ENOUGH
M. Kent Mayfield
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Dubuque, IA

Readings

From Rachel Naomi Remen
Let me give you an image. I bought a little falling-down cabin on the top of a mountain. It was so bad that when a friend came to see it, he said, “Oh, Rachel, you bought this?”
But with two carpenters, an electrician, and a plumber, in three years we have remodeled the whole thing. We started by just throwing away things—bathtubs, light fixtures, windows. I kept hearing my father’s voice saying – “That’s a perfectly good light fixture. Why are your throwing it away?”

But we kept throwing away more and more things, and with everything we threw away, the building became more whole. It had more integrity. We had thrown away everything that didn’t belong.

You know, we may think we need more in order to be fulfilled. But in some ways ,w need to be less. We need to let go, to throw away everything that isn’t us in order to b e more whole.

From George Carlin
…that’s what this country is all about. Tryin’ to get moe stuff. Stuff you don’t want, stuff you don’t need, stuff that’s poorly made, stuff that’s overpriced. Even stuff you can’t afford! Gotta keep on gettin’ more stuff…

So now you got a houseful of stuff. And even though you might like your house, y ou got a move. Gotta get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff! And that means you gotta move all your stuff. Or maybe put some of your stuff in storage. Storage! Imagine that. There’s a whole industry based on keepin’ an eye on other people’s stuff.

Or maybe you could sell some of your stuff. Have a yard sale, have a garage sale! Some pople drive around all weekend just lookin’ for garage sales. They don’t have enough of their own stuff, they wanna buy other people’s stuff.

From Linda Pastan: What We Want
What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names–
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don’t remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

Reflection

To judge by house and yard decorations around the countryside, Halloween spilled over its banks and washed away all of October and much of November. And with amazing, distressing speed spider webs and wicked witches were replaced with the Christmas that can no longer be confined, as it used to be, within the month that begins on the day after Thanksgiving. But Thanksgiving sticks to its allotted Thursday…few decorations….no lights, and still the power of this quiet holiday is evident in the trouble so many of us go through to get home in time to honor it. The year is getting old and the light weak by the time Thanksgiving comes. The only color in the woods is the green of damp moss and the bright orange berries of bittersweet. Over time Thanksgiving has become the holiday that defines this bare season. By the end of the eleventh month, the year has shown us its wisdom. We know what to be grateful for by now….or if not…gratitude is simply beyond us.

Sitting down to the big meal seems like the crux of Thanksgiving, but at our home it really comes a couple of hours later. The pumpkin pie is gone, the dishes are done, the dogs and overnight guests are napping, and there’s a strange vacancy in the afternoon light. For a moment the year halts, a moment when the wakeful aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. In that instant, that hollow in time, you can find your self listening to the unnatural stillness around you, pausing to look at the world around you. That’s the celebration necessary on this modest, most poignant of days.

But for years when I was much younger, another custom crowded into the reverie of the afternoon. It started when the children were young but old enough to complain about what we all had found a perfectly wonderful day. “I HATE rutabaga,” Melinda would whine. “Why do we always have that?” Melody would screw up her mouth in a manner I cautioned her might freeze that way and she’d be left forever more with perpetual pout – “Ugh…and gizzards in the gravy….” She’d say with a shudder. On it would go from cranberries with gritty seeds to dry turkey that stuck to the roof of the mouth…until I said “Enough, I think I’ve heard about enough of that talk.” But the routine would go on until the fun of mocking the meal had lost its energy. Then, I’d ask – So What Do You Like? And off they would go with a merry-go-round of silliness to which I paid little attention while compiling my own list.

We still do that – the children have long since evacuated parental home for homes of their own, but I …and sometimes guests at the table … take time to compile a list of things they like.

Here’s a list from a recent Thanksgiving:

I like high ceilings, Mozart, chocolate, antiques, Hungarian wine, architecture, Frank Sinatra, cheese, chandeliers, apricots, olives, the color green, the scent of skin freshly showered and buffed with a towel, Cole Porter, zinnias, artichokes, corduroy, Munsingwear underwear, old movies (especially with Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Widmark), salted cashews and peanuts, bow ties, outspoken people, a fireplace and cognac, imagination in the kitchen, exploration in the library, candlelight, walks in the snow, old silver, movie sound-tracks, Broadway show tunes and old-fashioned church music, Arabian horses, my dear dog, button-down collars, sophisticated humor, Egyptian art, Art Deco, mysteries and novels in translation, overseas travel, doughnuts, pasta, grits, super-hot chili and South Indian vindaloo, ladies in straw hats.

