Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Scarcity, Fear, Gratitude, and Compassion

I've been thinking a lot lately about the state of the world.  We live in a time of such severe contrasts:  wealth and poverty, technological wonders and disasters, knowledge breakthroughs and terrible ignorance.  Here in the US, we equate success and happiness with material gain, but how much is enough?

Why is it that we always compare ourselves to an external ideal?  I can't tell you how many times I've heard:

"I'll be happy if. . . "
"Everything will be great when. . . "

I've even said variants of this.  I'm sure most of us have. 

If we take a good, hard look at the world as a whole, the truth is that most of us living in the states have a higher standard of living than people most anyone else in the world. 

While there is certainly poverty and food insecurity here in the US as well, the vast majority of us have access to clean water, abundant and varied food, and shelter.  Most of us don't worry on a daily basis for our basic needs and basic safety.  So why is it that so many of us are so unhappy?

Part of my answer to this is the fear of not having enough.

Yet we continue to compare ourselves against some kind of ownership benchmark.  And the sad truth is nothing will ever be enough.  There will always be someone with more.  More money.  Bigger house.  Better car.  Faster computer.  More advanced toys. Someone who takes more elaborate trips, buys more expensive clothes and on and on and on.  

We are like pack rats, but instead of food, what we hoard are possessions, money, time.

Instead of being grateful for what we have, we fret about what we don't have, what someone else has, what we want, feel we deserve, think we need.

This is the time of year where I often think about what I have and what I need in my life. 

What I have is more than food, shelter, and clothing.  It is the joy of a happy home, a family that I cherish, the ability to do the work that I love.  Truly, I am blessed beyond measure. 

Where I get tangled up is in envy.  Which is another way of looking at scarcity and fear.  I am still a novice at this gratitude thing.  I still get a pang of fear when I hear about a debut author getting a large advance and a publishing contract.  As if someone else's success means I am a failure.  That is the reality TV attitude. The view of life as a game of musical chairs to the death.

But how true is that to the reality of our lives? 

It's not as if the winner of the last seat is actually exempt from the truth of our impermanence. 

None of us are immune.  All of us are vulnerable.  And all of us are capable of choosing. 

What will it be?

Fear or gratitude.  Anxiety or compassion.  Despair or hope.  



Weighty thoughts for the day, inspired by reading the Charter for Compassion

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