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The Poverty of Richness

“Give me that poverty which makes me inwardly rich.” –Henry David Thoreau

There was an old man who lived down by the river, who, when asked, What’s the secret to living a long, happy, and rich life? answered, “Keep your mind full, and your bowels empty.”  The older I get, the more I come to appreciate the utter simplicity of all that we’d call wisdom.

Wisdom is simple. But our lives are complex. And we live as the multiplication charts were the proper guide to life. We multiply entities beyond necessity, and pay no heed to Occam’s Razor when forming an economy of life. We live as if living well were to be surrounded by a million particular and interesting things, paying no mind to the singular element which would unify the million.

As a life, so a man or a woman is one. Counting fingers and toes cannot change this fact. We live once; we are born to die. Nor will the sun rise ever again on a life after the final sunset. But it does not ultimately help to enrich life by filling it with many things; life still remains one, albeit a fragmented life. And a fragmented life is a life divided and diminished.

How many times I have met a man or a woman who has become dejected. Life has ceased to smile. He looks on his old car, frowns, buys a new car, and sells himself, his time, to make payments on a shiny new vehicle which gets him not where he longs to be. She looks on her small, dank apartment, and sets her sights on a new apartment on the richer side of town, though it be far from her work, and now she needs a better car to get her to the job which she is not sure fits her and to which she is now more than ever shackled to, a slave of longing.

We long to be free. Freedom is simple. Life is one. Except that the parts would fit seamlessly, the many do not make one, and would fracture the universe; and thus ever we seek  to step into the universe next door, where the stars are brighter.

Richness is inward. Nor is richness an appearance. It is too common a condition that a man, living a life of quiet desperation, surrounds himself with seductive shiny objects, though they financially strain him and push him to the edge. Sometimes that edge is a 21st floor window, and he’d jump.

Richness is inward. It is substantial.  As the old man by that old river called life tells us, living well is keeping the mind full, and the bowels empty.

Keeping the mind full keeps it clear, rich, and able to apprehend beauty; or, when one finds himself lost in a dark wood and surrounded by wolves, having an inwardly rich mind will more quickly apprehend the safe path out. The rich mind is clear enough to imagine the wolf, and what the wolf would want; for the wolf is not so different from himself. Life is one. And imagining the wolf for what he is, the mane does not present himself to be a meal.

Having a rich mind is having that mind which knows how to feed not only itself but the body. A well kept and fed body is that body which keeps empty bowels.

Any man or woman of wisdom recognizes that the earliest sign of stress is sluggish digestion. And a sluggish digestion leads to a sluggish and suffering mind. A wise man, like the old man by the river, recognizes full well that the body is a temple. It houses the mind, the sacred mind. Any pursuit which compromises health is unwise; for without health, life is hardly worth living. Indeed, men and women who suffer from extremely poor health beg that life would end. To abuse the body is sacrilege.

So the woman gets her apartment across town, has therefore to buy a new car, and has consequently two meaty new payments which necessitates that she has to keep her job which is itself destroying her health. She goes to work now for ten to twelve hours, sits in meetings stressed, takes on the problems of others though unable to solve her own, and then gets into her new car to sit and drive for an hour to get to a home in which she can sleep for but a few hours before she has to get up and sit in that car to go to work yet again.

Though now she has prestige, which is but an external semblance of some ill conceived fantasy, her digestion is poor, her body is stressed, and she cannot understand why she bursts into tears longing for freedom.

Wisdom is simpler. Cut, cut, cut!

Cut out the million things which draw the mind from its proper object, which is to support itself and seek out what it is to live. And this wisdom achieved, from abundance, the mind may then take on the responsibility of supporting others, of helping them to solve their problems.

The first object of wisdom is learning how to support the body that the body may best support the mind. That goal achieved, the mind may then turn itself to beauty, and take a long afternoon down by the river. Having then an abundance of wisdom which proceeds from health, so wisdom may venture to help others.


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