I have a tortured relationship with money. On the one hand, I can get by on very little of it; on the other, I like to have enough to feel secure. Enough to go out to dinner; enough to buy gifts; enough not to worry.
But security has been in short supply since I left my freelance writing and adjunct teaching jobs to travel. I planned for contingencies, of course; I tried to cover my financial bases. But when expenditures are a river and income is a tiny brook, all my worry mechanisms kick in.
Living simply has always been an important value for me. I’ve never made much money, and I’ve always had a lot of responsibility—six kids, widowed after #5, and the main breadwinner throughout. I should be more comfortable with uncertainty. I should trust that things will work out, because they always have. But I continually gnaw at the bone of uncertainty.
The problem, of course, is in my head. Living simply, as it turns out, is more demanding than I had thought and not because it demands that you do without, but because it demands that you trust. Doing without stuff is easy. I don’t like stuff, anyway, so trading material things for mobility and freedom was a no-brainer. Who needs a dinner service for eight, a television, or even hot running water when the claret cup cactus is blooming right outside your door? Who needs a bedroom and master bath and matching towel sets? More significantly, who needs to spend a lifetime working to accumulate all that stuff?
So—it was easy for me to get rid of stuff. But without also trusting that I will have enough, I can become as acquisitive and greedy as the most piggish millionaire.
I know a man who lives with the utmost simplicity—on the road in a camper with few creature comforts. But his entire focus is to avoid spending money, and he contorts himself mightily to do so. The result is a grasping, stingy tightwad (without the wad). These are the qualities I’m noticing in myself.
True simplicity demands that you trust the source of all good things to provide for what you need. And because the source is infinite, there is no room for parsimony. Simplicity, in fact, demands generosity and an expansive spirit. You can be generous because you understand that nothing belongs to you, and ideally then, you use what you need and share the rest. And this, my friends, is the spiritual virtue of poverty of spirit.
“Poverty is not a question of having or not having money,” writes Carlo Carretto, my favorite desert monk. “Poverty is not material. It is a beatitude.…It is a way of being, thinking and loving.…Poverty is detachment, and freedom, and, above all, truth.”
So, I find myself wandering through a spiritual landscape that is as challenging as the geographic one. No surprise there–that’s the nature of a journey. I’m glad to name and wrestle with my little demons. I’m glad not to have the luxury of overlooking them anymore.