Learnings, Mali
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on abundance

there are times when absence marks you, when it feels like a great black hole you’ve tipped into. when the lack of something in your life overwhelms. it can be anything–a lack of money or appreciation, or material goods or confidence, time or love or a loved one.

You know it’s absurd to seize upon this absence, maybe even obsess over it, when the universe provides as much as it does. But there it is: you’ve got a gaping hole, and it consumes you.


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The other day I was talking with a friend about desire, and he posited that you can’t desire something you already have; having and desiring are mutually exclusive. So desire is not a great basis for relationships, since it vanishes once the relationship is attained. I’d include our relationships with ourselves in that calculation; desire keeps you yearning and striving, but never satisfied, and never present.

Sure, desire can motivate achievements, but as someone perennially affected by Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome, I wanted to brainstorm some alternatives. What can replace it? What can displace it? How do you move past desire to have a deeper relationship with your actual, right-now self?

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My friend suggested cultivating gratitude, which works for him. Meditating on his appreciation for his current state, he can mostly keep desire at bay. I threw in mindfulness, as an alternative to a state of desiring that keeps you trained on the future, on somewhere other than this place, somewhere you can imagine having the object of your desire. If i stay right here, right now, I don’t have room to be elsewhere, doing other things. Not bad, right?

In the days following our conversation, I stumbled upon another alternative to desire: abundance. That is, the cultivation and recognition of abundance in the present moment. Desire makes you constantly aware of what you lack – it’s the bitter flavor of absence, it’s the fausse piste out of the black hole. But refocusing on abundance could displace the feeling of emptiness.

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I started slow, since I’ve been sitting in this sticky tar pit of  “absence” for long enough. I started with the basics: air. If nothing else in the world, and barring extreme circumstances, I’ll never want for oxygen. Just consider all the oxygen you consume, constantly, at the pace you like, in the amount you like, however you like. Oxygen is in abundance all around, and whenever I want to tune into that, I can do it with something as simple as a deep breath.

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Next up? water. You can drink seas upon seas of water, and never (fingers crossed) will it end. Another one: smiles. You can summon smiles from dust and magic, just walking down the street. I hang a few strings of mediocre Bambara on an average greeting, and  I can stir neighbors into a giggly frenzy, and charm the footsteps out of wrinkly old skeptics on the road.

In this way, I add more and more to the list of things I hold or receive in abundance. From the physically life-giving, to the spiritually life-giving, including the generosity of friends and family, and the folds in my mosquito net, and the boxes upon boxes of macaroni and cheese that came with a recent shipment from the US.

Mopti Mali Sahel Sudo architecture traditional mud mosque

I can fill up, I can top off, I can overflow. And in that way, there is no room left for desire; it’s been pushed out.

As with so many things, the road to acknowledging abundance begins with a slow, deep breath, relishing the first step on a rich path.

What’s your relationship to desire ?

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Images include: 

Top – an aged Tuareg leather cushion cover, embroidered and discovered in a back-alley boutique;

Almost bottom – A peanut purchase in Tiele village, 3 hours southeast of Bamako;

Bottom – A beautiful mud mosque in Mopti

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