If there’s one thing that’s hard about living in this dualistic world, it’s swinging from one wrong side of something to the other wrong side. So often, we slingshot from one side of a pendulum, where we are inadvertently living in distortion, over to the opposite extreme where all we’ve found, unfortunately, is the other side of our distortion.
But such is the motion that’s typically followed—and in many cases, even necessary—to eventually bring ourselves to center, where reality happens. That’s where we learn to let go of the edges and negotiate the middle way.
REBELLING VS. CONFORMING: WHICH IS RIGHT?
An example of this lies in our reaction to living according to what others think. On one pole, we can fly in the face of society and embrace our rebellious spirit: whatever they want, we want the opposite. We expect that our behavior will create a flap and most likely it does. Oddly, this makes us happy.
Flip this over and we turn into conformists, aligning ourselves with what’s expected and therefore expecting to be approved of. When the waters remain unruffled, we feel content. Pay no mind to what we want: if they’re happy, we’re happy.
In both cases, we’re beholden to “the other.” As such, we have lost our way. Neither strategy is free and no one adopting either method is truly content. Even if our attitudes and actions are actually in agreement with our own inner selves, when we’re coming from a place of either rebelling or conforming, we aren’t living from our true self, with true autonomy.
As the Guide points out in the lecture about the importance of forming independent opinions, we are better served holding a wrong opinion we have come to honestly through our own searching and exploring, than to hold an opinion that aligns more with truth but which we have borrowed from somewhere else. In short, we have to listen for the beat of our own drummer until we recognized its cadence as being our own.
A SLAVE TO MONEY VS A SLAVE TO FRUGALITY: WHICH IS BETTER?
Another place we can easily get tripped up in this regard is around money. In her autobiographical book Meet the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth Willard Thames chronicles her journey toward financial freedom by embracing a lifestyle of severe frugality. Along the way, she sees the light about the pointlessness of her unyielding perfectionism and her long-held belief that her value as a person is tied to her application of make-up.
She realizes that she has chased happiness by regularly rewarding herself for her accomplishments with material purchases, and that this simply doesn’t do the trick in finding inner peace. Bravo for her and her unfolding awareness. But what she doesn’t come around on seeing is more concerning. Like that her competitive spirit toward life—which is a huge blinking light that her ego is running the show and has never heard of either a deeper or higher self to connect with—is only magnified by approaching frugality with a dazzling display of competitive thriftiness.
The author launches herself into a life of extreme measures to save money, meaning she is now still a slave to money, just looking at it from the opposite shore.
She doesn’t check in with her true self and find a willing navigator. Instead, she and her husband build monster spreadsheets so they can analyze every major purchase to death and thereby assure themselves that they are beating the system. But the system was never stacked against them, as she posits. The system is perfectly happy with them spending money on things they enjoy, especially if that gives them space to more fully enjoy the things in life that actually do give them real satisfaction. The system is also fine with them squirreling away mightily for an early retirement, if that’s what they want, by living an austere life.
But rather than uncovering why they have pitched themselves into creating a life devoid of meaning but full of spending, the author launches herself into a life of extreme measures to save money, meaning she is now still a slave to money, just looking at it from the opposite shore.
FINDING THE MIDDLE WAY
Thing is, money was never the problem. The issue lay in her incessant push to find happiness by following the dictates of a consumer-oriented society she claims had such a tight hold on her. In truth, the tightness was within her along, as evidenced by her self-admitted tight-fisted approach to life that allowed not a smidge of letting go and letting God. Her god then became her ability to pinch pennies, making her a convert to nothing more than the other side of a wildly and fanatically swinging pendulum.
Once again it must be said that the real problem is within. Always, always, always, it’s within. And so is the solution. Yes, we will see evidence of our inner work outside ourselves, but the problem simply can’t be solved out there. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace a frugal way of living. There’s nothing wrong with saving our way to a freer future, if that’s what we want, and realizing how short-lived are the satisfactions of material gains. And as the Guide points out, we should all work to avoid the currently accepted trend of living on deficit.
But before we run away to a homestead in the wilderness of Vermont, we would be better served to inquire within about why we have found ourselves tethered to a cubicle we abhor. What beliefs or series of decisions caused us to walk through this doorway into a career that doesn’t serve our higher good? Where inside have we lost the real connection, the tether to our deeper soul that guides us?
LIVING IN TRUTH
The real work always runs deep. It asks us to see where we are in error. For whenever we are not in harmony, we are not in truth.
The real work always runs deep. It asks us to sit in uncomfortable feelings. It asks for honesty and a willingness to sit with the naked truth of our wanting while we wait for something new to arise. It asks us to see where we are in error. For whenever we are not in harmony, we are not in truth.
In reading reviews for the book about Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwood, I couldn’t help but notice the number of negative reviews by the people who felt duped by the author. Sure she saved the beans out of her money, and sure she came to her frugal ways through an honest exploration of what was truly important to her. But the fact that her husband was earning well over $200k a year was not disclosed, and that’s an error of omission that once exposed makes her whole story far less credible.
This simple disclosure doesn’t undo all her realizations about herself, or debunk her methods for living a less expensive life by embracing the DIY trend or buying things second-hand. But it does unmask her claim that a seemingly average couple can reach financial independence through frugality.
Finding and living the middle way is not easy. It forces us to face all our shortcomings and live with integrity. But living a lie is always way worse.
FINDING GOLD: The Search for Our Own Precious Self
Chapter 3: The Importance of Forming Independent Opinions