The Wisdom of Enough


It’s a very American concept that more is always better. However, today I’d like to talk about the idea of enough. I am reminded of the idea of just this much, and no more that I first discovered the classic chinese text the Tao Te Ching. The Tao declares that a knife can only be sharpened to its precise sharpness. If you go beyond that place and continue to hone the knife, the knife itself begins to wear away. In this case, enough is absolutely perfect. No more, and no less. This concept of enough has helped me understand that more isn’t always better. I only need enough, and that has helped me relate to myself with greater compassion.

There is often a deep-seeded fear of scarcity behind that relentless pursuit of perfection. My younger self accepted as much praise, attention, notice, kind words, and recognition whenever and from wherever it was offered because I believed that there would never be enough to go around. If only became the hidden drive. If only I could do more and compete more and win more trophies and ribbons and straight A’s. If only I could do more, I would be more.

Underneath all of my frantic striving was a naked fear that without all the accomplishments, besting of others, and praise, I simply wasn’t enough. I strove to fit in by performing as superlatively as I could in my own way, so I could somehow feel that I had value in a world that was very medical and very scientific in a very small town that kept meticulous track of what everyone’s children were doing with their lives.

Two aspects of my life that have benefited from incorporating the respite of enough are my list-making and my home-making. I previously set impossible lists before myself– lists which only I knew in the deepest, darkest reaches of myself were absolutely undoable! My list-making self sent my perfection-seeking self a long, detailed, and tedious list day after day, week after week. My perfection-seeking self looked at the list, sometimes edited and adjusted the list, but mostly met the list with defeated paralysis.

I have repeated the behavior for years, confronting daily mega-lists that were undoable. I gave myself these silent but tortuous lists, responding with more silence, paralysis, and fear. Every day I had to confront the undoable lists, complete a few items, refashion the list, and attempt other strategies so that I might find my way to a perfectly completed list.

It didn’t work. This clever relentless list-maker ensured that the list was impossible. There were so many roadblocks! More than once I spied a forgotten or multi-step item on the list after having a full and productive day. In the end, I knew that there was no way those last items were going to get done because I was both mentally and spiritually spent.

35_laurareyesClearly, I would not speak harshly to my child or a student or an employee to discount their daily work because they were unable to complete an undoable list. As a boss, would I leave undoable lists day after day for my employees? Would I really engage in such awkward disconnect, leaving me off in list-making land unaware of the needs of the business and unaware of the real and necessary priorities? I certainly would not treat an employee as I treated myself. I would plug in, strip down, streamline, and simplify where there had been impossible complication.

Did I really want to give myself the message that all I did fell short because I didn’t complete monster list after monster list?

Coco Chanel was an iconic French fashion designer and urged women to look in the mirror and remove one accessory before leaving the house. In my case, I needed to remove more than one unnecessarily complicated item of fussy self-torment from each day. It has been a lesson in letting go. Enough lets go of the squirrel’s manic preparations, knowing with love that I have and I did and I am enough.

My striving self also needed to be tamed with enough when it came to creating a lovely home. If I were doing something perfectly, then I didn’t have to relate and be present with difficult emotions. It became in many instances once again a way to check out, to do instead of be. After my Dad died, I took to adding as many Martha Stewart touches as I could to my home. I sewed curtains for every room, a plethora of tablecloths, seasonal napkins, and holiday decorations galore.

I was so busy making everything look perfectly finished and coordinated that I didn’t have to quiet myself and really grieve that unexpected loss. What would I have to confront and feel if I didn’t have that perfect and polished standard to chase? Truly, I took the fun and customizing option that is DIY to a wholly different level. My relentless pursuit of “doing it myself” needed to gently hear, “Enough, dear.”

The idea of enough. It heals the worry of scarcity. It offers “good enough” in the face of the relentless pursuit of perfecting the inconsequential. No medals are awarded for precise and perfect folding of laundry and chopping of vegetables. As I nervously and insecurely chased the perfection phantom, I somehow believed such pursuits in minutia would protect me from criticism, scorn, separation, and rejection. How could anyone say no to perfect?

The time is here! The roller coaster has arrived at the pinnacle of the track. In that gasping, momentary pause I, too, have come to the time in my life where I am embracing and incorporating and uttering enough as I walk through each day. I have lived long enough and through enough to finally and imperfectly live the concept of enough. I am finished twisting myself in knots in pursuit of tiny, fussy details.

Indeed. Enough is a tonic of quietness and deep contemplation in the face of tempting newness and perceptual tasks. It is time to strip away the busyness and the increase and the bounty of summer. There is a chill in the air. Fall color hints at the letting go to come, and it sees the bones of the trees underneath. Autumn is leading the way. Strip away. Let it go. With love, sit with enough. As I lovingly told myself, I offer you, “Enough.” I invite you dear reader, to sit with enough. Join the conversation. What are you willing to say “enough” to in your own life today?

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