The Scarcity Spiral
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.
It’s been a big week. Understatement of the century. It’s been a historically and politically raucous year that just climaxed with the most wildly controversial election of our time. How are you doing?
I’m relieved. No, not because these two candidates got an A+++ in their favorite class, Scandal and Mud-slinging 101, their gold stars deserve gold stars, and the American people can get back to “normal” life as we know it. (What is normal anyway?) I’ve purposefully shied away from personal political rants on social media and even ignored those of others if at all possible; it’s a stiff time suck shaken and stirred with a twist of boring and a heavy dash of depressing. My relief is rooted in the hopeful shift that perhaps we might start to step out of this vicious spin cycle of scarcity.
Don’t worry, this is not a political post, so stay with me. This is a post inspired by the phenomenal power we as humans have to wield moments, conversations, attitudes, days, lives, relationships, finances, careers, health, performances, paradigms, politics, culture, and most of all, hearts. I sincerely believe we can all learn something vital from both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. Despite the media’s stellar job at eliciting constant knee-jerk reactions from our two, at times, less than inspiring candidates, I’ve observed the thing that will undoubtedly keep us down is a scarcity mindset: that ever ready spiral of never enough. Winners, quite simply, focus on winning. These two candidates have done just that in the scowling face of great odds; whatever your politics, I think it’s is pretty remarkable.
The West Wing
My all-time favorite tv series to date is The West Wing, a political drama created and largely written by the masterfully clever Aaron Sorkin. I think I’ve seen all seven seasons about four times. It’s brilliant. Martin Sheen plays the fair, compassionate, and good-humored President Jed Bartlett; he and Hollywood NAILED it.
He’s not without flaw, mind you. Sorkin made this abundantly clear as his character battles multiple sclerosis and a nagging flair for the dramatic. These are those proverbial thorns in his side that keep him humble, nimble I suppose. Thankfully, his whip-smart, feisty aids consistently keep him tethered by their steady accountability and merciless hole-poking.
Other People Win
In one episode, Pres. Bartlett complains to Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, (played by Allison Janney), about his former rival winning a school board election back in their home state of New Hampshire. Like a victimized and petulant child, Bartlett goes on and on, recounting all of the terrible things his opponent had said and done along the way to climb the ethically wobbly ladder to his new found seat of victory. CJ looks at him, and with her razor sharp no-nonsense wit replies, “Then, that’s the way it is. In a democracy, often times other people win.” She exits the room.
Death and Taxes
Yes, other people win and disappointments in this life are as certain as death and taxes. We all experience pain and discomfort, however the broad spectrum of circumstance tends to be gracious over time allowing for joy and excitement to balance this process out. Suffering is the story we make up about our pain and it ensues as we cultivate ongoing, frenetic relationships with those stories. At the heart and hub of this suffering wheel we inevitably find scarcity: not enough.
Carl Jung talks about a certain unnecessary plight occurring in this world because we reject “legitimate suffering” that goes along with the territory of simply being human. This is in step with what I’ve learned about the etymology of the word “human”. As opposed to a god-like, perfect and divine nature, the word human originates in an earth-dwelling, mistake-prone form. This legitimate suffering, as Jung describes, should not be a shock or surprise. In fact, neurotic behavior results when we reject it and treat it as such!
Here’s the deal: there is a thin grey line between the often bruised skin of our human condition and a pessimistic anticipation that bad things will happen and we should all go live in a cave.
I believe our attachment to unnecessary suffering stays intact and well-fed via the steady drip of scarcity mindset. I have become so aware of my own scarcity narrative as of late. It’s insidious and feels almost responsible at times. I suppose that’s why I put up with it. It sounds something like this: “Oh, I don’t have time for that” and “I didn’t get enough sleep last night” or “What I have to say has already been said a thousand times; who really cares?” Sound familiar?
On the flip side, there is also this fear of living in denial; of the detached, “Pollyanna” glazed-over stare that lacks reality and substance. After all, isn’t the opposite of scarcity total abundance? I would heartily disagree. Brené Brown says, “For me, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough.” She disagrees as well; I’m in good company. Discomfort signals opportunity which makes the pinch of failure wholeheartedly acceptable in my book. As we embrace the possibility of enough, we reject a scarcity mindset.
Like anything, scarcity is learned. Want proof? Go hang out with a bunch of 5 year-olds on a playground. I would bet you a coffee or lunch or a very small fortune they aren’t all standing around with their arms crossed reciting reasons the old swing set may collapse mid-air, or envisioning the party of germs camped out on the slide, or even ponderinghow pointless and unsanitary the sandbox is. Doubtful at best. Chances are, they are just happy to explore some new scenery and burn off the sugar buzz they got at snack time.
What is your scarcity narrative convincing you of? What’s the payoff involved in giving it a voice? Perhaps it’s safe because it’s what you know. You’ve worn it in and out like an old pair of sweatpants your significant other hides behind the washer and dryer in hopes that you’ll just forget about them and move on (not a chance). Perhaps the payoff is to keep you in a safe and steady state of numb. After all, success is often far more terrifying than failure.
Something hard and heavy struck me the other day. I went for a hike around Radnor Lake this past week and was absolutely transfixed by the beauty of fall. I’m pretty sure everyone else felt the same as they walked around in yoga pants with their iPhone cameras as heads. It was perfect: the crisp leaves, the burn-your-eyes-out blue sky, the pristine dry air, and the speckles of warm light that looked like a vintage Instagram filterjust had her way with nature. I was expecting a scarf and fedora clad Paul Simon to jump out of the woods and start strumming The Boxer while simultaneously handing me a pumpkin spice latte at any moment. No dice there.
Death and all his friends
Hold on a minute?! These leaves are really just dying. Likewise, the air, light, and blue skies are in on it as well playing respective roles in this seasonal shedding quickly ushering in the cold, bleak, and short days of winter. It happens every year, without mistake. Why then, are we so transfixed by this lovely, yet predictable procession of nature’s hibernation?
Building a Mystery
What I came to understand is we’re all actually experts at reframing scarcity.
As humans, we’re wired not only for connection, but for beauty and mystery. We are also resilient creatures who long to witness something magical in this given moment. That is the inner child in each of us; oh, they’re in there alright. This is the practice of presence, enough, possibility, or whatever you choose over scarcity.
The choice is ours in every breath of every day. It’s easy to fall into the scarcity trap surrounded by these loud, abrasive voices violently dueling it out for the office of Presidency in all kinds of below the belt ways. I get it; it’s a crucial time. However, we must not abandon the soul of our six year-old that desperately needs some fresh air and a proper playground tumble. Let’s powerfully, intentionally wield our own hearts away from scarcity and towards that beautiful mystery.