Last week I listened to an interview with Kaki King on Debbie Millman’s Design Matters podcast.
Early in Kaki’s career she had the opportunity to audition with the Blue Man Group. Debbie asked her how she got the job. Kaki had low expectations, and having the first audition of the day, thought, “This is going to be bad.”
I remember walking out of my audition saying, “From now on, I’m always going to be able to tell people that I auditioned for Blue Man Group.”
You just don’t ever dream as big as you should. I got the job, which was amazing.
“You just don’t ever dream as big as you should.” She said it almost in passing, but it hit home for me. Growing up, I was scared to dream big. It was because I feared receiving more than I could handle. Even from a young age I noticed how success (e.g.—winning the lottery, early fame) ruined people. It didn’t seem healthy. And those who had a healthy relationship with fame and money seemed hard to come by.
I think part of my perspective came from a proverb I took to heart when I was young:
Give me neither poverty nor riches;—Proverbs 30:8,9 (ESV)
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in this proverb. I also think I used it as blanket permission to avoid the hard work of learning to have a healthy relationship with money. For me, it was too hot to handle. It seemed best to use it on an as-needed basis, to avoid getting burned.
The more I’ve studied the science behind how our thoughts affect our experiences, I’ve seen a common thread through my life. I’ve only every wanted just enough, and as a result, that’s what I’ve had.
In many ways, I think it was healthy to view money with a degree of skepticism. Happiness and contentment seemed a more worthy goal. Again and again, in real life and fiction (movies and books), people showed their cards when they came into money. As it took them over, they became increasingly lonely, obsessive, neurotic, anxious and unhappy. No thank you.
At the same time, I still couldn’t help wonder (like so many), “What would it be like to have an abundance of money? What would it feel like to say, ‘I want to build my own recording studio,’ then do it? Without any limitations to my imagination?”
The tension I felt came from a fundamental misunderstanding of the proverb. Rather than saying, “Don’t make me rich or poor,” it’s saying something much deeper. There’s a healthy middle ground in all this. If not poverty or riches, though, what?
I think it’s presence. When there is so much we don’t know what to do with it, we start worrying we’ll lose it (among so many other things). When there’s not enough, we worry about how to get more. (I suppose I’m extrapolating the proverb a bit, since the original “concern” was denying the Lord, or profaning God’s name.)
When there is enough, though, we can simply be. There’s no more striving. We can create out of contentment rather than anxiety.
But what is enough? It depends on our perspective. But how do you gain a healthy perspective on what is enough? The reality is, you or I could have ten million dollars and still feel discontent. At the same time, there are people who have nothing, and are happy. How can that be? What’s the secret?
I think Byron Katie summed it well in this quote, from her book, A Thousand Names for Joy.
There’s no mistake, and there’s nothing lacking. We’re always going to get what we need, not what we think we need. Then we come to see that what we need is not only what we have, it’s what we want. Then we come to want only what is. That way we always succeed, whatever happens.
I experienced this last week after our car was totaled. (Thankfully all involved are okay.) I had just finished transferring most of the money in our small savings account to our checking, just to cover basic expenses. I thought “Nothing can go wrong. It can’t. There’s not enough for any type of emergency.” An instant later Rachel called telling me about the accident. My heart sank. Hers did, too. I could tell she was more shaken up by the thought of how much it would cost to repair or replace the van, then she was by the accident.
Later that day, on the verge of tears, I sat down to meditate. (Of course it wasn’t easy.) Everything in me wanted to give in to despair. Instead, I heard myself saying, “Thank you. Thank you for this. Thank you everyone was okay. Thank you there was enough coolant left in the leaking radiator to get the van home safely. Thank you that it was just around the corner rather than 100 miles from home. Thank you for our friends who rounded the corner on a walk, just as we arrived home, and offered their car for us to use. Thank you.”
As I gave thanks, my heart rested. It wasn’t a mistake. There is nothing lacking. We are receiving what we need. What is, is what I want.
There have been more miracles since then. A family member lending us a larger van while we sort things out. A bonus from work. Having one of my tunes get playlisted. Things I didn’t have to strive for. Of course I’ll never know the direct correlation between my expression of gratitude, and these signs of provision. What I do know, though, is that gratitude is a gateway to contentment. As “good” and “bad” things happen, gratitude puts them in perspective.
Gratitude allows us to do two seemingly opposite things at once. It lets us dream big, while letting go of those dreams at the same time. Gratitude lets our dreams come at the right time. It allows us to be here, now, while holding out our vision for the future with open hands and open hearts.