Thrift, in Moderation

by Christopher Lovejoy on October 13, 2013

Thrift has broad applications for living a life of virtue in tune with the Tao.

Often associated with restraint, frugality, and moderation, thrift is that quality of using or spending or applying X carefully, not wastefully, where X is anything of value.

Without thrift, we would become wasteful, losing ourselves in excesses, extravagances, and extremes.

By the same token, while remaining untroubled by good or bad fortune, what we call excessive, extravagant, or extreme does have lessons to teach, offering up experiences to enjoy. Truth be told, somewhere in our excesses, extravagances, and extremes lies an exquisite experience of the divine.

In light of this provocative reality, the question that goads us day after day is this: just how discerning am I when it comes to stepping into the realms of divinity with respect to humanity?

More to the point: just how willing am I to taste all that life has to offer?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 59

In light of the foregoing considerations, thrift in moderation seems best where serving nature and relating to others are concerned, especially when leadership roles are assumed.

In this verse, the practice of thrift in moderation is given its due.

In governing people and serving nature,
nothing surpasses thrift and moderation.

Restraint begins with giving up one’s ideas.
This depends on virtue gathered in the past.
With a store of virtue, nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, there are no limits.
If you know no limits, you are fit to lead.

This is the way to be deeply rooted
and firmly planted in the Tao –
the secret of long life and lasting vision.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

The concluding lines of this verse seem rather momentous for virtues as modest as thrift and moderation.

Could it be that thrift and moderation are this important?

My Impressions of the Verse

In reading this verse, one idea stood out for me: “restraint begins with giving up one’s ideas”.

I interpret this idea in two ways:

  1. restraint begins with giving up one’s fixed ideas, and
  2. restraint begins with a willingness to entertain ideas

These interpretations would have us reflect on our personal biases and prejudices, even to the point of giving them up, inviting us to be more flexible in our thinking.

The other idea that stood out for me was this one: “with a store of virtue, nothing is impossible”.

What I get from this idea is this: a store of virtue cultivated over a lifetime of experience provides the wherewithal to manifest promise with a sense of possibility in a field of infinite possibilities. This is because virtue, in tune with the Way, has a way of attracting support opportunely from a variety of sources, seen and unseen.

Generally speaking, I found this verse to be as timely as it is timeless in its applicability.

In governing people and serving nature,
nothing surpasses thrift and moderation.

This is a bold claim. Intuitively speaking, it rings true for me, but as a follower, it does seem rather austere and severe, especially in light of what I wrote in the introduction to this post.

Imagining myself in the role of a leader, however, these words make perfect sense.

Restraint begins with giving up one’s ideas.
This depends on virtue gathered in the past.
With a store of virtue, nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, there are no limits.
If you know no limits, you are fit to lead.

Being flexible with ideas, I am open to suggestions.

Being open to suggestions, I am fluid and flexible in action.

Being fluid and flexible in action, I have options to consider.

Having options to consider, I can exercise restraint.

Exercising restraint, I can see where my boundaries lie.

Knowing where my boundaries lie, I can be flexible with ideas.

Being flexible with ideas, I am …

This is the way to be deeply rooted
and firmly planted in the Tao –
the secret of long life and lasting vision.

Presumably, by remaining deeply rooted and firmly planted in the formless Tao, I have access to the energy and information required to live long and prosper with a loving, lasting vision.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

No personal fulfillment can be found in verse 59 without going through a process of exercising discernment in a quest to experience divinity through excesses, extravagances, and extremes.

After exploring, exploiting, and exhausting these divine possibilities for ourselves in the morning of life, we are then able to read verse 59 in a new light, under the afternoon light of life.

In reading verse 59 for its implications for personal fulfillment, I find myself drawn again and again to this portion of the verse:

Restraint begins with giving up one’s ideas.
This depends on virtue gathered in the past.
With a store of virtue, nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, there are no limits.
If you know no limits, you are fit to lead.

As I mentioned in the introduction to my recent post, On Being a Leader, I declared in no uncertain terms that I’m reading these verses with the eye of a follower rather than a leader.

Followers fit to follow attract leaders fit to lead; such followers invariably support leaders with flexible thinking, without too many biases and prejudices in their thinking and behaving.

As a potential follower, I am not so much concerned about giving up my ideas as I am with holding them lightly, which presumably “depends on virtue gathered in the past”.

What is this store of virtue, where nothing seems impossible?

This is a vital question, pointing as it does to a place where the promise of moral fulfillment resides and abides – not in a physical place, not a mental place, not even an emotional place.

This store of virtue occupies the energetic body – a matrix of energy and information that serves to manifest emotional, mental, and physical forms – namely, feelings, thoughts, and sensations.

We awaken and connect to this vibrationally aware energetic body through a felt perception of shared Presence.

Without sufficient awareness of this fundamental body, we infect this energetic body with fear, doubt, and worry, leading us to suspect that we are not enough, that we are not worthy enough, that we are not good enough, that we are not capable enough.

If we dwell on inferiority, we come to believe that we are inferior; if we attempt to compensate, we come to believe that we’re superior. Either way, fear, doubt, and worry drive us to make comparisons and form expectations, which, if unmet, drive us to make more comparisons.

Is there a way off this not-so-merry-go-round?

As and when you realize that your circumstances are manifestations of your most dominant thoughts and that your most dominant thoughts are productions of your most dominant feelings, and that your most dominant feelings are expressions of your most dominant vibrations, you’re then able to get a better handle on what is causal and what is consequential.

Since this post is about thrift and moderation, where might these virtues be placed inside this schema?

There’s no inferiority or superiority in thrift – no compensating comparisons or expectations. Thrift is content with little, even as it swims in a sea of abundance; thrift is cautious and prudent in managing what it has, however much it has. Thrift saves the day for those who rely on a careful management of assets and resources.

Vibrationally speaking, benevolence and prudence are fundamental virtues for the sake of unity and harmony, respectively.

If emotional expressions of benevolence – empathy and compassion – are primary yet consequential virtues of benevolence, then emotional expressions of prudence – thrift and moderation – are primary yet consequential virtues of prudence.

The supreme virtue – expressed metaphorically as “following the Tao and the Tao alone” – requires humility, which in itself is a fundamental virtue, perhaps even more fundamental than benevolence and prudence.

Vibrationally speaking, humility is not to be confused with false modesty, nor with attempts to compensate for a sense of inadequacy or inferiority through righteous comparisons, e.g., “I’m more humble than you are”. Rather, humility is a deeply felt intimacy with a shared and unified presence that manifests naturally in behavior, guiding and supporting virtuous action.

Such an intimate relationship requires profound trust in the cultivation of a knowing faith (rather than mere belief), which requires adequate processing of fear, doubt, and worry, even before the various forms of anger and grief can have their say and see the light of day.

Being truly wise is a spiritual and psychological exercise in humility, benevolence, prudence, and patience – an exercise best practiced with a profound trust in Presence, with an inner posture of presence at peace with promise and possibility through faith.

A tall order, I know, but there it is.

The distance between myself and another is the exact distance that lies between me and my experience of Presence.

Trust is key.

But in a world such as the one in which we live, one could ask, either as a follower or as a leader: if I be so trusting, might I not be vulnerable to the machinations and predations of evil?

Next up: Immunity From Evil (Living with Immunity to Evil)

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

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