May 9, 2008

Chisoku – Contentment

I wanted to write something about this as the last post was about desire and achieving goals. So often I compare myself to other people and find myself coming up short. So and so has more money and if I had what he has, I’d be happy. Or I wish I had her job, or I wish I had more time to --------.

There was a story about two neighbors. One had a beautiful yard, green lawn, trimmed bushes, and flowering fruit trees. The other’s yard was overgrown with dandelions, leaves unraked from last year and wild branches everywhere. The unkempt neighbor said to his friend, “I want a yard just like my neighbor’s.” His friend responded, “Jim, if you had a yard like your neighbor’s, in six months time, your yard will look exactly the same as the yard you have now.”

I have found two ways to deal with this coming up short feeling. Get to work to change yourself or want what you already have. The last post was about working to get what you want, but I’d like write some more about wanting what you already have. You can also read here about how much is enough.

In our society it is not easy to be satisfied with what we have. 6-7,000 advertising messages a day exhort us to want more, be more, buy more. The consumer economy only works as long as everyone keeps on buying more and more. We are richest country on earth, so much so that overeating is a major problem. We have the largest houses in the world, and yet 1 in every 10 rents additional storage space for their stuff.

When we moved from Seattle to Portland we bought a smaller home and people asked us why when we could afford a larger one. Because we have no need of a larger home. My sister just bought an 800 sq. ft. home for herself, her husband and daughter. They will be moving from a 2400 sq.ft home to one a third the size.

With the economy tanking, smaller more fuel efficient cars are rising in popularity as well as an environmental consciousness to leave a smaller carbon footprint to stop global warming. Publications such as Real Simple and the Tightwad Gazette feed into these trends.

Rikyu said, “There is shelter enough if it keeps the rain off, and food enough when it staves off hunger. We draw water, gather firewood, boil the water and make tea.” (from the Nampuroku) and “Tea should not be an exhibition of what the tea man owns. Instead the sincerity of his heart should be expressed.” (from Rikyu’s 100 poems)

The Japanese kanji for contentment is made up of two characters: chi soku, literally to know sufficiency. Nobody can tell us how much is enough. If we rely on external sources to tell us, there will never be enough. There will always be something more that we do not have. Only we know what it is in our lives to know sufficiency. It comes from inside us. It comes from appreciating what we already have, from knowing what is really important to us, and deciding what we can live without.


  1. This is so beautiful and profound. Thank you.

  2. Welcome chamekke to the SweetPersimmon blog. I hope you will return often and comment.


  3. This is a lovely post. I'm wondering if "chisoku" also translates as "speed or progress"? (I also e-mailed you about this.) I'm looking for a Japanese word that means "calm, flowing, agile, productive speed," and "chisoku" seems to be a possibility -- but I'm not sure if I'm translating it right. I appreciate any advice you can give me. -Jocelyn Davis