This is the first of what I plan to be a weekly series of Sunday Sermons (like most things I borrowed the title from someone else, thanks Beth!). A few will be spiritually oriented, but many more will be self-help, philosophy and inspirational (hopefully!) Today’s Sermon will go along very nicely with the last 3 posts on living on very little. First I will describe the problem, and then offer the solution I found.
For most of us, our money problems don’t come from making too little, they come from spending too much; the more money we have the more we spend. For example, if we find we can just barely live on $500 a month and then our income increases to $1000 a month, we won’t have more money at the end of the month. Somehow, it will disappear and we will soon be living like we can just barely survive on that much. If it increases again to $1500 a month the same thing will happen. Our spending will increase to match our income and we will just barely be able to survive on the $1500 a month.
What’s going on; why does that so often happen to us? Is there a way to break the cycle? Fortunately for you, my esteemed readers, you have come to the right place for the answer. I am an expert on not allowing a single dollar to stay in my wallet any longer than absolutely necessary. For most of my life, as soon as money came in, I had a wonderful plan on how I was going to get rid of it! I was terrible with money!! I put that in the past tense because things have changed for me and I am now able to have a proper relationship with money
The key for me was to come to grips with my perpetual Craving for MORE. I have found that no matter how much or how little I had, I always wanted more. And when I finally got more, it never satisfied me; instead it left me with an even greater Craving for More. And it didn’t just apply to money; every facet of my life had a perpetual Craving for More. Things like:
- Possessions (Stuff)
Granted, I have a highly addictive personality, but I suspect if you examined your life carefully, you too can find some evidence of a perpetual Craving for More. Here are some signs to look for:
- A general, low-level feeling of unhappiness, discontent, restlessness or a low-grade depression.
- Packrat Syndrome
- Compulsive eating
- Excess of drug and alcohol use
- Thrill Junky
- Taking interests and hobbies to an extreme.
- Obsession with sex or relationships by jumping from one right into another
Don’t think these areas have to be extreme because chances are they won’t be. Your life may be going along normally and no one else is even aware of the fact that you have an obsession with getting More of the things that are important to you. Maybe you never even take any actions on the Craving for More, but you still feel the Craving like a gnawing slight hunger. For example, I didn’t have any money to spend so no one know I was a packrat or shop-aholic, but my favorite thing in life was buying the Sunday paper and looking through the ads finding all the things I would buy if I could. Then I would go through the stores and look at the things and lust after them. I would choose a thing that would finally satisfy the Craving for More and study about it and read about it and long for it and save my pennies until I could finally afford it (or much more likely put it on a credit card if I couldn’t save the money).
Finally, I would have the object of my desire, I should be so happy!! But I never was. Within a very brief period of time (sometimes days) the object had lost its interest to me and I was back to the Sunday paper looking for the next thing to fill the Craving for More.
Moving into the van put a physical limit on what I could accumulate, but didn’t stop the craving. I still absorbed the Sunday ads, saved for things and bought them. The main difference was that the thing I had already lusted after, bought, and left me feeling hollow had to be got rid of before my latest Savior could be bought and come into the van. Oddly enough, I found that Minimalism can be a symptom of the Craving for More. It revolves around the idea I will finally be happy when I have LESS stuff, and not until then. It’s the exact same idea in reverse, my happiness is determined by my number of possessions.
A few of you will be like me and the Craving for More will be in-your-face-obvious, but for most people it isn’t. It’s a subtle, driving force in your life leaving you with a general discontent. For some reason, you aren’t as happy as you think you should be; life is okay, but not great. And so we accept that is just the way it is. An acceptable but not really happy life is just the way it is.
The Solution: Grattitude
When I was 40 years old I had a mid-life crisis and my life had to change. I couldn’t keep living with the Craving for More. In searching for the source of the Craving, I discovered that the root of all my problems was fear and it had to be resolved before anything else was even addressed. I discovered that the only workable cure for a fear like mine was faith and so I began a long, extremely difficult and unpleasant journey to a faith that works. But that is a topic for another Sunday Sermon.
