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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Getting and Spending

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;”

Compared to our present world, Wordsworth’s era was hardly a period we might characterize as turbulent or intensely materialistic, yet his words convey with stunning clarity a dilemma humankind has not reconciled. It is hard to be in the world and apart from it; hard to keep our focus on the values that we aspire to when we are challenged to sustain ourselves in mind, spirit and body. We may be inclined to trust in a benign universe that will provide all that we require, but we are confronted by the everyday reality of poverty and strife. However much we may wish to remove ourselves from the preoccupations of everyday life, to cease getting and spending our resources and ourselves, for most of us intervals of rest and tranquility are few and too far between.

I confess that I have difficulty transitioning between moments of quiet reflection and engagement with my surrounding and the people in my life. I crave both, but I am poorly equipped to balance one with the other. Instead, I lay waste my powers, as Wordsworth put it, and sometimes feel depleted by the effort required to honor demands on my time and presence, to say nothing of the toll it takes on my sense of peace. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this. Talking with friends and acquaintances, I hear some of the same complaint. It seems we share this in common with men and women of Wordsworth’s day.

To live in this world is to be assailed by it. It invades our shelter of solitude and intrudes on our most contemplative moments. And much of what it deposits at our doorsteps isn’t pleasant. The world demands our attention, and we spend our energies reacting to it, defending our sensibilities from the negative even as we search for ways to separate ourselves from the unceasing, overwhelming volume of unbidden input.

There are times when I have thought that perhaps the solitude of Thoreau’s cabin in the woods or the solace of a monastic community might be appealing, but I know better. That might work for some, not for me. I would miss the rough and tumble of life, the unfolding novelty of what each day brings, and I would deeply miss the company of those who enrich my life. So, I remain of this world, and accept that I am privileged to be able to escape for a walk in the woods or on the beach from time to time to reflect and reorder my priorities. To be alone is a good thing now and again. It gives me the distance to unburden my cares and reminds me of what I hold dear. Not things, or places but those who have touched me, with whom I am bound by affection and care.

In the end it isn’t the getting and spending that lays waste our powers, it is the getting and spending on what does not matter. The lesson I am reminded of during those quiet walks is this: to find yourself you must lose yourself. When the world is too much with us, let go. Let go of ourselves, our resources, our egos and our concerns. Invest everything in those around you and your powers will increase beyond your greatest expectations.

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