The very first post I created with the "affirmations" tag is a little watercolor sign I made for myself and that I occasionally share with somebody. A while back I sent it to a mother expecting her 2nd child. A few days ago I posted it on Facebook and tagged it for a friend who is feeling stretched thin. Yesterday I needed to repeat those words: "There is enough of me. There is enough for me." Unfortunately, I didn't realize that I needed this mantra until I found myself fighting two two-year-olds for chips. Yes, I poured chips in a bowl and declared them to be "only for the grown-ups," and as soon as I said it, my inner voice was going, "really? REALLY, Jess?" but at the same time another inner voice was complaining about how the kids were going to eat all the chips and I wouldn't get any at all and I just couldn't deal without having some chips and guacamole! I NEED MY CHIPS AND GUACAMOLE!
You could say that I wasn't feeling terribly abundant in that moment.
There are themes each of us has in our lives, ideas we return to over and over again, and the idea of abundance is one of mine. Do I feel like I have enough of something (emotional or physical) to share? How can I get to a place where sharing feels possible for me? Several times in the past week, I've come back to this theme in conversations with friends, and one thing that is emerging in all of our lives right now is an idea of how the concepts of kindness and empathy are related to abundance. In order to express kindness or feel empathy, one has to be feeling full of what you're offering before you can give it away. When Patience and her kids prepare for a kindness mission, they take time first to give themselves the same kindness that they will be giving to others. When I'm feeling particularly taxed and unable to be empathetic toward my children, I know it's time to give myself some grace and allow myself to be a grumpy human, too.
What if you get stuck in a place of feeling depleted, rather than abundant? A poverty mindset sets in, a feeling of never having enough of anything. Not enough space, not enough time, not enough relaxation, not enough of your material goods. When you feel emotionally impoverished, you do not feel like you have enough of anything to share. You feel resentful of demands placed on you. You offer less of yourself, regardless of how much or how little you actually have. Sometimes this is just a passing stage. Sometimes we can be entrenched in impoverishment for a long time. Sometimes that feeling pervades a person's whole life.
Abundance is similar - it can be a fleeting feeling, an occasional practice, or a lifelong habit. When you feel abundant, you feel content with who and what and where you are. You feel free from want and able to pay attention to other people. Because you're not scrabbling to get what's yours, you have the emotional energy to notice the needs of others and provide these loving acts: meals for friends, child care, simple gifts, a smile, a compliment, a phone call.
During grad school, a classmate reprimanded me for "not being kind". While I still disagree with her perception of the "unkind" incident, part of what she was telling me was that social niceties - "being kind" - are important. While I was not being actively rude, I was not extending myself any farther than I had to. I was performing the bare minimum of social tact. I was not freely offering myself. She was right: I was not kind. Eventually I felt able to think about how infrequently I was offering more of myself than was expected - how infrequently I was being kind. Why wasn't I inspired to give more? Why didn't I even notice the opportunities for giving more? I now suspect that the answer is in family culture. Did you grow up in an atmosphere of abundance or of impoverishment? Again, I'm not talking about material goods or financial affluence. I'm talking about the attitudes in your family - was there a feeling of having what you needed and being able to share, or was there a sense of lack and stinginess? I've come to realize that my own family of origin had a "poverty story" - we were not living in actual poverty, but we very much believed that most people had more things, better stuff, greater privileges than we did. What's more, we frequently attached negative moral value to these "have-mores." Anybody who looked like they had more than we did was "rich", and to be "rich" was to be snobbish, amoral, selfish. At the same time, our family was not in the habit of serving others, and we were not (to my memory) surrounded by people for which kind acts were an everyday habit. We were scrabbling to protect our own interests rather than extending ourselves to others, and, with a childhood steeped in this sense of deprivation, emotional impoverishment became habit for me.
When we moved back to Virginia six years ago, I was coming from an extra-impoverished place - the isolation of stay-at-home motherhood without a community of other families. It was critical to me - from a thinking-of-my-family standpoint - to put down community roots in Richmond. I was fortunate enough to meet some women who belonged to loving communities, and because their community needs were being met, they were able to extend kindness to me and share friendship and support for my family. In time, through that community, I met other communities, and as time went by, I was better able to define my own needs, and meet them, and then...then! Once I felt secure in these communities, I discovered that that sense of being deprived was leaving me. And once I felt more abundant, I was able to learn from the kind people around me how to express kindness in my own way. It's still a work in progress. I still pitch battles over bowls of chips on bad days. But now my family belongs to a local culture in which it's customary to bring meals to families when a new baby is born, or somebody is sick, or the family moves to a new house, or some other situation in which it might be useful to spare them the effort of having to prepare or buy a meal themselves. I also know many people who make an effort to do kind things for both friends and strangers - small uplifting items, good deeds, sharing positive thoughts. Because these acts are happening all around us, we feel full of kindness, knowing that it will be given to us if we need it, knowing that we have enough of it to share with others. Their good deeds serve as inspiration for our own, and our acts inspire them, and so we go on fueling our community together. I am so glad that my children have a chance at growing up surrounded by this approach to the world. What can it mean, to grow to adulthood within a community that knows how copious its emotional resources are and that gladly shares them?