And my list and the one you are doubtless fabricating in your minds goes on. Once started, it seems, we can generate an endless list of what we like, what we want, what we need. Whether accompanied by Julie Andrews and the soundtrack of Sound of Music, It’s a tease and a torment

Listen to George Carlin again for a moment:

…that’s what this country is all about. Tryin’ to get moe stuff. Stuff you don’t want, stuff you don’t need, stuff that’s poorly made, stuff that’s overpriced. Even stuff you can’t afford! Gotta keep on gettin’ more stuff…

He’s right, We love Stuff. It is no individual peculiarity. It is a national pastime. We seem always to want MORE stuff, we look for it, check out e-bay or Craig’s list, search for it, shop for it AND….all the “stuff” as George Carlin used to describe it – the possessions and tastes and experiences that clutter our lives , consume our time, bring us delight from time to time but also weigh on our conscience?

And not just the tangibles, the things we hold in our hands but list after list of honey-do’s and not-to-forgets.

I was at the First Unitarian Society in Madison, some weeks back, a Sunday when its equivalent of our Joys and Concerns was observed. From well back in the congregation, a woman of a “certain age” made her way to the aisle and to the front of the church. She the well-corseted sort of whom Mother in another age would have said – “she has everything under control.” She took a list from her handbag, unfolded it and began to share her mix of joys and sorrows: Since last she participated in this congregational observance -Her parakeet had taken ill and eventually died (a sorrow), the neighbor from across the hall had come back from a summer vacation (a joy); an increase in condo fees had been announced along with an increase in parking rates (a concern); she had a doctor’s app’t looming ahead; her son was taking a new job in Upstate New York (sorrow, joy, concern – I couldn’t tell; so the list went on…and on…then…she stopped looked up from the list directly at the congregation and said “When you try to keep up with all these things, somewhere in the middle it gets to be a mess…I guess that is Enough for today.” For a moment, we sat in a bewildered silence, and then applause swept across the hall and back again. We were with her. We understood just what she meant.

How do we get a handle on it, on them, the interests and obligations, the mix of joys and sorrows and concerns that keep us hopping from sun-up until late at night?

Remember the story from Hebrew scripture’s first book, the book of Genesis, 3rd chapter, the story of Adam and Eve?

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she too of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate?

Now what were Adam and Eve doing when they got into so much trouble, I have to ask. As I read the story, they were shopping. The forbidden fruit was not scattered throughout the garden, not in many places, not in multiple locations, but in one place, one site, one location and one location only. Perhaps they just came upon it, “Oh, look the forbidden fruit…” but perhaps they were looking for something, searching, shopping,. Somewhere even in Eden they were dissatisfied, and they thought, “If only we had something more…”

As I read (and re-read) the story of Adam and Eve, I want to scream out – “You’re in Eden! Leave the damned apple alone. Don’t you have enough? Why do you want more?”

But every time I read it, they don’t seem to hear me. They chase their MORE, their must-have, their desire above other desires, the want they perceive as need and then all hell breaks loose. For whatever reason, whatever dissatisfaction they perceived, they had to have MORE. Once they saw the fruit, once it appeared good to them and was a delight to their eyes, they were sure that life with the forbidden fruit was going to be better than life without it, and life with out it less than life with it.

At this time of year as the Christmas hoarding season is upon us, we say we want to declare “enough-already” the list making – of good and of bad – quiet the clamorous mind and gently bring our attention to bear on a single activity. Instead of the constant mental and emotional churning that is a common feature of our inner lives, We don’t want more….no….we want to pare away the extraneous until nothing remains but the essence of truth.

This is a time-honored intent to be sure. Epicurus advocated a life of simple pleasures. The Rule of St. Benedict, one of the earliest simple-living handbooks, advocated not poverty or self-denial but harmony, awareness and balance…because, as Joan Chittister writes …”the idols we have made for ourselves take up much more adoration-time than any human has to give. EM Forster, a highly regarded author and Oxford professor never owned more than could be packed into a single medium-sized suitcase – thereby enjoying a sense of freedom that can only be experience when we travel light when we don’t have to worry about organizing, repairing, finding and replacing things.

What they are all suggesting, of course, is not some perverse ascetic ideal but that we should create a life of greater beauty, harmony, and wholeness, cut down on consumption, lead less extravagant lives, walk more lightly on the planet.

