For upcoming Monthly Ministry Themes, click here.
- Abundance of Choices: Abundance of Ideas by Marlene J. Geary
- A Buddhist Perspective by Nancy Thompson
“Abundance of Choices: Abundance of Ideas”
by Marlene J. Geary
Autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our well-being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.
[from Ch.5, The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, 2004]
Is abundance always a good thing? Have you ever had too many options? Often having too many choices gives a person choice paralysis: we’re unable to decide any directions simply because there are too many options to analyze.
Humans often go with what we know. If we have 20 menu items to choose from when we’re going out to eat, we usually select our favorite. But why? Was our favorite meal simply the easiest option? Did our favorite become our favorite simply because it was the first choice? What if there’s a better menu item? How does one choose to change our favorite? Why would one want to break out of our favorite choice?
What’s more – do we use that same thinking and decision pattern when it comes to our beliefs and ideas? How do we react to the overabundance of choices and opinions that we’re exposed to?
In 1953, a philosopher named Isaiah Berlin offered up this light-hearted grouping of the writers and thinkers of the world, based on an analysis of Aesop’s Fable “The Fox and the Cat”:
“…uses the fable … to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea; and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea.”
If you always order a particular pasta dish off of a menu, you might think of that restaurant solely in terms of that pasta dish. If you regularly order many items off of that restaurant’s menu, you might think of the restaurant in terms of your collective menu experience. But how do you then describe that restaurant to another person – in hedgehog or fox terms?
So, here are some questions to ponder this month: Each of us has a vast array of experiences, stories, ideas, and beliefs. Where in your ideas or beliefs are you a hedgehog? Where in your beliefs or ideas are you a fox? Are there hedgehog ideas that you have because they were simply your first idea, or because they were easiest? Are you a fox in some areas because you’re frozen by analysis paralysis? Where is the blend in your life? Does the blend serve you well?
A Buddhist Perspective: Abundance
By Nancy Thompson,
UUS:E Buddhist Group
Before becoming a spiritual leader, the Buddha was a prince who lived in a palace with an abundance of material goods, none of which satisfied his hunger for meaning. Before he became enlightened, he nearly died from the ascetic lifestyle he was following. His revelation was the Middle Way, that path between the two extremes.
Abundance is a relative term that has meaning only by measuring it against scarcity. We have an abundance of what we need to be content and fulfilled, but we suffer because we don’t recognize it, we fear losing it, or we want more. The cause of suffering, tanha, is often translated as desire – but it’s more like grasping, clinging, or desirous attachment. It’s the sense that we have to have something in order to be safe and happy, and that we have to ensure that we will always have it, that if we can store up enough money or love or chocolate to last for our lifetimes, we’ll be fine. And that creates anxiety, stress, and fear.
“We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture,” the Dalai Lama says. “However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind. That’s where real tranquility is to be found.”
Now, your experience of your mind may not be one of tranquility. More likely, it contains thoughts, plans, ruminations, snippets of songs, conversations with people who aren’t present. In Buddhist terms, that’s not your mind – that’s stuff that you’ve stuffed into your mind, covering up the clear, luminous nature of mind. When all of that settles out (through meditation, in the Buddhist path), what’s left is ease and equanimity, the ability to be with whatever happens externally without being tossed about or tied up by conditions.
The nature of mind is limitless and infinite, beyond abundance. And it is always present. Buddhism provides practices to tap into that – starting with learning to settle your mind in meditation and continuing with practices to train your mind. Those include practices of lovingkindness, gratitude, and appreciation, all of which help us connect with the abundance that’s available to us.
“I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.” Thích Nhat Hanh