Provision #189: Escape the Rat Race

Laser Provision

There is a place of balance between affluence and awareness. Too often we’re out of balance • having either too much or too little, without much appreciation for the present moment. Before turning to cash flow and debt reduction in order to break out of the rat race, let’s strike one last perspective on having enough.

LifeTrek Provision

We’re in the middle of a series on the meaning and management of money. We’ve been trying to understand how to break free of the rat race, that vicious cycle of making and spending more. Around and around it goes. The more we make and spend, the more we have to make and spend. Like fire and gasoline • each useful in its own right • making and spending can combine to create a towering inferno.

How do we break free of the rat race? It begins with the spending side of the equation. There is no other place to start, because there is always more to have. Today is Super Bowl Sunday in the United States, another one of those all-out glitzy reminders of just how extravagant we’ve become in our spending. It takes a conscious and courageous choice to live differently, to say enough is enough, and to fashion the vision of a satisfying yet sustainable life.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been talking about how to do just that. It begins with outrage and anger at what the rat race has done to us and to others. Until one sees the problem, no change is possible. We mindlessly get up every morning to go through the motions all over again, regardless of how tired and bankrupt they leave us every evening. Our wanting more drives an impossible dream and an intolerable life.

Sociologist Philip Slater made the point more than three decades ago, in his now classic work The Pursuit of Loneliness (Click), that the rat race is fueled by the fragmentation and loneliness of modern life. We end up trying to fill the void of meaning and community with ever-more elaborate devices and diversions costing ever-greater sums of money. Unfortunately, these devices and diversions only serve to isolate us further.

Once we see the problem, we can see the solution. We can develop an alternative vision for our life and the life of the world. Two weeks ago we spoke of this vision as having enough rather than as having it all. If we want to have it all, we can never be satisfied because there is always more to have. If we want to have enough • no more, no less • enough to be satisfied and free, enough to use our gifts and talents • then we can rest content in what David Whyte calls The House of Belonging in his poem by the same name (1997, Click).

I awoke this morning in the gold light turning this way and that
thinking for a moment it was one day like any other.

But the veil had gone from my darkened heart and I thought
it must have been the quiet candlelight that filled my room,
it must have been the first easy rhythm
with which I breathed myself to sleep,
it must have been the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness of the night.

And I thought this is the good day you could meet your love,
this is the black day someone close to you could die.

This is the day you realize how easily the thread is broken
between this world and the next
and I found myself sitting up in the quiet pathway of light,
the tawny close-grained cedar burning round me like fire
and all the angels of this housely heaven ascending
through the first roof of light the sun has made.

This is the bright home in which I live,
this is where I ask my friends to come,
this is where I want to love all the things
it has taken me so long to learn to love.

This is the temple of my adult aloneness
and I belong to that aloneness as I belong to my life.

There is no house like the house of belonging.

Do you catch wind of someone who has discovered that enough is enough in David’s poem? It is often accompanied by the realization of “how easily the thread is broken between this world and the next.” When it comes, we look around and discover that we are where we want to be. This is the “home in which I want to live,” the place “where I ask my friends to come,” and the context where “I want to love all the things it has taken me so long to learn to love.”

That awareness alone can liberate us from the rat race. The rat race is, after all, a race of our own making. No external authority insists that we ever or always strive for more. People can be satisfied and fulfilled with the most simple of lifestyles. Even so, there are times when awareness is not enough. People also need the affluence of having more than the bare necessities without a crushing amount of debt. The challenge is to find the place of balance between awareness and affluence.

Over the next few weeks we’ll turn to the supply side of the equation: how to generate cash flow and eliminate debt in order to strike that balance. By the time we’re through, we will have learned how to structure our finances so as to receive and behold the good life’s full dimensionality.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC