My hands were wet with warm soapy water as I washed the dinner pots and dishes. My mind wondered into autopilot, as it tends to do when I am doing my chores. I find washing dishes so mundane, so simple, so irritatingly boring. I begin the process grudgingly. After a few minutes, my thoughts start to change. I notice a certain peace and tranquility that comes from the process of soaking the plates and watching the balsamic stains come off. I surprise myself noticing that there is a rewarding nature of this chore that I can actually enjoy. Who knew that a mundane boring chore could cause joy? Apparently, Thich Nhat Hanh did. He was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher who taught me a great deal.
Buddhist monks know a lot about finding joy in the present moment. Their teachings emphasize the importance of the present moment. The present moment is enough. As I am not a monk myself but instead a young female attending physician, I ask myself, do I have enough? Am I enough? Is what I do every day enough?
It is quite interesting to define limits. For instance, I love coffee. I enjoy the warmth and the sweet and uplifting nature of this beverage. However, I can only have so much coffee in a day. My stomach can start hurting when I drink too many cups. I feel sad and sometimes irritated if I do not have a cup. I guess these two feelings can tell me what is enough coffee for me.
Defining limits for how much coffee to drink might be easier than defining limits in other aspects of my life. For example, human necessities like love and compassion. Do I have enough love in my life? Do I give enough love to others? I think of myself as a pretty kind and loving person. Some days I wonder, can I have or give too much love? Is there such a thing? I do not have the answers to these questions.
I also wonder how much compassion is enough. I read books that speak of compassion for our patients, compassion for our loved ones, and compassion for ourselves. I understand its importance. I regard compassion as one of my core values. However, there is the other side of the coin, compassion fatigue. There is only so much compassion I have in a day. I have a limit. I notice when I have given enough compassion to others or myself. I feel irritated when I have given away all my compassion for the day. I feel joyful when I am filled with compassion. The authors Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer did a wonderful job describing compassion fatigue using a workbook, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook.
Another is money. I used to consider money as something I needed to acquire as much of as I could. The more money, the better. Then, I came across a free online course by professor Laurie Santos. In this course, a graph showed that happiness plateaus after a $70,000 per year income. I was surprised. I started to think back to images from Maluma’s music video showing Medellin, Colombia, and its slums. Children in rags, barefoot, playing soccer, laughing, smiling. My pursuit of money has been erroneous. I do not need to make hundreds of thousands of dollars to be happy and content. I need to define what is enough money for me.
Money brings together material gains. I have also come across a book called Alfuenza by Thomas Naylor. The author describes the damages of overconsumption that afflict humans. The author explains how too much consumption can lead to disease. I have seen this firsthand in my patients. I have seen it in myself. Abundance is not where I find my happiness and joy.
Much talk has been on FOMO or the fear of missing out. I feel fear of missing out on various levels. I feel fear of missing social events. I feel fear of missing sale items at the store. I feel fear of not visiting Machu Pichu during my next vacation. I feel fear of spending enough time with my aging parents. I feel fear of not going to enough yoga classes. I feel fear of not doing enough bicep curls on arms day. If I get caught up in these fears, I find myself restless. This is why I find it so important to define limits. One yoga class per week is enough for me. What about you?
It is important to reflect on what is enough for us. This provides clarity. I can define my values. I can focus on the few things I need most and give myself time to delight in it. The hardest part is coming up with these definitions.
How do you define what is enough for you? What challenges have you come across? What awareness moments have you noticed?
Ingrid Gutierrez is a family physician.