Having been in, and around, the world of clergy, ministers, missionaries, monks, nuns…etc. for most of my life, the idea of self-sacrifice, poverty and suffering as the path to a spiritual life, was proffered constantly. Guilt for wanting nice things; comforts, beauty, and time for one’s self, was the order of the day. So many of my good friends and colleagues won’t even talk about their desires for material possessions because they feel that this is somehow wrong. I used to be one of these too. At one point in my life, I gave all of my worldly goods away and went to work, and live, in the poorest region of the United States. My car barely ran, I owned one pair of pants and a few t-shirts. I lived in a house with fleas and plastic where a wall should have been. I don’t think it made me more spiritual. I don’t think that I was more helpful to people. It was just what missionaries did.
The thought in these circles is often, “Why should we have anything when so many are going without?” My question over the last 10 years has been, “How can we teach others that they can do, be and have anything that they want to accomplish in this lifetime, by a policy of self-deprivation?” So often, examples of great people who changed the world by embracing poverty, like Gandhi, (who without a doubt did) would be cited as the way to live, and yet, Sarojini Naidu is said to have remarked, “It took a lot of money to keep Gandhi in poverty.”
We came here in bodies, that like soft, warm clothing, with eyes that can see beauty, taste buds that can appreciate wonderful food, bodies that have the capacity to love sexual experience and can appreciate rare and fine incense and perfume, minds that love great literature and books. Was the way that we were created a mistake? or one big test to be resisted? That does not seem like the plan of a loving God/Universal Spirit to me. We are all different and have uniquely individual tastes and preferences for housing, cars, work, dress, worship….some find a very simple dwelling and no technology best for them. Others want elaborate furnishings and every gadget ever made to accompany them on their chosen path. How can we say what is right or wrong for someone else? There is no virtue in poverty or in living an inauthentic life. I am more helpful to others when I am living from my true center.
“It is quite a mistake to suppose that we must restrict and stint ourselves in order to develop power or usefulness. This is to form the conception of Divine Power as so limited that the best use we can make of it is by a policy of self-starvation, whether material or mental.” (pp. 90 The Hidden Power, Thomas Troward)