Abundance has gotten something of a bad name.
Say it now and people imagine garages filled with pointless cars, or houses with too many rooms and going to sleep visualising a cheque for a million dollars. For some it represents a crass sort of yearning that is easy to poke fun at. At times it seems as though people who are thoughtful and spiritual, people who care, have fled so far from abundance that they have emerged out the other side, where stinginess, lack and hyper-criticism dwell.
These are states we are totally at ease in. These are the qualities that inform our media, our academies and sometimes even contemporary religious discourse. We live in a moment that privileges cynicism and asks us all to criticise before we praise. If we ever praise.
But there is a different way of living. There is a lighter, more joyful approach to life that is innately abundant but that doesn’t require wall-to-wall carpeting, magazine bodies and shiny pieces of machinery. I’ve found I can go to bed happily at night with nothing in my head but a gratitude at living and a knowledge that I have tried my best to be of service to others and to have been a source of happiness and grace.
Books have been helpful to me in my journey towards an abundant happiness. I know it’s a cliché, but I have had to become aware of my own inner goodness before I could begin dispensing it to others. When I was feeling down and angry with myself (and I felt like that for a long time) I’m afraid I didn’t really have all that much light to shine out on the world. One of the books that helped me turn it all around was Marianne Williamson’s A Return To Love. It changed my life so completely by helping me realise that I didn’t have to become anything or be anything to be loved. I was perfect exactly as I was.
I am aware of an abundance that is sourced, not from the possession of material comforts, but from a state of mind that seeks to recognise the efforts of others and their tendency towards goodness. I learned from the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, especially in his book Peace Is Every Step, that so much of what I take for granted is, in fact, a source of rich blessing. His books helped turn me from a grumbling complainer to a person who gave thanks many times a day for the wonderful life that had always been mine.
Each day I seek to thank and praise, directly and explicitly, those people, forces and things that have pleased me or that I have observed to please others. I discovered by accident a wonderfully peculiar book called The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Pradervand, in which the author advises us to fill our days with silent and spoken blessings. Reading this book caused me to be on the lookout for blessings, and for opportunities to extend my own blessings upon people.
I fear I have become eccentric in this pursuit, but my fears come to nothing when I see the pleasure my exercises in abundant brave praise cause. When I shyly ask for the restaurant’s manager and a cautious, guarded young man emerges, and I tell him how wonderful his food and staff have been I experience an abundance of shared joy and recognition of human effort.
Or when I stop an elderly woman on the street and tell her that her lilac pant suit is exquisite and makes me happy just to look at, and she tells me she made it herself, I recognise the abundance of pleasure that has occurred and the recognition of effort, style and the lingering vanities that we all experience.
I had a great teacher in all this. It was a woman I didn’t know and have never seen again. I do not know her name. But I used to have the great privilege of working at the Mind Body Spirit Festivals. Working at these vast exhibitions, from 7 to 7, four days in a row, is a special kind of hell. I would come home with my feet literally bleeding (it costs extra to hire a chair for the day, and besides, most stalls have no room for one), and quite deafened from the constant New Age music, gonging and motivational speeches that rang from the stage we were always so strategically placed next to.
It was Sunday at 4pm and I must have spoken to or served around 1,000 people. A woman approached me slowly, her enormous stomach swathed in a maternity dress and I remembered wondering how on earth she had managed negotiating these crowds.
“I have been watching you,” she said, and I was instantly suspicious and fearful.
“I’ve been sitting in the cafe watching you, and I needed to come over here and tell you that you are beautiful. The way you have managed to smile at everyone, to be gracious and helpful, never to let your annoyance show.” Turning to walk away, she turned back to me and said, “And I can say that because I’m pregnant, and I’m pretty sure you’re gay.”
I floated home that night, feeling extraordinarily elated because my efforts had been recognised and noted.
And after that I decided that that’s how I want to be. I want to give voice to the wonderful people and things I see around me. I decided to be lavish in my praise, to give it away as though I had an endless supply which, it turns out, I do.
I have decided to “tell it like it really is.” There is so much beauty that surrounds us, so many kindnesses and efforts to ensure our comfort that we take for granted. When I see goodness, when I see beauty, when I see generosity, I am going to name it, just like my pregnant angel did at the Mind Body Spirit Festival.
There lies my abundance – in the recognition of wonder.
Some more books that inspire the cultivation of inner abundance:
Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn
Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser
A Year to Live by Stephen Levine
Inspired & Unstoppable by Tama Kieves