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Sufficiency: The Surprising Truth
In the contemporary folktale Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, a host of grisly goblins is bent on destroying a small town’s holiday celebration, but Hershel outwits them all, one by one. To one greedy goblin, Hershel offers a pickle from a jar, but when the goblin reaches in and grabs a handful, he is outraged to find his full fist is stuck in the jar. Angry at being trapped, he flies into a rage at Hershel, who says, at last, “Shall I tell you how to break the spell?”
“Yes!” the goblin shrieks. “I can’t stand it anymore!”
“Let go of the pickles,” Hershel replies. “Your greed is the only spell holding you prisoner.”
We aren’t mindless, greedy monsters, but the fear of scarcity has us wrapping our hands around as much as we can get and grasping for more. As long as we hold on to that fear we’re trapped by it, hands full, but hearts fearful and unfulfilled. When we let go of the fear and the unconditional drive for more, we liberate ourselves from its grip. We can pause to consider how we’re living with what we have, and whether our money practices are serving our soulful commitments.
What is enough? Each of us determines that for ourselves, but very rarely do we let ourselves have that experience. What is that point at which we’re fulfilled, where we have everything we want and need, and nothing in excess? Very few of us can recall moments in life when we have felt that. We mostly breeze right past the point of enough as if it’s not even there. There comes a point where having more than we need becomes a burden. We are overcompensated, overstuffed, swimming in the excess, looking for satisfaction in more or different ways. The experience we crave of being fulfilled in life cannot be found in the chase for fulfillment or the chase for more of anything.
Nature knows: Enough is enough
The great environmentalist Dana Meadows said that one of the most fundamental laws of the earth is the law of enough. Nature, she once wrote, says we have “just so much and no more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops. The planet does not get bigger, it gets better. Its creatures learn, mature, diversify, evolve, create amazing beauty and novelty and complexity, but live within absolute limits.”
This way of seeing, which is consistent with the laws of the natural world, offers a new set of principles or set of assumptions for a whole new culture around money. It teaches us how to be stewards of money rather than gatherers of money. It teaches us how to bring quality and intelligence to our use of financial resources in ways that reflect our inner wealth rather than the flamboyant display of the accumulation of outer riches. In so doing, whether one is an American billionaire or a Guatemalan peasant, an inner-city single mother or a middle-class midlevel manager, the experience of enough, sufficiency, and respectful stewardship of financial and other resources redefines life in such a way that sufficiency and fulfillment are available to all. There is no sacrifice in this — there is satisfaction.
Trading scarcity for sufficiency
Sufficiency as a way of being offers us enormous personal freedom and possibility. Rather than scarcity’s myths that tell us that the only way to perceive the world is there’s not enough, more is better, and that’s just the way it is, the truth of sufficiency asserts that there is enough for everyone. Knowing that there is enough inspires sharing, collaboration, and contribution.
We may not be managing our lives and the world in a way that that experience is available to us all the time, but in truth there is enough and any real abundance or plenty flows from not excess, but from our recognition of sufficiency, the affirmation that there is enough. As Buckminster Fuller said in the 1970s, this is a world that can work for everyone with no one and nothing left out, and we have the power and the resources now to create a you-and-me world rather than a you-or-me world. There is enough for everyone. To access that experience of enough, however, we have to be willing to let go — let go of a lifetime of scarcity’s lessons and lies.
When we let go of trying to get more of what we don’t really need, we free up an enormous amount of energy that has been tied up in the chase. We can refocus and reallocate that energy and attention toward appreciating what we already have and making a difference with that. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands.
Lynne Twist is the founder and president of the Soul of Money Institute and a veteran global activist, speaker, fundraiser, consultant and award-winning author. She is also co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance, the non-profit behind Awakening the Dreamer, a worldwide initiative inspiring people to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet. Lynne has been honored with numerous prestigious awards, including the “Woman of Distinction” award from the United Nations.
Reprinted from The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life by Lynne Twist. Copyright ©2003 by Lynne Twist. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.