A few years ago we were invited to a dinner party in the home of some friends who were hosting two couples from the country of Tanzania in Africa. They were as I recall spending several weeks in the United States visiting friends and acquaintances in various parts of the country. During the course of the evening one of the African gentlemen asked me why it is that Americans eat so much. The question startled me, not for its lack of validity, rather because it represented in a sense what other cultures might be observing about our own.
No doubt controlling our weight is a common struggle among many of us in our American society today. Just consider the multi-billion dollar industries which have evolved because of it from exercise equipment, gym memberships and weight loss programs people pay to join, to extreme kinds of surgeries to control excessive food consumption. But what startled me most about the man’s question was the realization that we have indeed become a society of extreme excess – not just in terms of overindulgence of food, but in other areas of our lives as well – the realization of which only an outside observer could have raised my awareness. So startled was I in fact that I found myself unable to answer the man’s question, simply shrugging it off as if I didn’t know. But inside I was thinking to myself, “Ouch!”
“The fullness of a cup equals that of the sea,” says author and poet Wendell Berry in one of his untitled poems, “unless the mind conceive of more . . . gluttonous beyond hunger, greedy for money in excess of goods. . . . And so the mind grows a big belly, a sack full of the thought of more, and the whole structure of enough, of life itself, which is never more or less than enough, falls in pieces.”
The only true remedy, as I see it, for controlling the mind from conceiving of excess, “gluttonous beyond hunger, greedy for money in excess of goods”, is gratitude. Only in gratitude do our minds become conscious of enough and satisfied that enough is enough. Then we are able to focus our energies in better ways, enabling others in need to have enough as well.