I am just back from spending six weeks with my daughter and her husband on their five acre organic farm in Northern Rivers, Australia. It’s winter down under, and climate change has arrived. The days are already reaching 80 degrees, and the locals predict summer temperatures of 110 degrees and hotter.
The area is lush…. streams, rivers and creeks, endless bridges to cross them, towering gum trees, snakes, kangaroos nibbling on the grass at dawn and dusk. A flock of two dozen wild turkeys swooping across their creek one morning. There are birds that sound like sleigh bells, and others that sing long complex arias. Rain supplies their drinking water. Irrigation for their crops, showers, dishes, the toilet all gets supplied by water pumped up from their creek and stored in huge stainless steel tanks. Toilets in all of Australia have 1.5 gallons of water, and each is equipped with a dual flushing system..one button for a flush with barely enough water to float a goldfish, another using all 1.5 gallons for more serious business. Trust me, this is as far from my upbringing in Queens, New York as you can get.
The closest town in thirty minutes away, and looks like a set from an old Clint Eastwood movie…one long street housing two butchers, a grocery, pharmacy, six cafes with tables and chairs set outside, two banks. During our stay in Australia, the whole country celebrated NAIDOC, with dancing, singing, feasting, honoring aboriginal women and their contribution throughout history. Banners everywhere proclaimed “Because of her we can.”
The people are all friendly. When I tell them my last name, they want to tell me about the time Jack London visited Sydney and wrote a short story about the trip. And here’s the thing, these people talk sloooowly. One sentence, then some silent contemplation, a dead zone with enough time to compose my 2018 wish list for Santa. I have to resist the urge to shake them lightly to make sure they haven’t fallen into a coma.
A bigger city is ninety minutes away. Navigating the sidewalks involves weaving in and out of cafes, people sitting and chatting, drinking flat whites (yum…espresso with steamed milk). Get this: Most of these cafes do not have wifi. People are talking to each other, or sitting and watching the stream of traffic flow by. And by noon on Saturdays, the shops in all the cities close up for the weekend. These are people who take resting on the Sabbath seriously.
The organic grocery store, Santos, is about an eighth the size of our local coop, and I don’t know enough math to tell you how it measures against our local Whole Foods, which isn’t really ours because it doesn’t support the local economy. I always found what I needed at Santos. I didn’t need four shelves of shampoos; a few choices were more than enough.
Eating breakfast out, or “brekkie” as it’s affectionately called, means ordering from a menu of “pies”…slightly larger than cupcake sized portions of quiches with pumpkin and feta, local lamb or veggies, Moroccan sausages in flaky filo dough. They are tiny! But filling! Smashed avocado on toast with a poached egg on top is another standard. The portions are far far far from the excesses of American breakfasts, and turn out to be enough.
I’ve returned home with a new perspective on what “enough” means, and a desire to push back against our culture that encourages me to consume more, always more, rather than conserve, to resist with my mind and heart the marketing messages that fill me with a sense of scarcity rather than a deep feeling that what I have is sufficient. The truth is, what I have is more than sufficient. I’m brimming over with enough and then some. The truth is, I’d have to buy more hangers if I bought more clothes.
I returned home with an acute awareness of climate change, of the hard times coming fast down the road, and how learning to live with a sense of enoughness is radical, political, and my commitment to the planet. I’ve returned with a desire to bring my shadow envy into the light, the part of me that still sees the world in terms of you or me, rather than you and me, that believes that there’s not enough, and if you get some there won’t be anything left for me. To quote Lynn Twist in The Soul of Money: “When we really look at what we’ve got and let go of trying to accumulate more, we have the capacity for much greater lives than just ‘getting’ and ‘having’. Everyone wants the good life for more than just themselves.”
This is what I want: the good life for more than just myself, a sense of inclusion grounded in sufficiency and sharing rather than scarcity and hoarding. If my bills are paid and the pantry is full, does it feel like enough so that I’m moved to share some of what’s left over?
Sitting with a sense of enough, what I have, what I am, leads to an overflowing feeling of abundance and gratitude, and out of this feeling comes the desire to share. If I’m always haunted by scarcity and lack, there’s nothing left over and we end up building a wall to hoard what feels like finite resources.
We’ve got it upside down….immigrants aren’t taking our jobs away from us, it’s multinational corporations that scour the globe for the cheapest labor, cashing in on poverty and desperation. It’s the lie of scarcity that perpetrates and infiltrates our collective clenching in fear. It’s the magician’s slight of hand…look over here at the brown and black people and not at the greedy bastards running the shell game.
When the lie of not enough justifies war for oil, when Me First Screw You is the national hip hop anthem, when the country suddenly isn’t big enough to make room for people in need, how I share my money, my time, my heart…this matters now more than ever.