Deficiency Thinking

Learn to be content

Deficiency Thinking By Any Other Name…

For a while I was calling it “fear-based decision making”. I made reference to this in my “Why KC?” musings a little while back when I said:

I made the resolve in the summer of 2009 to stop making decisions based on fear. How much of our lives to we spend making choices based on worry, doubt, insecurity, and a lack of desire to change the status quo… even if the status quo is not enough to feed our souls? Even in insidious ways, I think the powers of fear and uncertainty makes us unwilling to reach out and chose to leave our comfort zone, to grow, to evolve, and to become who we want and are meant to be.

Even more recently, I started thinking about how fear is the realm of the survival brain and the source of our inability to live authentically by deliberately “losing control“:

Giving in to ambiguity, uncertainty, and the direction of universal guidance is pretty scary stuff. Letting the world see your authentic self is downright terrifying. Being in the flow, connecting to an emotional/creative state, and not knowing what the second step after the first will look like is not a natural state of mind for humans. Nor is the ability to be genuinely you in your daily life. Let me amend that: discomfort and authenticity are not natural states of the un-evolved human being; they are, however, the preferred states of the evolving, creative human being.

(Yes, I’ve been at this long enough now that I’m quoting myself. Do you think that is good of bad? At least I seem to always agree with myself.)

I Want, I Want, I Want!

And now, like any good thought/intuitive hit/feeling… the concept has evolved and its new name is Deficiency Thinking. There is little mystery in this name; it is what it implies. We think in deficiency and we talk to each other, to ourselves, and to the universe using language like:

“I don’t have…”

“All I need is…”

“If only I could…”

“That’s good but not good enough.”

“I’d be happier if…”

“Why can’t you just…”

Sounding familiar anyone? Listen to what you say to people. Listen to that voice in your head. Listen for how often you’re “wanting” verses how often you’re “content”. Does that seem right to you? Me neither.

I Learn to Be Content

Content. I LOVE this word and I’ve sparred with some friends over its value. They said it “wasn’t enough”, which is ironic to me because, by definition, content means to be satisfied, to not wish for more. That is, in my opinion (which seems to interest you since you’re still reading), a great state of mind in which to be.

There is a famous tsukubai cover (small basin of water where visitors to a Buddhist Temple can wash their hands and rinse their mouths) at the even-more-famous Zen Rock Garden Ryoanji in Kyoto (Ryoanji, by the way, translates as the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon… how appropriate). I was there in 1998 when I first saw the tsukubai and read the translation of the characters (kanji) on it. The brochure uses the translation “I learn to be content” and I was immediately struck by the poignancy of the double meaning.

For my part, I go through the process of learning because I would not be happy if I was not constantly learning. As well, I must learn how to find contentment in a world out of balance, a world that teaches us “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (thank you Lord Alfred Tennyson).

That translation, and the lessons it continues to teach me, would be enough; I’m content! However, like any good Buddhist expression, there are deeper layers of meaning. Here is what Wikipedia has to say in the same article linked to above:

The kanji written on the surface of the stone are without significance when read alone. If each is read in combination with 口 (kuchi), which the central bowl is meant to represent, then the characters become 吾, 唯, 足, 知. This is read as “ware tada taru (wo) shiru” and translates literally as “I only know plenty” (吾 = ware = I, 唯 = tada = only, 足 = taru = plenty, 知 = shiru = know). The meaning of the phrase carved into the top of the tsukubai is simply that “what one has is all one needs” and is meant to reinforce the basic anti-materialistic teachings of Buddhism.

Students of mine also offered up two related translations: “I only know myself and that is plenty” and “To know yourself is enough”.

However you read it, there is a core idea that we are enough for ourselves and if we externalize our desire, our wants, our wishes, and even our spirituality, we are into the realm of deficiency thinking.

Deficiency, Fear, Resistance, Survival, and other Hobgoblins of the Mind

Let’s pretend for a moment that we can go through our day thankful for all that we have–health, wealth, knowledge of myself (to quote another master poet)–while also not lamenting all that we don’t have. Let’s pretend that we could choose to put our energy toward celebrating abundance in life and then using that inspiration (and excessive, regenerative energy) to open yourself to more abundance. If you need a spiritual connection: pretend that you thank God or the Universe or the Divine (she’ll appreciate it) for all that is yours and stop devoting your prayers, time, and energy to asking for more. Now stop pretending!

Given that I left the Pacific Northwest in search of a new community, I would be remiss to not address questions that I hope are lingering in your mind:

  • You said you left for a new community which means that you were deciding to moved because of deficiency thinking! HA! Caught you! What do you have to say to that, Mr. Peaceful, Balance, Contentment, Holier-Than-Thou, Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do Guy?
  • If you’re content with life, how will you get anything done?
  • How will you grow?
  • How will you succeed?
  • Won’t you just sit on the couch and wait to die?

(The answer to the last question is a firm NO… but I would add that it wouldn’t be the worst way to go if you were truly content.)

I feel that the answers all deal with perspective. This means that we know and appreciate all that we have while also knowing very clearly what it is that we really, truly want. Not what your in-laws want, what you kids want, what your boss wants, what your peer pressure wants, what your TV tells you you want… what you want. Does this mean being selfish? No. I express love through helping others and it is loving service that I’ve experienced some of the best moments of my life. I also take the time to write, think, rest, and self-heal so I can be as present, energetic, and helpful as possible in my relationships. This means seeing a community that lives half a country away–a community that fills me with abundance–and allowing myself the freedom to go and spend time among them. In other words, it means paying attention to why you do what you do, want what you want, and serve who you serve. It means finding balance in self-preservation (which is FAR from selfish) and the preservation of your tribe.

I also feel that contentment is elusive, no matter how disciplined we are. And this kind of relates to the first point. We have to battle the tides of consumerism and materialism, of advertising and peer pressure, to find the core of our contentment. This also means coming to peace with our “shortcoming”–physical, mental, learning abilities, age, hairline, waistline, singing voice, rhythm, unibrow, etc.–not blaming ourselves (or others.. or god) for it, and finding a path to contentment. A path that we ourselves take and know why we are on it.

For example, saying:

I am thankful for the health I have and I will lose these ‘winter pounds’ so that I can continue to enjoy good health. I will remind myself how much more comfortable my clothes feel when I take the time to go for a walk every day.

(And please don’t start with the “I don’t even have time to go for a walk” line of justification… hello deficiency thinking! I once asked someone who “didn’t have an hour to myself”, “If you had a friend that would die unless you spent one hour with them every day, would you be able to keep them alive?” They said, “Of course.” My answer was, “Well, you are that friend.”)

Instead of saying

I’m a fat, pathetic blob. Why don’t I have any willpower or time to exercise? Why can’t I stop myself from eating junk food? Why can’t I have the same body as that person over there?

So, are you content or deficient? I ask only because the choice really is yours to make.


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