A few months ago, I started a blog post on Abundance. The post was in the formulation stage when I met for coffee with an old high-school friend, Douglas. We batted around the topic, and some of his thoughts on what constitutes abundance, after having spent sixteen years doing development and education work in East Africa, really got my attention. I asked him if he would be willing to do a guest blog on what Abundance means to him based on his unique experiences living in a country far less “privileged” than the United States.
When Kathie first spoke to me about her efforts helping people to find abundance in life, my initial jolt response to the word “abundance” was one of cynicism. Not that I don’t like and use the word, but because of my many years spent in East Africa, I have become cautious with the word “abundance”.
Each time I return to the USA I find an over-abundance of food choices in the grocery stores, restaurants on the roadsides, and shopping malls for buying seemingly unlimited and often unnecessary things. Additionally, here in the U.S, I associate this word with urgency about finding the “perfect” job that makes one feel alive, engaged, and fulfilled. Striving for abundance also applies to material possessions and relationships. My caution with the word abundance comes from an awareness of the unique privileges of time and place that many who are lucky enough to live in the United States experience.
Contrast this to my friends who live in East Africa. The majority of them are very poor financially and materially. They rarely have the privilege or security to wake up in the morning and ask themselves, “Is farming the right job for me? Would another job, other than herding cattle, better maximize my potential? Should I look for more satisfying work?” Nor do they have the privilege to fill their cup of life with pleasures and delights that money can buy.
Don’t get me wrong. As an interior designer and architect (and human being) I find delight in many material things and spaces. I have been blessed to have experienced extraordinarily rewarding work. But in terms of seeking abundance, my hope is that people would focus their attention on areas over which nearly everyone has power for change.
These areas include: growing in emotional maturity; learning to be a better, truer friend and lover; having eyes that see and seek wonder in nature; and glowing internally with the delight that comes with regular acts of kindness. These are things that are available to anyone and that can enrich lives regardless of monetary power or job fulfillment. That, I believe, is abundant living.
Over the weeks that this blog has been in the cue, I thought about Douglas’s four areas of abundance. Which of these come naturally to me and which require more intentionality? As I give a few examples from my own life, I invite you to consider where and how you put your focus, time and energy into creating an abundant inner life.
Growing in emotional maturity
Emotional maturity seems linked to self-growth — really diving into one’s inner self with honest introspection, reflection, and an openness to change ways of being that no longer serve. I’ve had ample opportunity to grow emotionally these last several months: I quit my job as a massage therapist to be a full-time health and life coach, had major surgery, and fell deeply and committedly in love. That’s a lot, and more detail of how each of these events have affected my internal landscape will be explored in blog posts to come. But for now, let me say that during these last months, I have chosen to show up for myself in ways that have brought pure bliss, extreme pain, and every emotion in between.
Ask yourself: What happens when I tune into and nurture my most authentic self? How does inner growth flow outward to loved ones and beyond? I have no doubt that allowing oneself to go deep creates access to the unexpected. Courageously give it a try. It’s an investment that will pay dividends.
Learning to be a better, truer friend and lover
After years of intimate relationships that didn’t work out, I boldly asked the universe for a lover, partner, and best friend. Six months ago, I started working through a book called “Calling in the One” by Katherine Woodward Thomas. About halfway through the book, a friendship nurtured by hikes and dinners turned romantic and love blossomed in ways usually only reserved for fairy tales. Days after quitting massage and just before surgery, my life altered when love entered.
It would take a book to describe these past three months of relinquishing into bona fide love. Trust, validation, unconditional acceptance, mutual support and respect, laughter, joy, a safe haven to explore authentic vulnerability with another person. All this and more continue to be present each day. Simply put, I’ve had ample opportunity to practice being a better friend and lover! Not an easy undertaking at ages 54 and 51 respectively, but the sweetness of this intimate love is worth every moment of time invested.
Readers, wherever you are in your various relationships, nurture what you have. Friends, family, intimate partners, co-workers…you know which relationships are solid and those that may need some investment of time or crucial conversation. Step boldly into action where you feel so called. Reach out, get vulnerable, and trust your intuition about what it looks like to deepen your significant relationships.
