The Perception of Scarcity

Along the way to adulthood, we may have become adept at self-consciousness, becoming self-critical, anxious or inflexible. We have forgotten how to simply perceive. Instead, we see perceptions through the restrictive frame of either “like, dislike or don’t care.” Perceptions have become a commodity, and the value we place on each varies with the market conditions determined by our flickering moods and desires. We may have become consumers of perceptions. We are no longer in touch with the totality of perceptions, nor are the perceptions in touch with us. It has become a lonely, hungry, sometimes greedy existence — a life based on scarcity.

When we feel that we have been deprived of goodness, we try to get a grip on it wherever we can find it. Yet all experiences of goodness are ephemeral — they are fleeting and soon disappear. It is like watching fireflies flashing at dusk. It can be deeply satisfying to sit in the grass at twilight, watching the “fairy-lights” communicate with each other. But if we capture the fireflies in a jar, in the morning we discover that we have a bottle of dead, drab insects with no resemblance to the magical beings from the night before. It’s sad and we regret it.

It is the same with our experience of spontaneous goodness. Whatever goodness we happen upon in the moment must be enough. Trying to possess more is not possible since the act of trying to hold on to or accumulate more natural goodness always destroys the magic, leaving us feeling sad and empty. This is as true in romantic relationships as it is in business, parenting or creating works of art.

Connecting with unconditional goodness is not a whitewash of our experiences, or looking at the world “through rose-coloured glasses.” If we can really be in touch with what is true, then we can see the confusion and the pain that the confusion causes very clearly. But if we do not have the light of basic goodness to illuminate what we see, we just have our thoughts, opinions, random preferences and reactions. Those projections create blind spots. The more projections and speed we generate, the less opportunities we have to recognize and connect with basic goodness. The more intense the personal drama based on scarcity, the less interest we take in ordinary magic.

We need to connect with the natural world and make a direct relationship to its unconditional nature. This is not just for our own spiritual and psychological well-being – it is for the health and future of the earth itself. There is far more at stake than our personal fulfillment as individuals.

There seems to be progressively more political chaos, more natural and unnatural disasters, more strife, warfare, environmental catastrophes, and so on. These may be manifestations of the natural and human systems becoming dangerously out of balance. As human beings, we are a part of the natural world. We cannot separate from it without destroying it and ourselves in the process. We are individually and collectively responsible for the well-being of our societies as well as the well-being of the planet that we share with other beings, plants and minerals.

Our modern societies appear to be dominated by a materialistic perspective, which is an outlook based on scarcity. The interdependent nature and balance of ecosystems are ignored in favour of looking at each element or process within the system as a commodity. Depending upon the monetary value placed on each commodity, it is exploited, preserved, ignored, destroyed or discarded. There is no inherent value placed on the totality of the system itself. This is dangerously short-sighted.

This materialistic outlook can be applied to any sphere of human activity – to marital relationships, religion, education, recreation or health – whatever we can think of is fast becoming commoditized – reduced to units that we think can be measured and assigned a value. For example, the concept of “quality time” automatically implies that some other units of time lack quality. Within this materialistic outlook, an idea like basic human goodness becomes even more challenging to grasp. From a materialistic perspective, if there is basic goodness there must also be basic badness. Otherwise we would be unable to assign a value to basic goodness. Materialism demands that there be polar opposites and a means to measure the degree of contrast between what is good and what is bad, what is desirable now and what is undesirable.

Basic goodness, however, is unconditional and therefore, cannot be measured and has no opposite. A value cannot be assigned to it. It cannot be accumulated, saved, copyrighted, patented or replicated. It cannot be leveraged, amplified, reduced, improved or altered. Since it is not a thing, it cannot be grasped or manipulated either by good people or by evil people. No one person has more of this basic nature than any other person. Therefore, there is nothing to compete for and nothing to win, lose or acquire.

Hatred, violence, war, resentment, insensitivity and exploitation come about when we are unable or unwilling to connect with unconditional goodness. When we feel inadequate we feel threatened, whether we are individuals, groups, communities or nations. We crank ourselves up to try to compensate for feeling small and helpless. Once we have created a larger-than-life version of ourselves, we feel compelled to defend and promote this contrived sense of “me,” “mine,” “us” or “ours.”

Sadly, we do this even when we know intuitively that something does not feel right. The personas that we try to inhabit are never a true fit, no matter how hard we try to squeeze into them. The problem is that we don’t know what else to do. So, we continue to pretend to be something that we are not, hoping that somehow something will change for the better. This is magical thinking in the problematic sense. Fear of inadequacy and scarcity are at the root of every conflict. It fuels arrogance and wanting to desperately stake out and defend our territory. And because that struggle is depressing, it fuels a thirst for wishful thinking, entertainment and nostalgia.

When we perceive ourselves as separate from goodness, we look for it outside of ourselves. This perceived separation from what is good is suffering. It invites the endless cycles of loss and gain / praise and blame / hope and fear, and addictions into our minds, hearts and bodies. These dramas continually play themselves out, one leading to the next, consuming the fabric of our lives. There is no real ease, no lasting satisfaction anywhere. It is just the same self-perpetuating comedy / tragedy unfolding again and again.

Do we wish to make a relationship to life as it is, or do we want to continue cycling endlessly through wishful thinking and paranoia? Are we willing to relate with life without demands and expectations limiting and obscuring our perceptions? Can we meet every aspect of life face to face and appreciate it on its own terms?

Through mindfulness practice, we can tune into who we genuinely are if we are willing to take the risk of dropping our masks and pretence, be authentic and vulnerable — gentle, brave and self-aware. In other words, we have to let basic goodness find us. If we can recognize and see through our manufactured confusion, unconditional goodness naturally begins to shine through. The confusion itself is not the problem. It’s how we regard the confusion, solidifying and perpetuating it, that’s the issue.


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