What’s important now is that as I researched faith, I explored Eastern religious philosophy, specifically Zen Buddhism. The Eastern mind works totally differently than the Western mind. One of the tools it uses is stories to shock the mind out of its destructive obsession with linear reasoning. This is one of their stories that just seemed so preposterous when I first heard it, and yet today holds the key to happiness for me:
A monk was being chased through the jungle by a tiger when he came to a ledge overlooking a straight drop to a canyon 3000 feet below. As he was trying to decide what to do next the tiger burst out of the jungle and lunged at him. Having no choice he leaped off the ledge and dropped 10 feet straight down but managed to catch himself on a bush hanging off the edge of the canyon wall. To let go was certain death but the tiger was still above him trying to reach down and grab him. Plus, even if the tiger left there was absolutely no way to climb back up the sheer rock-face. At that moment he noticed a wild strawberry growing out of the rock, he lovingly plucked and ate it and smiled; life was good.
Whether we know it or not, each of us is just like that monk. We have been chased through life by our own tigers. We have known good times and bad times, but that is all behind us now. In front of us is death. For that monk it was coming very quickly, but it is just as much coming for each of us. I’m almost 58 and my recent trip to Florida made crystal clear what my fall to the bottom of the canyon will be like. It will include some combination of heart disease, cancer, decreased mobility, brittle bones that break easily, and a lack of energy. It makes the monks fall to the canyon below look pretty good!
How does all that fit in with the Craving for More? As we hang by a thread moment by moment over eternity, we are all looking for happiness. But we only have eyes for what is behind us or what is ahead of us, we can’t see or enjoy the strawberries that are right in front of us. Here is how my thinking always went about the past:
- “If only I had what I used to have, I would be happy.”
- “If only that hadn’t happened, I would be happy.”
- “If only she had loved me, I would be happy.”
- “If only I would have ….”
- “I should have ….”
- “I could have….”
We look at the past and say, “I wasn’t good enough then, but in the future I will be more! There was never enough of …., but in the future I will get more.”
When I think about the future I think:
- “If I had that, I would be happy.”
- “If she will go out with me, I will be happy”
- “If my wife would just change, I would be happy.”
- “I will be happy when….”
- “It will be so great when the weekend gets here”
- “My vacation will be so wonderful, I will finally be happy.”
- “Only five more years till I retire, then I will be happy.”
The Craving for More always moves happiness away from now, and moves it into the past or into the future. It places happiness outside of myself and says it can only be found in some other person, place or thing.
But that is all a total lie!! Happiness only exists NOW. It can not exist in the past or the future, only in the present. Happiness can NOT be found anywhere but deep inside yourself. Happiness will NEVER be found in any other person, place, or thing.
All of this was made so very clear to me when I read a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She is a remarkable woman who spent her whole life with the dying and the families of the dying. She is the author of many books, most notably “On Death and Dying.” She was the first person to formally outline the Five Stages of Grief. She wrote a final book on her own deathbed called “Life Lessons” in which she summarized all she had learned from the dying so that we the living could actually live.
There is something about death that strips away all the lies we have told ourselves and each other and the real truth of life comes rushing in like it never could at any other time. The lesson of what she calls “The Game of More” shook me to the core, and I have lived every day (and sometimes every moment) since then with it mind. I want to give you some edited quotes from her book, pages 102-104:
Why does tomorrow seem to hold so much more possibility for happiness than today? Because we delude ourselves in the game of more. True happiness and well-being are found in the fine art of gratitude. Being grateful for what you have, for things just as they are. …if you do not know how to appreciate the things and people you have now, why would you be able to appreciate more things and people when you get them? You won’t, because you never worked on your “gratitude muscle” you never learned or practiced being grateful. And so you will live, continually wanting more or wishing things were different than they are, playing the game of “more” instead of being grateful for all you have.
…trade the game of “more” for the game of “enough.” We quit asking “Is it enough?” because in our last days we will realize it was enough. Hopefully, we can understand this before our days come to an end.
When life is “enough,” we don’t need any “more.” What a good feeling it is when our days are enough. The world is enough. We don’t often let that feeling in. it’s a foreign feeling because we tend to live our lives feeling they are not enough. But we can change that perception. Saying that this is life and I do not need any more is a wonderful statement of grace and power. If we don’t need any more, if we don’t need to control everything, we can let life unfold.
Eat the Strawberry.
The cure for the Craving for More is gratitude. You get it by refusing to play the game of more and start to play the game of enough instead. That monk dangling over the ledge had learned the importance of the “Game of Enough” and was very grateful for the joy of that strawberry.
Right now, when I look around, my life is filled with delicious, wonderful strawberries. The choice is mine, will I focus on the tiger and on the cliff, and ignore those strawberries, or will I live like this moment is enough?