Do you tend to be a glass half-full, or a glass half-empty kind of person? We each have a history, lessons we’ve learned early and of late about what we might expect from life. What’s fascinating is that we don’t see the world so much as it is; we see it as we are. Is the glass half full or half empty? It depends on the perspective we’ve developed.
A man named BJ Miller was electrocuted in a freak accident one night in the early 90’s when he was a college student. He subsequently lost both of his legs just below each knee, and also one of his arms. He had every reason to feel sorry for himself, to hide from the world’s assessments that seemed to label him either “broken” or “defective.”
It was a whole year before he could return to college. When he did he took an Art History class, in which he unexpectedly discovered a whole new way of understanding his experience. In the darkness, as the students studied slides of ancient sculptures, Miller noticed that almost all had missing limbs, just like him. And yet they were considered priceless works of beauty. Miller slowly began to see himself in the sculptures. Unlike his subtle, internalized thoughts that he was now deformed and in need of fixing, he began to see himself as complete and ok just as he was.
Eventually Miller began to believe that every person is somewhere on a continuum between original wholeness and new and different abilities. In an interview with Miller in the NYTimes magazine, journalist Jon Mooallem writes:
“Miller refused, for example, to let himself believe that his life was extra difficult now, only uniquely difficult, as all lives are. He resolved to think of his suffering as simply a “variation on a theme we all deal with—to be human is really hard,” [Miller] says. ... As a disabled person, he was getting all kinds of signals that he was different and separated from everyone else. But he worked hard to see himself as merely sitting somewhere on a continuum between the man on his deathbed and the woman who misplaced her car keys, to let his accident heighten his connectedness to others, instead of isolating him. This was the only way, he thought, to keep from hating his injuries and, by extension, himself.”
If anyone ever got a coupon from Life that said, “Go ahead and mope. It’s ok to feel sorry for yourself,” it might be BJ Miller. But that’s not what he did. Inspired by great art, he applied to medical school and eventually became a doctor who specializes in palliative care. He’s the director of a hospice that specializes in helping people live their fullest life till the very end.
Abundance is not about believing in a prosperity gospel that says that if you believe or think the right things then you’ll have more as proof of your worthiness. Abundance also is not about having what you want. It’s about wanting what you have, savoring it, and making the most of it. Abundance is reinforcement that teaches us that when we live our life with this mindset, we dwell in the realm of possibility. Not “pie in the sky, wouldn’t it be lovely, if only possibility.” But rather the kind of possibility that’s a rich, fertile ground that produces more than enough nutritious food, and building and clothing material for everyone if we tend that ground with determination and love.
When we pay attention to abundance, it can lead us to feelings of gratitude and a sense of our inextricable interconnection with everyone and everything else. When we give or share out of a sense of abundance, it can lead to a great sense of well-being and happiness. In this practice we might discover what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our “Interbeing,” and UUs talk about in our 7th principle as “Interdependence.”