Finding the Path to Being Enough
As I was scrolling through Facebook the other day my eyes landed on an advertisement for a course that promised to teach me how to find inner peace. Facebook has me pegged. Inner peace is something I have been looking for my whole life. The elusive nature of this blissful state keeps me searching, hungering, and working toward that golden pinnacle. “When I find the key, I will be ok,” I think. Then I will be enough.
My finger hovers over the ‘order now’ button for the course. I am tempted. Maybe this will be the one. Maybe I will finally find inner peace. Maybe I will finally figure out how to be enough.
In the end, I scroll on past the course because I have done this drill a thousand times before. I order a course, I sign up for a webinar, I listen to podcasts, I order books. I subscribe to email newsletters which end up cluttering my inbox and overwhelming me. They all promise that if I will follow their path I will be able to rest in being enough. At least, that is how I read it.
The irony is that by trying to feel like I am enough, I now have too much. I am paralyzed by the thought of trying to sort out all the courses I have purchased. I don’t really have the time to do them all. I feel guilty when I let them sit there unfinished, or I don’t show up at the appointed time. It all leaves no room in my life for other things.
This reminds me of a story I have heard many times.
In the Buddhist tradition, a story is told about a student who is seeking wisdom from a wise old monk. His questions tumble out so fast the monk barely has time to answer before he fires off another one, and the monk finally stops answering. Eventually, the monk asks the student to pour him a cup of tea. “I will tell you when to stop.”
The earnest young student begins to pour, and the cup starts to overflow. Still the monk says nothing. Exasperated the student cries, “Can’t you see the cup is full? It will not hold any more!”
“And so it is with you,” the teacher tells him. “Your mind is full of too many things. Only when it is empty will there be more room for knowledge to come in.”
And so it is with me. I have too much in my head, and I am holding too much in my hands. I have no room for any wisdom to come in. I need to simplify, and stop ordering things I think will be the answer to all my questions.
I want to find that sweet spot where life is easeful, measured, simple. I crave a quiet calm that follows me throughout my days no matter what I am doing — enjoying the gentle rhythms of a life that is lived slowly, deliberately, purposefully. Instead, I have filled my life so full of ‘possibilities’ that I will feel no ease until I finish them all.
I decided to go back and revisit Sue Bender’s books. Sue went to live among the Amish for a period of time and wrote about that experience in “Plain and Simple.” Her experience taught her about “the contentment that comes from accepting who you are.” That is what I long for. That, for me, would be the greatest contentment of all.
When Sue returned from living with the Amish, she tried to put into practice the things she had learned. She wrote about that experience in “Everday Sacred - A Woman’s Journey Home.” She aspired to transfer what she had learned from the Amish into her ordinary life. She wrote of her aspirations in this way: “I would come home and calm down. I would live the simple life I had learned about among the Amish — calm and purposeful. I expected my life to be transformed. I expected a miracle.”
But it didn’t turn out that way. She says that at first her days were unhurried, then, without noticing, she got busy again. “Saying ‘yes’ to the many things that were offered I was back in the world of ‘never enough.’”
These words resonated so strongly with me. I have lived in this world of “never enough” my whole life. And now, I am regularly saying yes to the many things that are offered as a means to finding that sense of enough. But where does our sense of enough really come from? If it came from courses, I would have the greatest sense of enough of any human on the planet. But it hasn’t worked that way for me. Obviously, it doesn’t come from accomplishments, either.
When Sue Bender discovered that her book about living with the Amish had made the New York Times bestseller list, she shared the news with a friend she bumped into at the store. Without skipping a beat — and with no expressions of joy and congratulations — the friend asked, “What number?”
It was then that Sue realized what the implication of the question was. She says, “In that instant, I could see that in this world nothing I did would ever be enough. I was fifty-eight years old and did not want to spend my remaining years feeling this way. Something was still missing, something more that I should be doing so I could feel good about myself and the life I was leading.”
I, too, am fifty-eight and I could have written those words. I put the book down and sat in stunned silence that someone else, at the same age, felt what I am feeling. I have been trying to find that ‘something more’ I should be doing by stuffing more and more knowledge and wisdom from others into the cracks and crevices of my life. I’ve been seeking the key to my enoughness from outside myself.
In an interview with January Magazine, Sue Bender says “I had always thought that the American dream was the more choices you have the better. I was drowning in those choices.”
Me, too. Drowning in choices that keep coming at me at lightning speed, every day a new offering for a shiny new course, or a book title, or a webinar to make me enough. Seeking and seeking and seeking. Working hard to be whatever that thing is I think I need to be. Sue Bender also worked at it. She says, “When I set out on this journey I was an active seeker. I trusted I would find teachers, but not without my working hard all the the time.”
I am tired of working hard, all the time, to be enough. I am tired of having too much on my plate in the quest for being enough. I don’t have time to live for all the work I am doing trying to be something that I think I am not. Is there a way to find that sense of enough without all the courses and the work? And all the money I have spent in the quest? As a friend of Sue’s said, “Being doesn’t exact a price.” That is what’s missing here. Just resting in being.
I do not want to spend the rest of my life seeking to be enough. On some level, I know that I am ok just the way I am, but my ego gets freaked out when I try to rest there. “No!” it shouts. “You can’t quit now! You are on the brink of a breakthrough!” I am beginning to recognize that the search for more is so ingrained that it has created a deep groove in my brain. Clicking ‘order now’ is a way for the ego to soothe its fear that I will never be enough.
Now, at 58, I have lived more years than I have left. How do I want to live the remainder of my days? With this constant sense of never enough that drives me to clutter my life with too much? Or do I want to sink into the sense of enoughness that allows me to believe — truly believe — that I am OK right now, with no further tweaking? I am ready for the contentment that comes from accepting who I am. I think I have earned it.
When I ask myself how my life would be different if I believed I was already enough, I think about that inner peace I have been seeking. I would be peaceful. I would be able to relax. I would laugh more and play more. I would scrap my to-do lists on gorgeous fall days (or spring days or summer days or winter days) and I would sit in the sun, watching the birds while eating a tangerine, with no agenda. I would enjoy what I am doing without the guilty thought that I should be doing something else. I would live in the moment more and just be. In this way I could create a new groove in my brain, and maybe the old one would start to get shallower. There is no reason I cannot do that now. Today. This moment.
In Japanese, the word Oryoki means “Just Enough.” That’s what I am looking for. Not an overflowing cup that leaves no room for surprise lessons and daily joys that I don’t have to work so hard for. Not an empty cup. But just enough, with room for more good things to flow in.
When I look back, I can see that I have always been enough. Even when I didn’t think so. I have been like the person who is desperately looking for their glasses when all the while they are on their face. The path to enough is not more courses. It’s acceptance. It’s recognition. My enoughness has always been there. I don’t need to do a thing more to earn it. Learning to rest in that knowledge will enable me to live with the ease, simplicity and sense of quietude that I have always craved. I have enough, I do enough, I am enough. And that is nothing new. I just never understood it before now.
Author’s Note: I highly recommend Sue Bender’s books. Her prose is spare and powerful. Her imagery is rich and her wisdom profound. These are books to keep on your nightstand.