The more you learn what to do with yourself, and the more you do for others, the more you will enjoy a life of abundance. —William J. H. Boetcker
Abundance has been defined in a variety of ways, by different people at different times and in different cultures. Today, we typically measure abundance in terms of the money and objects we possess. We think that those who possess the most are the most free and powerful individuals and that they therefore enjoy the most abundant lifestyle. Yet for Plato, Aristotle, and the Roman Stoic philosophers, the most free and powerful individuals were those who could be happy with the fewest things. While our culture values those who earn and hoard the most, among certain tribes in New Guinea, the most valued members of society were those who gave away the most.
In the end, we could say that abundance is the feeling of enough and to spare. Well all right, but how much is enough? Does a man with a “net worth” in the millions, whose mood fluctuates with the stock market, and who feels himself to be lacking relative to his country club companions, experience abundance? What about a “primitive” in the rainforests of the Amazon who, with the simplest of technologies and a leaky temporary hut for a shelter, feels himself blessed by the bounty of the forest? Clearly, having no quantifiable frame of reference, abundance is a state of mind, or more precisely, of being.
In attempting to define abundance, a look at the origin of the word itself as well as those of other terms we associate with wealth and prosperity will help. The word abundance is derived from the Latin abunda-re, meaning “to overflow.” Wealth is derived from the Old English wel or wela, meaning “well” or “well-being.” Well is to wealth, as heal is to health. The word prosperity is derived from the Latin prospera-re, meaning “to render fortunate.” Rich comes from the Old English rice, meaning “strong,” “powerful.” While today we associate all these terms almost exclusively with money and material gain, in their origins all had meanings that address quality of life in broader terms.
To live in abundance is to be fully alive, free of any sense of lack or desperation. The following little story gives the essence of abundance. A man leaves the remote peasant village of his birth and travels the wide world. After many years, he returns home. His friends, relatives, and neighbors gather round him and ask, “How is life in the world?” He replies, “Same as here. It is good for those who know how to live.”
The art of abundance is not the art of making money, but the art of knowing how to live. This knowing how to live is the essence of what I call the “Tao of Abundance.” The Tao of Abundance is a not a “get rich quick” or “think your way to riches” approach to prosperity. It does not encourage you “think like a millionaire,” “dress for success,” or “climb the corporate ladder.” It speaks to deeper experience of abundance than can be realized by the mere accumulation of goods or by amassing an impressive balance sheet.
Applying the eight principles discussed in The Tao of Abundance may, in time, bring greater material abundance into your life. Certainly, applying these principles will assist you in opening to receive the creative ideas from which all wealth ultimately springs. Yet this increased material abundance will come not from struggling to attain it as a goal in itself, but rather as a natural by-product of experiencing a deeper state of psychological abundance. The new feeling of abundance that you enjoy within will come to be reflected in all aspects of your outer life, including your finances. Yet even if you make not one dime more, or even a few less, but come to earn your money in a way that truly reflects your nature and expresses who you are, your experience of abundance will be enhanced. Indeed, some may find that a truer experience of abundance requires that they relinquish their attachment to social status or excessive material consumption.
Real abundance is about so much more than money. A “healthy bottom line” does not equate with a healthy and abundant state of mind. Evidence of the psychological and spiritual poverty of the rich and famous fills our newspapers, magazines, tabloids, and television programs and hardly needs repeating here. Suffice to say that many who own great stockpiles of material possessions, and who are, to all outer appearances, extremely wealthy individuals, do not enjoy real abundance. They are never content with what they have and live in fear of losing it. Clearly, real abundance must be something more than having a lot of money and things. But then how do we approach it?
The fundamental premise of The Tao of Abundance is that the universe is you and is for you. If you put yourself in accord with the way of the universe, it will take care of you abundantly. To experience this abundance, there is nothing you need do first. It is not necessary for you to earn one more dollar, get a better job, buy a new home or car, or go back to school. All that is required is that you become aware of the inner process through which you create an experience of lack and struggle in your life, and refrain from doing it. Feelings of abundance and gratitude are natural to the human being; they do not need to be added or put on. We have only to become aware of how we are resisting and inhibiting this natural state.
