Center Journal

When is Enough Enough? 

Ever hear of a kōan?       It’s a puzzle presented to the Buddhist disciple to solve.  A well-known example is, “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand c lapping.”

The point of a kōan is to move the seeker beyond the analyzing to the intuitive mind and into enlightenment.

A few years ago we invited Sr Elaine Prevallet, a Sister of Loretto, to come to our motherhouse to talk to us about the radical living of the vows of obedience, celibacy and poverty, the vows that we and most other sisters make. This theme emerges in Elaine’s ministry as a spiritual guide, author, and retreat leader.  At one point in her presentation she contrasted the idea of simple living with her experience in a visit to  the dining room of a motherhouse somewhere.  By her count the sisters who lived there had 17 beverage choices –hot, cold, caffeinated, non-caf, diet, regular, and all in a variety of flavors.  The same for the chip and pretzel bin and cookie trays.

It could have been our dining room…

Her question to us:  “When is enough enough?”  A kōan.

So, was this enough?  I certainly thought so;  there certainly seemed to be something for everyone, or almost.
Who decides?
What is “enough”?
Who defines enough?
What if my preference is missing?
Does it have to do with desires and wants or is it about needs?
What’s the difference?
What’s the difference between enough and too much?
Would the quality of life – or life itself –of anyone be jeopardized in the absence of any of the choices? If there were just one item in each category?
If nothing at all were served, would that be enough?

The questions can be crazy-making but I think they are important for anyone making serious life choices.   “Enough” is a pretty universal concept that underlies everything we do:  eat, sleep, study, play, love, buy, etc., and how we answer them at any point in our lives speaks volumes about who we are.  Our values show up here – not necessarily the ones we think we have, but the ones that show up when we’re not paying attention – the real ones

For the mindful person the answer to “When is enough enough?” emerges over a life time.

A few guiding questions:
Do I need it?
Does someone somewhere pay the price for my choice?   Am I ok with that?  If the situation were reversed, would I be ok with that?
What will happen it if don’t have it?
And on and on. And on

In my work at Pace University I invite students to take the “Iron Nun Challenge” – to spend a few minutes in the evening listening for the sounds of crickets and note the date they are gone for the season.  Is this about crickets?  No really, it’s about attentiveness.  So is “when is enough enough?” Spend some time attending to the question and see what happens for you…