As one commentator recently pointed out, here in the US we spend more on TRASH BAGS to get rid of our excess than 90 of the worlds nations spend on everything they purchase—food, durable goods, health care…everything. Our consumption is excessive, unreasonable, and unsustainable. We know it, don’t we? Then, why is it so hard to take even small steps toward the simple, the quiet? as Jon Kabat Zin put it why cant we
“Go fewer places in one day rather than more, see less so [we] can see more, do less so [we]can achieve more, acquire less so [we] can have more.” (adapted)

The point is to get the maximum fulfillment for each unit of life energy spent….so…. why do we find it so hard to take this advice seriously?

Adam and Eve – the children of Eden – suffered when they wanted something more. They lived in paradise, a garden gifted from God, made just for them, yet they were not satisfied. In their search for something more, paradise was lost. However, looking deeper into Eden and the loss of the garden life for a desert wasteland, the children of Eden’s problems didn’t come just because they wanted something MORE, their problems came when they wanted something ELSE.

Pretend you are Eve or Adam, looking at the fruit, the appealing fruit, the one you desire. For whatever reason, you see this piece of fruit differently from others. This fruit seems to be the key piece to your life, one fruit better than others, the one that fills the hole in belly and soul, the one preferred above all the rest rare, exotic, enticing or perhaps forbidden, prohibited, banned, but for whatever reason, now indispensable, essential, one you cannot do without and be happy, a must-have, at all cost, or all is lost.

Anthony DeMello probably speaks to you as he does to me:
“There is only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and its because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have.”

In search of some unattained thing, circumstance or relationship on which happiness depends. Incessantly looking for something ELSE in which you’ve put your hope.

We know that antique story and its simple-minded moral – but centuries later, we still think with Adam, with Eve, that there is something MORE, something ELSE in order to be happy, one more “if only” which if we could get it would make us happy. So we search our gardens, our online catalogs, our endless wish lists for the preferred thing, person or experience, and like Adam and Eve, our hope for living in paradise is lost. As Mick Jagger used to say: I can’t get no satisfaction!

Last week, waiting in the doctor’s office I came across a cartoon in the comics section of the newspaper. It showed a family of three – two parents and their teenage son—watching the morning weather report on television. A fierce snowstorm was in progress and the newscaster was warning viewers to stay home and off the highways.

“All right!” the mother says, “We have a snow day! No school. No job. No obligations whatsoever.” Then, getting up from her chair, she says, “Let’s get busy.”
“What is it about free time that makes mom so hyper?” the teenager asks.
“Probably lack of exposure,” his father responds.

We are a restless people. We hurry to fill any unexpected gap in our demanding schedules with something new, something ELSE to do. Where does this come from, this proclivity for action. Why is it so hard for us to experience more than a few fleeting moments of ease and contentment.

Perhaps this is the downside of the evolutionary forces that endowed us with such a powerful intellect—a mind that is endlessly curious, a glutton for stimulation, and is able to create imaginary scenarios far more captivating than life as we find it. On the one hand, with minds so limber and inventive we have mastered our environment, created vibrant cultures, made startling discoveries and become the dominant species on earth. On the other hand, because our minds and bodies are SO agitated, we don’t know when to stop.

Because we carry cell-phones, we require ourselves to answer. Because we all feel so pressured, every issue and every endeavor becomes well-nigh frantic. Yes, we live in a sped-up world, but it is our own self-generated anxiety and restlessness that makes us want to keep up. And, we are more and more easily bored.

We want to simplify our lives, so we try a little episode of voluntary simplicity, a little bit of “turning turning” hoping that it really is a gift to be simple—but life for us is not simple. Enough is not enough, more is more.
Linda Pastan says it clearly:
What we want
is never simple.

So, then, how about Pilates? Maybe yoga. How about living in the present moment with Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment

Absent something new and fresh and exciting and sexy, and even with a pattern of Three Deep Conscious Breaths and a variety of Asanas…we are bored, we get antsy.

A traditional Zen master described it-
One day a student complained to him that following the breath was boring. The master grabbed the st udent and held his head under water while the young man struggled desperately to come up. When he finally released his hold the student gasped and the master asked, “ Did you find breath boring in those moments when you were underwater?.”

Yes, we are easily bored. Yes, we are restless. These are restless days for us and restless in our nation….restless days in the world…restless days most likely in your homes and in mine and in my heart and in yours. And we have come to this service this morning in that restlessness, a restlessness that I believe is set deep in the recesses of the spirit… not seeking more stuff, not seeking something else to fill our over-stuffed days…but seeking who we really are, seeking a presence…seeking a friend…seeking a perspective, seeking a feeling…seeking a community…seeking self-knowledge…seeking new energy…seeking peace….seeking

In our seeking, however, too often, most often, we are as Daniel Berrigan, that disturbing social prophet of a generation back puts it: “afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy.”

