of them. A medieval peasant had more sense than that.

Yes. I’m saying be as smart as a medieval peasant. Don’t trust the glamour. See what is real, and care about that. Let your life be about experiencing it fully and completely, not about chasing chimeras.

###

A few of my favorite things

LESSONS IN MAGIC
A CERTAIN KIND OF MAGIC
THE IMPROBABLE ADVENTURES OF A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN
DOJO WISDOM FOR WRITERS