Having eyes that see and seek wonder in nature
This is part of my daily experience of life. I get outside regularly, almost religiously. I can access my best, most meditative self while out exploring nature on trails, by water, in the mountains, even gazing out the window at another incredible winter sunrise like I am doing right now as I write. Being in nature alone and with others is my happy and restorative place.
Yet sometimes, I forget to notice the wonder sprawled out before me. I get into life-is-serious mode, or I feel a need to accomplish some number of miles hiked or biked in a week, and I miss out on the beauty of my surroundings. My head takes over my heart. But then a bird sings, I notice trees trying desperately to bud into the promise of spring, feel my feet crunch (again!) through the still-lingering snow and ice on trails. How can I ignore the grounding experiences that this natural environment offers up?
But I also don’t want to miss Douglas’s point here. I live in the northwest, with mountains, lakes, oceans, streams, trees, open fields and wildlife all within an hour’s drive. Others may not be so lucky. It may be harder to find the joy of abundance in nature. Perhaps it’s flowers you plant to bring joy to self and others; embracing the fluctuating weather and longer days as we move into spring (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere); looking at photos of nature that inspire you; enjoying the presence of animals, even if they are your own pets or farm animals. Notice what there is to see, smell and hear; breathe deeply when the air is fresh; absorb natural beauty wherever you can find it.
Glowing internally with the delight that comes with regular acts of kindness
When I consider these last three months, there has been a lot of inner focus. Sometimes that feels selfish, like I am prioritizing self-care over being of service to others. But then I take notice of how I spend my time, and I realize that acts of kindness show up regularly. In the last two weeks, I took walks with friends who might not have gotten out without encouragement; made lunch for a friend after a sports injury left her unable to easily move; hosted a birthday gathering for a friend at the family summer home; walked my boyfriend David’s English Lab while he was teaching school; committing to full involvement in conversations with friends and loved ones instead of multi-tasking. These are just a few examples and bringing awareness into how it felt to do these things made me want to do more.
Opportunities for delight in practicing acts of kindness never cease. Being in action is one way. Showing up fully present in relationship is another way. Paying attention to another’s unique needs and how those can be met is always presents an opportunity. Why not intentionally set out this week to see how practicing acts of kindness benefits both giver and receiver?
Back to Douglas’s Story
Over the past decades, each time I return to the United States, I am struck by the amount of mental depression discussed in society and medications sold on television to combat this. As a white middle class Christian American male, I am aware of my privilege and how often I am told to reach for my dreams, and that “I can be anything I want to be”. Sometimes I hear, “because you deserve it,” added for impact. Yet I have witnessed folks in the U.S. sink into discouragement and depression when their life aspirations don’t turn out like they want in areas where they feel little control and too often compare themselves with other people –underwhelming jobs, minimal material opportunities, and less than fiery relational lives.
In contrast I have gained much by observing my friends in East Africa who are used to things going wrong daily. They work the same routine of a subsistence job with tentative stability. They endure days with no food, someone stealing their chickens or goats, frequent deaths from treatable diseases, corruption which prevents them from attaining a needed permit, no money for school fees, and their children not learning because teachers are not showing up because they are not being paid, and so on. Because disappointment and letdowns are the norm there they are given less power to defeat their spirit.
I do not wish the challenges my friends face on anyone. My project is working to help improve lives and alleviate some disappointments. I am not immune to self-discouragement about areas of my life that have not produced optimum material and relational results. Yet each day I have the privilege of patterning the following after my African friends: living in the present, not letting disappointment overwhelm me, not measuring myself against others as often and taking abundant enjoyment in smaller pleasures within my grasp daily. That is what I hope for people when I hear they are seeking abundance in their lives.
Kathie’s Final Thoughts
Thank you, Douglas, for stating so succinctly something we all would do well to remember. I’ve referenced living in the present quite a bit in this post; in future posts, I will get into handling disappointment when it comes, relishing small pleasures, and not measuring myself to others. My next post will jump into the last point. We’ll look at the frequently practiced tendency to play the Compare and Despair game, and the Clarity that comes when one is able to step away from that dangerous head space.
For more information on Douglas’s work in Africa, check out his website.
Please share in the comments your thoughts on cultivating inner abundance, any experiences you may have had with cross-cultural emphases on abundance, how non-material abundance shows up in your life, and any experiences you have had with cross-cultural abundance.
In good health!