Thursday, December 1, 2011

Two Paths to Affluence

 To be affluent is to have, or be able to obtain, the things you need and desire.  One way to become affluent is to garner enough wealth and power that you can purchase or take whatever you want.  The other way to become affluent is to desire only what you have or can readily obtain.  The second way would seem to be far the easiest way to become affluent, yet the first is certainly the more prevalent way to affluence in our culture.

The second path to affluence requires that one can be content, even joyful, with what one has.  But it’s precisely because we are not content with what we have that we crave – there is an emptiness, a hole in our being and we need to consume to fill that hole.  A hole lacks content – to be content is to have no holes.  To have no holes, is to be whole.

Consumption provides the content to fill the hole that creates our craving.  But the contentment of consumption is always transitory.  How quickly we become hungry again, become horny again, become bored, restless and dis-content again.  And so it goes throughout a lifetime.  And yet in the back of our minds a little voice says, if only we had that (bigger house, sexier spouse, fancier car) than I would be set, then I’d be content.  Nature, I think, creates us with these holes – they are the result of the struggle to survive and reproduce – but the persistent ingeniousness of the army of professional marketing agents does everything in its power to deepen and widen these holes, to fill us with discontent, and to make the act of consumption appear as attractive as possible.

To find the second path to affluence requires that we find a way to fill the natural holes of our being in a way other than consumption.  The Stoics of the West, the Yogis of India, the Taoist of China, the Warriors of the plains and woodlands of pre-Columbian America, each in their way have marked out this path.   But the directions are anything but easy.  In their various ways, what each of these groups is finding is the way to equilibrium, to inner balance and harmony.  But there is no way to instruct a person on how to bring their own being into harmony – and no one can do it for another.

I cannot give directions to this path of affluence, but I can give testimony that these Stoics and Yogis and Taoists and Warriors have not sought in vain.  They have found a way to affluence, and unlike the material affluence of the market, one person’s having is not at the expense of another's.  In this affluence, the abundance is only increased as more partake of it (the meaning of the Christian parable of the loaves and fishes?).  Further, the carbon footprint of this type of affluence is as light as can be.  


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