In his book, Prosperity, Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore says:
“The simple life does not imply poverty and it is not ascetic. It is as different from the austere as it is from wanton luxury. It is the natural, free, childlike mode of living, and one never really knows what true prosperity is until one comes into this simplicity and independence of spirit. The simple life is a state of consciousness. It is peace, contentment and satisfaction in the joy of living and loving.”
We often think of prosperity ONLY in terms of financial achievement or accumulation of “stuff”. Or at least, those were my initial thoughts until I dug a little deeper into teachings by Unity’s Fillmore and Eric Butterworth, as well as more contemporary authors such as Josh Becker. And yes, we are typically not hesitant about discussing prosperity in hopes that we are talking about adding to our personal storehouse of possessions and money, but we shouldn’t stop there. And maybe shouldn’t even start there!
If for a moment let’s think of poverty or lack as meaning something other than our bank account. Consider the terms “abundance” or “prosperity” as something other than a large checkbook balance. Then let’s consider what true prosperity might mean.
Prosperity is freedom. Freedom from worry and freedom from lack. Prosperity is peace, contentment and satisfaction in the joy of living and loving as Fillmore states. But how can we achieve this prosperity and this freedom?
Today we are besieged by over 5,000 promotional messages a day that come to us consciously as well as unconsciously. These come through print ads, billboards, television, social media, radio, you name it. It is hinted at that we are “less than” unless we acquire products and gizmos to make us thinner, younger, better dressed, more respected, healthier, cuter and more likely to land a mate. Unless we have whiter teeth, smell better, live in the right house, drive the right car, shop at the right stores, and wear the best skinny jeans, we can never hope to live well or be successful. Messages all around poke and prod us to live a more complicated, busy, consumer life that will never be good enough.
How can we ever hope to be successful and prosperous unless we are wearing the latest clothing fad or have the latest electronic doodad? And somehow, we end up believing it. None of us are immune. We may not need the latest and greatest, but because we believe what we hear/see, we are convinced and buy, buy, buy. We overconsume often because we are susceptible to advertising, sometimes because we are attempting to fill a need and sometimes because we are bored. It is proven that the neurotransmitter dopamine is released when we shop and acquire. Online shopping has become a hobby as well as a functional activity. There is significant research around buying habits and how to increase this activity.
Where this leaves us is NOT living the simple life Charles Fillmore envisioned. We are overwhelmed by the ownership of more and more things, still not arriving at a feeling of satisfaction with what we have and who we are. Didn’t Jesus suggest to a young man who inquired about gaining a place in Heaven that to be complete he should give up everything and follow Jesus? Well, now that sounds miserable, doesn’t it? Give away everything? Surely not. But I believe that what Jesus meant was a directive to give up the attachment to earthly possessions to achieve a higher state of consciousness achieving Heaven on earth.
In the U.S., we live in homes three times as large as families did in 1967. It is reported that we have over 300,000 items in our homes. (Who counts these things?) We find it difficult to fit cars into garages because of all the stuff stored. The home organization business is now estimated to be an $8 billion dollar per year business providing boxes, cartons and bins to store stuff which may or may not be necessary or used. But we bought it, so now we must store it. Storage unit developments are currently the fastest growing segment of commercial real estate in the U.S.—storage for our stuff that we can no longer fit into our homes and garages. Will Rogers said, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” Witty, but sometimes true.
Is this over accumulation of things a sign of prosperity as Charles Fillmore taught? I don’t believe so. I believe he spoke of prosperity as simple living, having what we need to be joyful without all the stuff that only brings us stress and anxiety. As author Josh Becker in The More of Less writes, “the payoff for living a life with less stuff isn’t just a clean house—it’s a more satisfying, more meaningful life.” He also believes that we are truly prosperous when we have the benefit of more time and energy (not buying and not storing), more available money (not buying stuff we don’t need), more generosity (we now share our abundance with others), more gratitude and freedom, as well as overall contentment.
I started down the road of reflection of “more than I need” a few years ago, first by putting into circulation items which were stored away in closets not being used. I started with one storage area and was able to “downsize” it by 75 percent and donate everything (it was all exterior winter wear) to a charity who was delighted to have it. The result? One clean closet, joy in my life and some warmer residents in central Texas. This was WAY COOL! From there I moved to another closet, then another, then the garage. And as an epilogue to this process, if I bring anything into the house now, something must depart. And all (well most) of my purchasing is mindfully done.
Do I feel lack? No. Do I feel a greater joy in circulating items which were hidden away not being used? Yes. Do I feel prosperous? Absolutely. I think Charles might even give me a high five for my progress.