The pervasiveness of dissatisfaction among the highest achievers, the persistent feelings of not being, having. doing enough, no matter how much we have or do, is a pandemic that gets little attention.
True, it seems like we have more pressing things to worry about. But do we, though?
There is a mental and physical toll to this disease as well. And it’s perhaps more transmissible — social distancing and masks won’t stop it.
My friend Aaron brought my attention to an old article by Leo Babauta, creator of the popular Zen Habits website, in which Babauta wrote about a struggle he faced between wanting to improve himself and wanting to be content with where he was.
He shared that he started Zen Habits after a year of successfully working to change his habits. But the success in changing his habits wasn’t enough to change the mindset that precipitated the changes.
All those changes were rooted in my dissatisfaction with myself. I’d had a lot of success, but the dissatisfaction never went away.
Babauta writes that feeling this pervasive dissatisfaction led him to start “working on being more content” and learning about the concept of being “enough.”
Sometimes other people are our best mirrors.
His description of “working on being more content” echoed my own language in describing my efforts toward feeling enough.
That’s the way I know. Work hard. Learn. Study.
In the reflection of another person using the same language I could see more clearly where I’ve been going wrong:
The problem with the approach of “working on contentment” is that hard work and learning won’t get you there.
Working hard to get to content, enough, and sufficiency treats them as destinations, which they are not.
These are states to be embodied, not to reach.
I’ve come to think about this through the metaphor of swimming that I heard from Alan Watts:
When you swim, you must relax and surrender to the water. You can’t grab the water; it won’t work.
This is the same with contentment and sufficiency. The harder we work to be content and the more we strive to feel we are enough, the more these states evade us.
The very act of “working” towards it is the reason we don’t truly feel it or embody it.
We can’t get there by hard work and striving. In fact there is not even a “there” to get to. As long as we think it’s “out there” we will never truly experience it; our efforts will come up short.
Contentment and enoughness are the water; we cannot grab hold of them. We can float only through surrender.
Enough is an inside job.