On Abundance, Sufficiency, Ownership, And Generosity

Posted by Bill Miller on Feb 8, 2016
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At a recent Awakin Circle, we had a lively round of sharing over a reading "Sufficiency versus Abundance" by Lynne Twist (who does fundraising for social causes). "Abundance" and "prosperity" are often touted in the New Age community as an aspiration more noble than the mere desire to "get rich". Lynne however, suggests these goals too may be suspect, as they imply an excess to one's actual needs. She suggests that "sufficiency" may be a better operating principle.

Several members of our circle seemed conflicted regarding the above. In listening to the various comments, a possible insight began to emerge, and I'd like to offer it for your consideration:

Aside from the personal moral and ethical challenges that surround it, what actually is the social problem with great wealth? It is not inequality per se (we are all different people, in different circumstances) but inequality to the extent that more wealth for some results in deprivation for others to a degree that harms basic health, comfort, security, and opportunity.

Tied in with this is the notion of "private property". We commonly think of this as having things, yet the more essential point of private property lies in preventing others from having access to things ("stay off of my land", "don't touch my car"). Note that this is not always inappropriate. In a busy modern life, we need the convenience of having reliable, predictable access to shelter, clothing, transportation and other basic necessities. (And I suppose I'd rather not be sharing my toothbrush with others.) The problem arises when private holdings exceeds one's real usage needs, yet others are still prevented from utilizing the same (so the resource lies largely idle while others suffer lack).

Perhaps this notion of "having" is the core of the problem - whether it is termed "wealth" or "abundance". Rather than indicating possession, perhaps abundance is best thought of as a state of being. For example, the fruits of Nature are abundant. The planet's resources are abundant. Solar energy is abundant. No one has a problem with these; they are freely available to all (well, at least until some entrepreneur puts a fence around them).

The notion of ownership in the previous examples would be an artificial intervention that could only disrupt their natural flow. Perhaps the same principle applies to some degree with all forms of material abundance. In his book "The Gift" Lewis Hyde describes the contrasting attitudes between native American Indians and the early European settlers. When the former offered a gift to the latter, they were puzzled when the settler would mount it on the wall rather than let it circulate through the community through re-gifting. A contrast between static possession versus living flow.

This kind of flow might be embodied in the companion concept of "generosity" - the active aspect of abundance.

As with the examples from nature, perhaps the initially mentioned debate would be resolved by re-conceptualizing the notion of 'having' abundance to one of 'being' abundant. Rather than positing a power hierarchy between two egos - the "haves" and "have nots", perhaps we are simply called upon to facilitate the flow of abundance, through the mechanism of generosity, within one whole, integrated living organism. The giver and the recipient are incidental; the flow is what matters.

Posted by Bill Miller | Tags: wealth,abundance,gifting,generosity | permalink

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Comments (1)

  • Radha Ivaturi wrote ...

    Thank you for the rich thought. Love how you said, "Giver and the recipient are incidental. The flow is what matters"