Magdalena Bak-Maier, PhD – From Enough! to enough: A Doorway Into Wiser Living

Kuzana Ogg, "Palvala"
Kuzana Ogg, “Palvala”

Have you ever heard someone say that they had had enough in a way that felt peaceful and full of contentment? A way that made you convinced and possibly inspired, or maybe even envious you were talking to someone who found the wisdom of Santiago, the young Andalusian shepherd in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho? Many of us search for this treasure whether we know it or not, admit it out loud, or bury the longing deep in our heart of hearts. No one is above it. But finding such contentment or fulfillment is rare. Most often, what one hears is a different sort of enough; one we would write with a capital E and an exclamation mark, or maybe three in a row: Enough!!!

This ‘enough’ screams Stop! It demands immediate attention, stirs action or invites surrender. This ‘enough’ creates energy and conditions in which people quit jobs, say the wrong thing (or the right thing) badly phrased, walk out on their bosses or partners, unleash tears or anger and hurt- often we push it down into our gut in denial or postponement, as we try to smile and pretend all is fine. It’s the energy that causes one to decide to throw in the towel on all sorts of things, give up dreams and aspirations and exclaim ‘why bother’, ‘what’s the point of it all’, ‘nothing will ever change anyhow’ or any number of other self-defeating statements. Rarely – though occasionally – this sort of ‘enough’ jolts people into attempting to make things better, long after their faith in all things good are gone from their mind and/or heart.

Our materialistic world makes it easier than ever to get caught up in feeling and wanting more, be it a better life, new partner, job, bigger house, or that new gadget or wardrobe. Most people derive far greater sense of motivation from a place of wanting than they get from a place of feeling satisfaction. After all, satisfaction by definition involves fulfillment of one’s expectations and needs. And when things are good, most desire no change at all. And yet, even good things must be maintained or they risk getting bad again.

Hence, most of us are motivated to action or work by a feeling of dissatisfaction, provided that feeling does not overwhelm us. We are spurred by lacking the calm ‘enough,’ something in our life that’s not quite how we want it to be and having good rationale or desire to do something to change our situation. This perpetual sense of wanting something else or something more, however, can become a dangerous addiction and a source of self-harm when it drives the individual towards constant discontentment. In pursuit of some magical place where everything will be “perfect,” we risk never getting there. We risk things never being enough.

If I think back to times when I felt not enough: There’s a long string of events I can now smile about. Some of these moments lasted a good while and required working through. Some, in fact, spurred me towards change. Some were, and continue, as fleeting thoughts connected with self-saboteurs that show up briefly, engaging my thoughts in critical and unproductive chatter. This is why I love the 1997 American comedy As Good As It Gets, which to me, epitomizes the irony of high expectations and also, the joy of acceptance of life being beautiful. In acceptance, we can park that kind of thinking aside and see life for all the richness it has to offer us.

Oprah Winfrey, who self-made her wealth and fame, said it best: “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

A few years ago – after having made a string of personal sacrifices and fueled by a dream to create that feeling of enough that is calm and nurtures the soul – I found myself wishing for better health, more success, money, a certain type of partner, a home and many other things that are not very different from those I work with as a coach and mentor. I wanted recognition for my efforts. Acceptance. Love. Romance. Ease. Freedom to be me.

One day in meditation, a thought or perhaps a question appeared to me in the form of ‘What if I never do?’ or as the above film title puts it, What if this is as good as it will ever get? It was one of the most profound moments that began a deep shift in my psyche and my being. The realization helped change my life, as well as my spiritual and professional practice, in terms of how I teach and work with others. In that moment of reflection, I experienced what can only be described as a shift in energy, a relaxation. From enough expressed with impatience, drive, sense of injustice, entitlement, anger and frustration, I began to feel calm acceptance and deep level contentment with things being as they were.

The experience was so profound that it inspired further reflection, empirical observation with my clients, inquiry, research and reading. Now my developmental programs carry in them an invitation towards a similar shift. I ask participants to consider how they can move from anger, dissatisfaction, and a sense of having to push against the world towards a space where they experience ease and flow. Sometimes this process requires little physical changes and sometimes it requires a good deal of work. What is always true is the fundamental process of changing a person’s mindset. The journey of Enough! to enough is as much a mental shift as it is a spiritual energetic shift to produce greater health and deeper contentment. It changes how people feel and the feelings they create in others. Balance between acceptance of what is and enjoyment and commitment towards welcoming changes that support the thriving of one’s heart and mind are key, and that is a journey of a lifetime. For many of my clients, and for myself, the insight into feeling and being in balance, however briefly, makes for the entryway into life on better terms. A life where enough exists as a positive concept that gives us joy and permission to enjoy life.

I would like to encourage you to contemplate the following question from my retreat and see where it leads you:

– What if this is as good as it gets?

– What can I live with, and what needs to truly change?

– How do I resist that change?

Epicurus, ancient Greek philosopher and founder of Epicureanism, advocated that living happily centered on avoidance of pain, living in a way that pleased oneself whilst treating others justly. It other words, to live a pleasant life one had to be wise. There is no way of living a peaceful enough, but in action. To say it and not mean or embody it, is to depart from one’s core integrity. Hence, this journey is one of deep self-developmental and spiritual work.

Some say it is desire and want that motivates action and change. The question that enough work poses is whether in the pursuit of it, we don’t ultimately cheat ourselves from a quality life altogether.

Dalai Lama, one of most recognized spiritual leaders of present day said that what surprised him most was: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then, he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.”

It is a highly paradoxical and most profound observation of human behavior in a state of ‘not enough’. Aristotle’s principles of ethics were founded on the concept of action, not mere existence. A person is kind when he practices kindness. Action, more than words, defined who the person was. And what is action but a continuous practice?

We are regularly seduced into practicing not being enough, not having enough, and left living with the displeasure of it, if we are honest enough to admit it. Could a simple shift brought about by contemplating what “enough” means be the doorway to far wiser and happier living? I have come to believe that as small a shift as this may be in our mind, it is one of the most profound personal journeys one can make into the peace that lives within one’s heart.

I invite you to give it a try.

Magdalena Bak-Maier, PhD | Get Productive!