“Enoughness” doesn’t mean voluntary poverty—it means discovering who you really are.

At a conference on alternative economics, I happened to sit at dinner with a man who had done our New Road Map Foundation course, Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence. He told me this story about his own struggle to discover just how much was enough for him.

From time to time he goes to a rural monastery for a silent retreat. Meals are provided by the monks. The many acres of wooded land are laced with walking trails. There are several small sanctuaries with just a chair or two. Each room has a bed, a desk, a chair, a lamp and no more. The atmosphere is one of silence and peace. On one retreat he asked himself, “If I knew that everyone in the world would have enough if I had only this much, would this be enough for me?” The answer was a clear “yes.”

While all of us at the table could identify with the simplicity of that vision, we went on to discuss what things we might add to support not only our spiritual nature, but our work and sense of community as well. A telephone. Certain books. Certain files. Another chair for a guest. A computer, perhaps. The more we added, the more difficult it was to draw the line. Where did necessity end and excess begin?

Through my public speaking on personal economics, I come in contact with many people who are sufficiently awake to the needs of the world to have asked themselves that same question, “How much is enough for me?” So many of them, even those who speak out about the inequities and insanity of our consumer culture, feel they fall far short of the mark in practicing what they preach. They confess their “sins of luxury” to me with everything from sheepishness to painful guilt.

In my own experience, and through corresponding with many people, I’ve noticed a few consistent qualities in the lives of people who have come to know how much is enough for them.

1. They have a sense of purpose larger than their own needs, wants and desires. Desires are infinite. Fill one desire and another emerges. A sense of purpose, though, sorts real needs from whims and preferences and directs your attention to only those things that will really serve your mission—whether the “mission” is raising children, a garden, money or consciousness.

2. They can account for their money. They know where it comes from and where it goes. There’s a sense of clarity that comes from such precision and truthfulness. If you don’t know how much you have, you can never have enough.

3. They have an internal yardstick for fulfillment. Their sense of “enoughness” isn’t based on what others have or don’t have (keeping up with the Jones’, or down with the Ethiopians). It’s based on a capacity to look inside and see if something is really adding to their happiness, or is just more stuff to store, insure, fix, forget about and ultimately sell in a garage sale.

4. Like my friend at the dinner table, they have a sense of responsibility for the world, a sense of how their lives and choices fit into the larger social and spiritual scheme of things.

From these findings, I’ve developed a pledge that may help guide people in finding peace with what they have and what they need:

I pledge to discover how much is enough for me
to be truly fulfilled, and to consume only that.
I also pledge to be part of the discovery
of how much would be enough for everyone
not only to survive but to thrive, and
to find ways for them to have access to that.
Through this commitment to restraint
and justice, I am healing my life
and am part of the healing of the world.

“Enoughness” isn’t something to “live up to”—it’s something to discover through the process of truthful and compassionate living.

by Vicki Robin (originally published in In Context 1990)
image: not enough via Shutterstock