The Tao of Abundance asks you to accept responsibility for creating your own experience of abundance or lack. Of course, no individual operates in a vacuum. It would be absurd to deny the impact that the values and organization of the broader society have on us as individuals. In an effort to secure the ever-expanding productivity and consumption upon which its “health” depends, modern commercial culture vigorously promotes a “lack consciousness.” We buy things we don’t need (or even want), because we have become convinced that we will be somehow lacking or inferior without them. We do work we don’t want to do, because we have become convinced that there is a scarcity of good jobs and that we can’t create our own work. Thus, even while we amass more and more stuff, the feeling of abundance keeps eluding us. In addition to the role that the values of the broader society have in promoting a psychology of lack within the individual, the current organization of society poses institutional barriers to his or her creative development and financial independence.
Nevertheless, ultimate responsibility for the individual’s experience lies with the individual, not with the culture into which he or she has been born. Awareness of the broader social dynamics that promote a consciousness of lack, as well as the inner ego drives that bind us to them, empowers us to break, once and for all, the chains of psychological poverty and lack. The Tao of Abundance addresses the root causes of the psychology of lack, and how these can be overcome.
Ultimately, the system is the ego. Freeing ourselves from the dominance and control of this system will be our primary concern. What we see reflected in the broader social and economic system—alienation, attachment, struggle, resentment, craving for approval, competitive hostility, pride, greed, and chaos—originate within the ego. We are the system, or, as J. Krishnamurti put it, long before the popular song: “We are the world.” The way of the ego necessarily produces a psychology of lack—one that cannot be overcome, regardless of the quantity of money or goods we accumulate. Alternatively, the way of the Tao naturally yields a feeling of abundance, regardless of how great or meager our accumulation of money and goods may be. Though he was often without money, and at times even food, William Blake’s poetry exudes abundance. As he put it:
I have mental joys and mental health,
Mental friends and mental wealth,
I’ve a wife that I love and that loves me;
I’ve all but riches bodily.
This is not to say that we should reject material wealth or shun the blessings that come with it. With money, much good can be done and much unnecessary suffering avoided or eliminated. Moreover, in the culture we live in today, time is money and money is power. It takes time to appreciate and enjoy life and all of its simple beauties. It takes time to stop and listen to the voice of our true selves. It takes time to develop our gifts and talents. It takes time to learn and grow. It takes time to develop and nurture meaningful relationships. And in making time for all of these, money is a great help.
Money can also give us a measure of freedom from the control of others and in this respect is more important today than ever. Throughout most of human history, one did not need money to live, that is, for the basic necessities of life. For one unable or unwilling to fit into society’s mold, there was always the option of retreating to some remote place and subsisting on the land—an option that isn’t really feasible today.
The Taoist values freedom and preserving the dignity of the human spirit and, in this respect, would not object to Humphrey Bogart’s assertion that “the only point in making money is, you can tell some big shot where to go.” The idea here is not to express (or harbor) hostility toward others but to affirm and follow your own path, free from intimidation or the control of others. The big shot might be a boss for whom you do soul-draining, monotonous work—or a landlord or mortgage-holding bank, whom you must pay for the privilege of a little peace and quiet. In as much as money is an important factor in determining the time we have to enjoy life and the power and freedom we have in it, the pursuit of money is a worthy goal. On the other hand, if we are looking to money to fulfill or satisfy us, we are sure to be disappointed.
In lacking money, we too often think a lack of money is our only problem. Money can give us the time to appreciate the simple things in life more fully, but not the spirit of innocence and wonder necessary to do so. Money can give us the time to develop our gifts and talents, but not the courage and discipline to do so. Money can give us the power to make a difference in the lives of others, but not the desire to do so. Money can give us the time to develop and nurture our relationships, but not the love and caring necessary to do so. Money can just as easily make us more jaded, escapist, selfish, and lonely. In short, money can help to free or enslave us, depending on why we want it and what we do with it. In this respect, nothing has changed in the two thousand years since Horace wrote, “Riches either serve or govern the possessor.”
The Role of Money
Money is a relatively simple issue. There are only two important questions: (1) How much do you need? (2) What is it going to cost you to get it? It is keeping these two questions in mind that gives us a true sense of money’s relationship to abundance. If we have less than what we need, or if what we have is costing us too much—in either case, our experience of abundance will be incomplete. As things stand in the modern world, you need money to eat, sleep, dress, work, play, relate, heal, move about, and keep the government off your back. In what style you choose to do each of these will determine how much money you need, that is, your lifestyle. Remember in choosing your style that it comes with a price tag. How much money it costs is not the issue, but how much the money costs you is of critical importance. Keep in mind:
Money should not cost you your soul.
