In these days when the news is filled with young athletes competing to be the best and fulfill their dreams, my mind is grappling with what feels like a paradox. You see, I was raised with the ultimate kind of commitment to what we often call the “protestant work ethic.” My grandfather, who was an inventor and entrepreneur, lived by the following motto:

If you take on the possible and accomplish it, no big deal.

But if you take on the impossible and accomplish it…then you’ve really done something.

So since birth, I was nurtured on this.

There IS something glorious about that kind of quest. And its probably why many of us blog and engage in political activism…we see a better world and no matter the challenge, we’re committed to doing whatever is necessary to reach for that impossible dream.

But there can be a problem with always living for impossible dreams.

I don’t know about you, but part of me sometimes feels like saying…enough. I think this is a concept that especially we here in the US find hard to grasp. What does it mean to…have enough…do enough…be enough?  

Here are a few definitions of the word from Dictionary.com.

adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose

in a quantity or degree that answers a purpose or satisfies a need or desire

as much as necessary

Interesting words there…sufficient, adequate, satisfied, enough. These are concepts that don’t seem to be high on our priority lists most of the time, at least not in the world I live in. But sometimes I feel like I need to spend more time there. Is it ever ok to just embrace…I have…I’ve done… I am…enough?

In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist contrasts the ideas of scarcity and sufficiency. Here’s what she says about the later.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, and a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.

For me, its when that lack of awareness of my “wholeness” creates dissatisfaction and I get caught up in a desperate longing to be complete that I feel driven to want more…do more…be more, not recognizing that I already am…enough.

I think Mary Oliver learned what all this means from roses.

Roses, Late Summer

If I had another life

I would want to spend it all on some

unstinting happiness.

I would be a fox, or a tree

full of waving branches.

I wouldn’t mind being a rose

in a field full of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.

Reason they have not yet thought of.

Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.

Or any other foolish question.


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  1. …Mary Oliver is a person who always knew what it meant, perhaps.

    Really nice essay.  Provocative and thoughtful.

    • Edger on August 17, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather…? No rather about it. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness.

    Well I’m ridin’ along

    Singin’ the same ol’ cowboy song

    That’s been sung a hundred times before

    Ain’t got nothin’ but my name

    And I’m the only man I know to blame

    But I’m livin’ I’m happy and I’m free

    Just listen to the wind blow

    Let it blow let it blow

    Sand over my trail

    I got my saddle on the ground

    And that ol’ moon he can still be found

    Hidin’ in the desert sky

    I like simple things in life

    Like a prairie breeze

    A good stout horse between my knees

    Just bein’ alone just bein’ me

    And when I die let me die

    Withe a dream in my mind

    A smile on my face and no trouble behind

    And no cross on my grave

    To show my restin’ place

  2. … so much fake veneer in our culture that sometimes I think the very notion of progress has changed to become a matter of running as fast as we can to stay ahead of all the mountain of garbage toppling down upon us.

    So it’s terrifying to think of just stopping and being.

    Maybe it’s always been that way, I dunno.

    But I do know there is a sickness in our culture that turns real accomplishment into sound bites and commercials and urges people to turn to everything but their own hearts.

    My mother used to use the word “sufficient” a lot … we had enough, we had food, clothing and shelter.  The rest was gravy, lol.

    • Edger on August 17, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    He looked to me to be the eyes of age

    as he spoke right out

    He talked of life, talked of life, he laughed

    clicked his heels and stepped

    He said his name “Bojangles” and he danced a lick

    across the cell

    He grabbed his pants and spread his stance,

    Oh he jumped so high and then he clicked his heels

    He let go a laugh, let go a laugh

    and shook back his clothes all around…

    • Edger on August 17, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Took my fam’ly away from my Carolina home

    Had dreams about the West and started to roam

    Six long months on a dust covered trail

    They say heaven’s at the end but so far it’s been hell

    And there’s fire on the mountain, lightnin’ in the air

    Gold in them hills and it’s waitin’ for me there


    Now my widow she weeps by my grave

    Tears flow free for her man she couldn’t save

    Shot down in cold blood by a gun that carried fame

    All for a useless and no good worthless claim

    • kj on August 17, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    another half-formed thought gathered from the essays here:  and something we’ve talked about before…

    ‘change’ is going to happen come November (or whenever the votes are counted or not-counted.)  change that is quite simply out of my ability to influence.  i was so deeply invested in the previous elections, letting go of that has been another enormous relief.  it’s up to the ‘kids’ now.  we didn’t give them what many of us wanted to give them, in fact, it’s much worse than many of us imagined it would be.  

    and that doesn’t mean i no longer care, because i do.  but it’s not my world anymore, it’s theirs.  i’m no longer needed out front.  so part of this, for me, is about aging.  and what i can do to keep the foundation solid and secure.  

    and then, of course, the next obvious question:  what is that foundation?  and that’s what i’m working towards defining, because i want that to be clear in my head and heart.

  3. Most people are born with, or develop, or are given a hole of some sort in themselves at some point in the growing process…or perhaps it IS part of the whole process of living.

    Finding a way to fill that hole leads to wholeness. Each person is different, but it is rare in my experience to be able to fill that whole with stuff, or from outside. rarely we find someone that seems to fill it for us…but usually it is just that their love or mere presence, or the increased self-esteem of finding love allows us to fill it ourselves.

  4. so your essay gave me something to think about (besides the fact i have to move my crap out of my ex’s today) during my morning workout…

    I love it as an internal value; what I have is sufficient, what I’m working for is to have sufficient stuff to survive and grow and be a reasonably happy person.  As an external value — which is not how you put it or framed it, but part, I think, of the potential meme — I’m less fond.  Because then I’m saying — hey, what you have is sufficient.  And there has to be some of that…both Donald Trump and my hummer driving neighbors are well beyond sufficiency.  But I suspect if you ask most people, they define sufficient sharply downward the further you get from their race, class, nationality and religion, until it is Nestle infant formula.  

    The formulation I’d like would address that somehow. The European “quality of life” thing is the closest I’ve lived it, and on the surface at least it’s no different.  But…I don’t know…it seems, in a way, too easy for sufficient — “that’s sufficient for you little missy” — to be a stick.  It’s subjective nature — while lovely and true — scares me a little.  Because i can be starving to death, or without cancer care, and still tell myself it’s sufficient.  Or tell someone else that they should reach that internal state, rather than opening my pocketbook.

    Anyway (still loved the essay, brain moves too much).  Also I should add I can’t see flash on this browser.

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