“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?'” – Seneca
When it comes to talking about poverty, there is a distinction to be made. The word is generally used to talk about people who don’t have much materially, but people (correctly so) have been using poverty to describe a mindset and attitude that extends much deeper than simply what you have.
Thus, there is poverty as a mindset, and poverty as a condition.
Poverty as a mindset is a factor of believing there is never enough, that you have to desperately beg and fight to get your way through the world, and that you have to desperately protect everything that you have.
The poverty that Seneca is referring to in his work is not poverty as a mindset, but poverty as a condition. The sheer fact of being willing to give up all the “riches” that you may have for a couple days at a time is an impetus for remaining in a place of not only understanding what other people go through, but it allows you to regularly refresh your perspective on material things.
It’s a dichotomy of never settling for less than the best, but also being willing and humble enough to make it through with as little as possible and not complaining.
Mark Bustos, as introduced to me by Ramit Sethi, is a barber in New York City that spends his weekends giving haircuts to homeless people on the street. And although Bustos is a barber at one of the most high class shops in town, he takes his weekends to humble give back to the community.
Contrary to the Machiavellian leanings of writings from influencers such as Robert Greene, generosity is a deeply powerful force that is able to empower people to truly make a difference. And although I don’t disagree with Greene’s work, I find that there is a dichotomy in between having an abundant and intentional mindset while also being extremely generous and open to the things around you.
The idea of practicing poverty is one that I’ve been thinking about lately, as it’s very easy to allow your means to influence the way that you live. Just as people abstain from food by fasting, or even the “technology fast” that has been increasingly popular, choosing a regular interval to fast from extraneous things helps us to remain resourceful in the way that we approach life.