Money should not cost you your relationships.
Money should not cost you your dignity.
Money should not cost you your health.
Money should not cost you your intelligence.
Money should not cost you your joy.
When it comes to determining how much you need, there are two important categories to keep in mind. First, there are the material things you need to keep body and soul together. Second are the areas of “need” related to social status and position. With both, you have a great deal of discretion. The ancient Taoist masters were keenly aware of the cost of money and were particularly skeptical of the cost of attaining social status and position. In the Lieh Tzu, Yang Chu says:
In the short time we are here, we should listen to our own voices and follow our own hearts. Why not be free and live your own life? Why follow other people’s rules and live to please others?
Why, indeed? In a recent study, 48 percent of the male corporate executives surveyed admitted that they felt their lives were empty and meaningless. When one considers the cultural taboos against such an admission, the figure is surprisingly high and leads one to conclude that the real number must be higher still. Many think they’d be happy if they had enough money to give up working altogether. Yet this is often only a reaction to the drudgery of working day after day at things they find meaningless or even absurd. In response to my previous books Zen and the Art of Making a Living and How to Find the Work You Love, I receive many communications from people about their experience of work. One day, I received a phone call from a man halfway around the world who, at forty-five, had never worked a day in his life. As a beneficiary of a sizable inheritance, he was free of the need to earn his daily bread. Yet he was not a happy man. Indeed, he was deeply troubled by the fact that so much of his life had gone by without his having expressed his own talents or made a difference in the lives of others. Like good health, spiritual growth, and nourishing relationships, meaningful work is one of the abundances of life that we neglect at our peril.
By now, you’re probably getting the idea that what I mean by the “Tao of Abundance” is something altogether different from the Dow Jones version of abundance. The Tao of Abundance is more wholistic in its scope, addressing the entire issue of quality of life, and not simply financial goals. Because the psychological dimension is so important to our experience of abundance, it is addressed at length in The Tao of Abundance. The eight Taoist principles discussed in the book provide powerful keys to embracing and integrating a psychology of abundance. The first two chapters lay a groundwork for overcoming the sense of alienation and separation that are the underpinnings of a psychology of lack.
For most of us, the feeling of lack is not a result of a lack of things or material stuff. It is a sense of struggle and a lack of ease; a lack of energy; a feeling of powerlessness and blocked expression; a lack of harmony and connection in relationship; a lack of time to be, grow, and relate; and a lack of opportunity to fully appreciate and celebrate the beauty in life—that give a sense of deficiency to our existence. Each of these “lacks” are considered respectively in chapters 3-8, both in terms of understanding their causes, and in terms of practical suggestions for creating greater abundance in each of these areas. The exercises at the end of the book will help you to integrate and apply the information you encounter in the text.
The Road to Total Abundance
There are three primary tasks for us on the journey to a life of total abundance. The first is to recognize the inner and outer forces that conspire to make us believe in scarcity and thus to feel lack. Awareness of these factors will help us to overcome their influence over us. The second task is to cultivate a spirit of abundance in our lives, celebrating the gift of life with joy and thanksgiving. As we focus in our thoughts and actions on things that bring a feeling a connection with all life, we begin to move with the flow of the Tao. In this way, we allow blessings to come to us as a part of the “overflow” of an abundant spirit—not as things we crave and struggle for from a sense of lack or desperation. To come from lack can only bring lack, even when we get what we think we need. On the other hand, when we come from the spirit of abundance, we attract ever greater abundance.
Finally, as we move in the world from the spirit of abundance, we become a liberating and empowering force in the lives of those with whom we interact. We help them see, not by preaching, but by example, that we all live in an abundant world and that they as well can free themselves from lack consciousness. Together, we can unite in a spirit of abundance and create new patterns of community and social organization, new lifestyles, and new ways of relating, based on cooperation rather than competition. As envy, greed, and competition flow from lack, so compassion, service, and cooperation flow from a spirit of abundance. It is this spirit of abundance that will be our guide as we embark on the journey to creating total abundance in our lives.
Authors Details: ‘The Tao of Abundance’ Laurence G. Boldt Web Site