Flexible Focus #45: My Cup Runneth Over

by William Reed on March 17, 2011

In our pursuit of prosperity, we tend to take for granted the blessings that we already have in abundance. A Greek myth which made a big impression on me as a child was the story of King Midas and the Golden Touch. The King was granted a gift to his greed that whatever he touched would turn to gold, but the gift was a curse because he petrified everything and everyone he touched, turning it into a golden object devoid of life.

Gold is as perennial in our culture as greed itself. While we talk about a heart of gold, good as gold, and the Golden Age, we often find that gold can bring out the worst in human nature, from gold diggers to Goldfinger. It is often taken as a symbol of wealth, the gold standard. But it is seldom seen as a symbol of abundance. Let your helping hand be one of Kindness, not a golden touch.

Abundance in 8 areas of life

The Mandala Chart looks at wealth as part of a larger mosaic, and abundance as the experience of blessings in 8 areas of life: health, business, finances, home, society, character, learning, and leisure. What does this mean, and how is it possible to achieve such a thing?

We have seen how abundance eludes the grasp of greed. The real appreciation of what we already have begins with gratitude. All common complaints fade in the light of the Jewish proverb that, I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.

But gratitude grows into giving, and is a principle seen everywhere in nature. Japanese refer to tarai no mizu, the way water in a basin flows away from you when you try to pull it in, and comes back to you when you push it away. This is the Japanese way of describing the Law of Attraction, that givers gain. Rather than trying to hoard everything for yourself, you will find it much easier and more appealing to let go and let flow.

The Mandala Chart gives you a way to put this into practice. Take a 3×3 chart and in the center write down a compelling issue in your life from one of the 8 areas of life listed above. Use the surrounding frames to write out at least 8 ways in which you could reframe your problem by focusing on what you can give, rather than what you can get. Chances are that you can take specific actions on one or more of these ideas, and the results will surprise you, because this is the opposite approach which most of us take to solving our problems.

In business it means being more client-focused, at home it means focusing more on your family than on your self, and in self-development it means concentrating on your strengths rather than weaknesses. It means learning by teaching, giving pleasure rather than taking it, eating to 80 percent of your fill, investing instead of spending, and doing things for others without expectation of return. Abundance may be more about who you are than what you have.

A second look at the hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow in 1943 proposed a psychological theory that human beings had a hierarchy of needs, from physiological needs at the base, followed by safety needs, then the need for love/belonging, for self-esteem, and what he called self-actualization at the pinnacle, where the finer elements of human character come into expression. Maslow’s theory had a profound influence on developmental and growth psychology, as well as on the positive psychology movement which followed years later. This is not surprising, because Maslow focused his study on exemplary people and the elite of the population, rather than studying abnormal or dysfunctional states of mind.

But the premise of Maslow’s approach was that growth was linear, developmental, hierarchical, and this is fundamentally different from the premise of the Mandala Chart, which is synchronistic, serendipitous, and holistic. Grounded in the framework of Buddhist thought, the Mandala Chart sees all of these needs existing simultaneously, and expressed in each area of life. You can satisfy your stomach and your spirit, without separating them into levels of development.

A Samurai swordsman and Zen Master named Gettan who lived in 17th Century Japan said that there are three kinds of disciples: those who impart Zen to others, those who maintain the temples and shrines, and then there are the rice bags and clothes hangers. While this was no doubt a criticism of people who were disciples in name only, Zen Masters made frequent reference to the attainment of satori, or spiritual awakening, while in the performance of daily disciplines. They did not separate spiritual insight from daily life. Satori itself is sudden and serendipitous, not hierarchical and developmental.

Engaging others in the process

The quality of abundance is not something to experience in solitude. It starts with the appreciation that your cup runneth over even now, and that it gets even better when you share your blessings with others. When viewed from the 8-frame perspective of the Mandala Chart, it seems that there is no limit to the ways in which you can do this, other than the limitations you impose on your perspective.

Ask people what they think, how they feel, and in what ways you can help. Ask better questions, and engage in great conversations. Learn to engage others with interesting shifts in perspective, like a brisk tennis volley on an 8-frame court. Seek out new perspectives yourself, expert perspectives, historical perspectives, universal perspectives. Most of all, have fun with flexible focus, and watch how quickly the process catches on.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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