Too Little, Too Much

by Christopher Lovejoy on October 28, 2012

A note to my ego from the heart of my soul: “here and now, you have enough; relax into what you’re doing and let your being guide your having.”

Enlightened ego: “thank you, dear soul, you’ve reminded me that I can step back and catch my breath, that I can breathe in the midst of activity, that I can open up to spaciousness and timelessness. I feel so much better now; I feel calmer and more attuned to what I’m doing.”

When is enough enough?

The answer is simple enough: when you know, in the heart of your soul, that it’s enough.

This, of course, presumes that you’re still in touch with the wisdom that informs your sense of balance at the heart of your soul.

I can easily imagine sitting in meditation, not unlike a yogi in a cave, all day every day for the rest of my days.

Would this be too much? If so, why? Why would this be too much?

I’m not looking for pat answers here – answers like “because you’d starve to death”, “because you’d lose your mind”, “because you’d become a burden to others”.

Just imagine sitting in meditation, like a yogi in a cave, all day every day for the rest of your life.

Why would this be too much?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 9

In the morning of life, many of us are prone to seeking excess, to wanting more than enough, to having more than enough.

This statement is not intended to be taken as a prickly criticism; view it instead as a tolerant observation.

If truth be told, having or gaining or keeping a sense of balance requires experiments with excess, with finding and experiencing more than is necessary, or permitted, or desirable.

In a world of duality, however, experiments with excess inevitably give rise to experiences of not having enough.

For example, I might compare myself to others, only to find myself lacking. Or, I might complain about not having enough Y, only to realize that I’m compensating for having too much X.

In the morning of life, we live and learn, love and grow, through experiments with excess, large and small, in relation to what we perceive as deficient, inadequate, or insufficient.

In the afternoon of life, however, excess loses much of its allure; quality seems so much more interesting.

In the afternoon of life, watching others conduct experiments in excess brings on a knowing smile …

To keep on filling is not as good as stopping.
Overfilled, the cupped hands drip – better to stop pouring.

Sharpen a blade too much and its edge will soon be lost.
Fill your house with jade and gold and it brings insecurity.
Puff yourself up with pride and no one can save you from a fall.

Retire when the work is done; this is the way of heaven.

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

In the morning of life, filling a cup to overflowing is a way to celebrate.

In the afternoon of life, filling a cup just so is a way to appreciate.

My Impressions of the Verse

Verse 9 of the Tao Te Ching is all about cultivating modesty and humility (hint: they’re not the same).

When someone experiments with excess, modesty and humility take a back seat to greed and pride.

It’s only when exhilaration gives way to appreciation that making a distinction between modesty and humility even becomes possible – as does the practice of being modest and humble.

Unfortunately, in this day and age of sensate culture, the virtues of modesty and humility sound terribly old-fashioned.

Let’s see if we can rescue them from the clutches of traditional religiosity …

Most educated people, most of the time, can sense or discern the difference between displays of confidence and arrogance, while admitting that the line between them can sometimes seem blurred.

If modesty exudes confidence without arrogance around sufficiency, then humility pays due respect to others with modesty.

Where humility carries a finely honed sense of obligation to pay due respect to those who have less knowledge, skill, experience, wisdom, or wealth, modesty carries a confident sense of knowing its place and of sharing its fruits in the overall scheme of things.

Humility rides on the back of modesty because modesty understands the value of limitation for the sake of appreciation.

In other words, you can’t be humble without being modest.

In the midst of gaining more knowledge, more skill, more experience, more wisdom, more wealth, more status, more money, more pleasure, more fitness, more power, more approval, and more stuff, modesty knows when to stop.

To keep on filling is not as good as stopping.
Overfilled, the cupped hands drip – better to stop pouring.

Better to stop pouring to appreciate what is already there.

Sharpen a blade too much and its edge will soon be lost.
Fill your house with jade and gold and it brings insecurity.
Puff yourself up with pride and no one can save you from a fall.

Here, we see that too much doing, too much having, and too much being a certain way violates the natural order – lessons that speak to the consequences of going too far, having too much, and ignoring the consequences of both.

When you catch sight of a tender sprig situated in seemingly impossible conditions for growth, it really isn’t necessary to pull it up by the roots to see if it’s healthy; it’s enough to know that it’s been able to break through the surface.

Retire when the work is done; this is the way of heaven.

Retirement is typically defined as the mere fact of retreating from the world of work or as the period that follows such a retreat.

If you’ve ever known someone who had difficulty with retirement, you’ll know just how painful it can be to watch. A person in the process of retiring has so much invested in working that it can be hard for this person to let be and let go.

Retirement also applies to a day of work. Ideally, when I know in my heart that it’s time to stop, I stop.

I stop and savor the moment and I take this moment to appreciate what I’ve experienced or accomplished. I center myself mindfully, allowing myself to feel whole, complete, and fulfilled.

I find my peace and speak thus: be still, and know that I am present.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

If you’ve ever seen a yogi come out of meditation covered in dust months after entering a cave to do nothing but meditate, you might begin to question when enough is enough.

Meditation is fine, as far as it goes, but to make it the be-all and end-all of a good life lived well seems excessive, but then again, I’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of a yogi.

(Hmm, do real yogis wear shoes?).

I don’t know what motivates a yogi to climb a mountain to occupy a cave exposed to the harsh elements and enter a sleepless sleep for eighteen years with only a cup of milk a day for sustenance.

On one level of understanding, this renunciation seems like a waste of life, but on another, I think it could qualify as a test of endurance that rivals (or goes beyond) a test measured by Olympian standards.

By the Western way of thinking, such an act might be construed as ambitious, representing an apex of achievement, but by the Eastern way of thinking, such an act would be construed as ascetic, representing a depth of mastery.

When the stiff, dusty white yogi comes out of the cave into the light of day, one might imagine that fulfillment is realized: the yogi knew enough to respect genuine limits, but had the mastery to go beyond apparent limits.

The intention to manifest ultimate fulfillment in the moment would have you allow the emergence of absolute limits, while passing beyond any relative limits that you perceive as being true for you.

But then, maybe there are no absolute limits to having more. What do you think?

Next up: Living with Unity


This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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