ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough. “
— Lao Tzu
What does it mean to have enough? Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that describes five basic human needs in the following order.
1. Physiological; air, water, and food
2. Safety; clothing and shelter
3. Social connection
It’s difficult to imagine being enough, or finding a healthy attitude toward having enough until your basic needs of air, water, food, clothing and shelter have been met. So let’s start there. How much of those things is enough?
That varies from person to person and depends on several factors. The National Institutes of Health has documented a growing body of research on the associations between social and cultural factors and health. They include:
Where you’re born, the economic class you’re born into, how the larger society views you and how you view yourself, will clearly affect your personal definition of having enough and how much is enough.
Fortunately for me, having enough never felt like an issue. I was raised in a middle class family in a small New England town. In any other place, we might have been considered working class because my dad was a janitor and my mom, a secretary. Because of the work ethic of my mom’s family in earlier generations, we owned property — two houses on two lots side-by-side. Both mortgages had been paid off long ago. The houses and their furnishings weren’t fancy but it was enough.
My mom worked full time; my dad worked the night shift, so he needed to sleep during the day. My brother and I always had somewhere to go after school because Aunt Lucy’s house next door was a warm and welcome refuge. We knew when mom would be home and when dad would go to work. And we knew that Aunt Lucy was always there. This provided a stable solid routine that depended on relationships as opposed to material things. For a child, this was enough.
However, I did want things. As a kid, I wanted a chemistry set so I could make baking soda and vinegar bombs. As a young adult I wanted the latest kitchen appliance, new car or that perfect ‘little black dress,’ (which I did not find) but I never had that clutching feeling in my chest that if I didn’t have or couldn’t find the things I wanted that I would be crushed. I just lived life with the feeling of having enough as an internal foundation built by my mom, my dad and my Aunt Lucy. It wasn’t until I studied yoga philosophy that I understood why I felt that way.
Aprigraha, the fifth yama, teaches the concept of non-attachment. At first that sounded like renouncing material things, which did not appeal to me at all. I like my ‘stuff.’ Then a deeper meaning evolved with a focus on having the right attitude toward the things you have no matter how much or how little that might be. Somewhere I heard, or read, a story that illustrates this perfectly:
“Once upon a time there were two monks who lived side by side in neighboring caves. One monk owned only a single wooden begging bowl. The other monk owned an impressive collection of begging bowls, which he proudly displayed on stone shelves carved into the cave walls. The monk with one bowl was somewhat disapproving of his neighbor’s bowl collection thinking it improper for a monk to have and display so many material objects.
One day they decided to visit their teacher who lived on a mountaintop across the desert that bordered their caves. The monk with one bowl tucked it neatly into his clothing. The other monk carried several of his bowls in a heavy sack that he slung over his back. As they crossed the desert a fierce sandstorm overtook them. The winds ripped their clothing and carried off all their bowls. The monk with one bowl was distraught, while the other monk was calm and serene, simply accepting what had happened. “It is what it is,” he said.
Each monk had enough, according to their personal view but their attitudes about what they had was vastly different.
I’ve always liked to keep things simple, and by simple I mean clutter free; a place for everything and everything in its place. I live in a renovated factory with a few hundred feet of open space; no attic, no basement, no garage and no extra storage pods, cubes or containers. I feel like I have enough.
I’m still working on the healthy attitude idea. I’ve learned that it’s enough to be grateful for what I have, to know when I have enough and to work on being okay if it should all disappear in an instant due to fire, earthquake, financial collapse or some other disaster. But to be honest, this does not include my body parts, bank account or my cell phone and computer! It’s not always an easy practice but I think it’s one worth working on.
Here are a few questions to wrestle with:
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.