Putting together holiday wish lists I am always challenged by the balance between wanting/desiring and the pull towards simplicity, resting in the knowledge that we have more than enough. This has become especially tricky now that we have a child. I witnessed the power of advertising when Cowgirl came home with her dad and amongst their purchases was Kaboom! Cleaner. The husband informed me Cowgirl saw it and insisted he must buy it. She has since correctly pointed out to me “mommy, you need Kaboom for that. But don’t use it on glass or metal.” She is also pretty adamant we need an Airwick air freshener for the garage. So far, she hasn’t fallen under the spell of the toy advertisers; or more accurately, those messages seem to last as long as the 30 second commercial (“mom, I want that”) and not beyond. Yet.
It seems simple enough to teach my child the difference between wants and needs, but is it that simple? I grew up with parents whose experience of living through the Depression colored their approach to living for their entire lives. Baggies, empty margarine tubs, twist ties, used wrapping paper, ribbons and other odd scraps of this and that were tucked away in drawers and bags to be reused. They were the original green consumers. However that ethic was nurtured in a climate of lack and fear. What I want to instill in Cowgirl is a sense of abundance. For it seems to me, there is slippery slope from creating the sense of restriction, to worrying about not having enough, to then believing one isn’t enough.
One of the pivotal “ah-ha!” moments in my life occurred at a yoga training 8 years ago. We were sitting with a partner and each was to make a heartfelt statement to the other. The woman I sat across I did not know, but had admired her simple beauty and the general ease with which she carried herself and interacted with others. She fastened an unblinking gaze upon me and said “As I am, I am enough.” She might have been glowing or levitating when she said this, but I do not know because I immediately burst into tears. With those words, I understood all that I had been trying to heal within myself. I recognized that in no way did I ever feel I was enough.
So as I attempt to explain to my child that yes, Christmas is the time we ask Santa for gifts, I am aware of attempting to place limits upon her wish list without conveying the sense that we are denying ourselves out of lack or worthiness. It is one thing to hold back, reserving a bit for tomorrow because today I have had plenty; it is another thing to believe I need to save for later because resources are limited or I cannot believe of myself that I will have enough. A simple reaction to her many requests is to say “that is just junk; you don’t need that toy.” But I need to take care that I do not dismiss her wants without properly discussing with her why she wants what she wants and whether it is something she truly would enjoy and benefit from, and whether it is just a passing bubble of desire.
But first I must cultivate within myself and then with my family an attitude of abundance. Taking time to acknowledge and talk about the many gifts that flow into our lives; making sure to explain gifts are not exclusively and in fact rarely are physical objects - this is the first order of business. I hope to cultivate the perspective that our glass is always half full and to make awareness of abundance a habit of thinking. Last night Cowgirl acted up before bedtime and had a time out. This meant less time for reading stories and so her dad read her 2, not 3, books. She then moaned and groaned about how unlucky she was because she didn’t get 3 stories. I pointed out to her she could have had none since she made some poor choices that resulted in the time out. And for the record, she hates it when I do this. I asked her which would she rather have had: 2 or none. She defiantly replied “Three!” And so we continued until she accepted 2 was better than none.
This is one way I try to cultivate an awareness of abundance or what the yogis would call Aparigraha. To pin our happiness or sense of self worth upon material goods, what we have or own, is to chain ourselves to misery and frustration. For there will always be more and always there is the fear of losing what we have. To know I am enough, no matter what, is for me to recognize that in any given moment, life offers to me all that I truly need. My power and happiness exist in an ability to adjust my attitude and embrace my right to have all that I have. And to then let it go when necessary. A beautiful practice my teacher shared with me was to welcome gifts but for everything I take in or accept, to then give something away. Now, I love earrings and have quite a collection. But now when I receive a pair or if I find some too irresistible to pass up, then I look through my collection and find a pair I can gift to someone else. I let that person know I am passing these earrings on and somehow gifting what I have loved and enjoyed seems to bestow upon the object a special magic.
A cat card Cowgirl made for her friend's birthday
As I type this, I am aware I have become a little lax in this habit of late. I also know it is something I wish to teach my daughter. Initially it is hard to part with something you’ve enjoyed or loved. At least, it is for me. I find myself worrying “but what if I really need this later?” or I fixate upon the item, as if reconnecting with a long, lost lover, or a connection to a past memory or event. How could I possibly part with you? But I know from experience the pleasure I feel when a friend receives this personal gift. And really, it is the feeling we experience when giving that makes the act so rewarding. And I suspect I feel so good because I recognize in that exchange that who I am is enough – the earrings, the objects, the material possessions do not make me me. My spirit, my presence, that is what we share when we give gifts.
I love the spirit of giving that this season evokes and that is what I want to cultivate in my child. We are enough, we have enough. The Universe will provide as long as we do our part (a whole other topic!) We can be free to receive what comes our way and enjoy all this day has to offer. And then feel free to pass on the bounty of love and attention and gifts to others. Wish me luck. The forces of consumerism are lining up against me.