He describes us in this way – he speaks of “peace” but fill in the blank with whatever other word – meaning, simplicity, depth, enlightenment – whatever.

Even as [we] declare for peace, [our] hands reach out …… in the direction of [our] comforts, our homes, our security, our income, our future, our plans…the five year plan of professional status, the twenty year plan of …growth and wealth, that 50 year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise.

Of course, let us have Peace, we cry, but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither pain or ill repute nor disruption of ties.

And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs—at all costs—our hopes and dreams and careers must march on schedule and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven, because it is unheard that good men and women such as we should suffer injustice or pain or loss or have their lives turned round or good repute be lost [in seeking peace] , we cry peace and cry peace in our homes and in our church and in our particular worrisome tasks and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers.

We are restless. We want simplicity. We want poise. We want INVULNERABLE poise – poise without pain. Maybe we don’t believe we’ll every find it; but that, still, we think, would save us—and so we strike out on the journey, –desperately at times if still with really only half a heart (knowing better in our heart of hearts) but more often eager beavers in the beginning but the longer we are at it, the less appealing the task becomes, progress at snail’s pace, wellsprings of enthusiasm soon all dried up.

Still from depths of our spirits – a restless desire – always to know the insightful thing to say at the right time and in the right way in the right company. To be assured, full of understanding — even if we doubt that there can be such assurance or understanding or clarity of soul—(we are doubtful UU’s after all) that is what we want and secretly (a secret even from ourselves at times) that is what, if again with half a heart and less time, we are secretly seeking.

Or we want a bold new CAUSE – a cause in the world about which we can be positive and with which we can be nobly associated. Don’t misunderstand me now: poise in the service of our neighbor is good; success at something worthy of free men and women is good (if we have not sold our souls for it) and our liberal faith ought to lead us to serve a noble cause with moral passion.

Poise, success and noble service – these are among the good gifts of life. But in the words of an older and more severe piety than ours, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed by the name of the Lord.”

The danger of good things – even the best (even the best PEOPLE in our lives)—is that we shall stop receiving them as gifts and turn them into ways by which, compulsively, we shall be saved; ways by which we shall save ourselves from oblivion, restlessness, anxiety, emptiness…save ourselves from a sense of joylessness.

The philosopher Wittgenstein, makes a bold claim: Tell me HOW you seek and I will tell you not WHAT you are seeking but what you will FIND.

Aaron Dunn, the founder of the Community Connections, the free medical clinic in Dodgeville, once told me this story –

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80’s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I as not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease.

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, ‘And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?’

He smiled as he patted my hand and said, ‘She doesn’t know who I am, but I still know who she is.’

I had to hold back the tears as he left I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought,
That is the kind of love I want in my life.’

Tell me HOW you seek, and I will tell you what you will find.

TS Eliot was right:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

And Rudolf Bultmann was right – “ [In seeking] – for simplicity, for peace, for poise, for meaning, for love or for your soul – he who abandons every form of security shall find true security.”

And the Sufi Poet Kebir is right: You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms nor synagogues, nor in cathedrals: Not in masses, nor kirtan, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly… You will find me in the tiniest house of time.

Eliot, Kebir, Bultmann, Naomi Remen, Laura Pastan and the Zen Master, even George Carlin – they all say much the same:

When in our search together and alone we discover that in a vital sense, there are no easy ways to salvation – there are no must-haves – there is no fruit of wisdom – after all; when you have discovered that other stuff, other saviors, other insights do not save; when you have discovered that in order to enjoy the good things of life—and in order to enter into committed and loving and ennobling relationships—you must receive all things and all folk as gifts of the Divine, relying at the last only on the Giver of all things bright and beautiful; when we have discovered that true love is neither physical, nor romantic.
that true meaning and understanding and simplicity are an acceptance of all that is, has been and will be; when you and I have discovered that success does not succeed in setting life right, that true security is found in abandoning every form of security; when we have learned that there will never be any more perfection than in the present moment of time–
then perhaps we can hear about the confidence and the joy which seem like relying on nothing. Then, we can begin to learn HOW to seek, and HOW to live…and HOW to die…and how to be near the heart of the Divine.

And… to our surprise, we may discover that it is ENOUGH, and how easy it is to let the rest go.

May it be so.