"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything"”all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure "” these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important." "”Steve Jobs
We all have a personal money story which informs our relationship with our finances and how we live our lives. How our parents managed their own relationship with money is quite often how we do it, too. Our dominant story might be "There is never enough" or "I am not enough" or "Money is bad" or "I have to struggle to make it" or "Rich people are evil." All of these storylines, or whatever other personal story you might subconsciously tell yourself about money, arise out of mismanagement of the fears that shape our financial reality.
Both of my parents' sense of financial harmony and balance were hindered by a deep fear and anxiety around safety and survival, but they had very different coping strategies for their money anxiety disorder. My mother had a scarcity mindset and thought if she grabbed and held on to every dollar she would be okay. For my father, money was the root of all evil; he believed that pushing it away would free him from his pain. The sad reality is that they both blamed money for their suffering, and neither grasping at it nor pushing it away helped either of them find peace.
When I began to investigate my own story around money in my twenties and thirties, I unearthed some old, painful stories I had bought into and was carrying around with me: "Life is a struggle." "Making money is a struggle." "Unless I work hard and struggle, I will never make enough money."
When I told myself these stories, what showed up somatically was a constant struggle to breathe, with constriction in my chest, and tightness in my shoulders. This caused me to suffer from a stagnant financial flow. These symptoms of money anxiety disorder often led to even more of a primal hyper-arousal response, which is an over-amplified reaction to a real or imaginary survival threats. Habituated responses can paradoxically lead to a downward cycle of stress, anxiety, and self-perpetuated states of pain, suffering, and material and spiritual poverty.
We've all heard sayings like "On your deathbed, you won't wish you worked harder." In the end, how important will money be to you and those you love? Weigh the importance of money next to other life qualities like:
"¢ Being loved
"¢ Being generous
"¢ Taking care of yourself
In my mind, the most empowering use of money in one's livelihood is to be an agent of transformation in our lives and in the lives of others. Money, after all, is just a tool we use to get those things we need in order to live a comfortable life"”in the present and in the future. Money is currency; its intended purpose is for spending, sharing, and investing. Nothing more. Money is like air: it needs to circulate, be breathed in, and be breathed out again. If you take a deep enough breath, can you hoard oxygen? Or let it all out and simply not breathe in again? Not while living! Money is no different. And like oxygen, there is plenty of it to go around.
But you can't eat it or build a house with it. It's just one tool. Speaking of breath, notice your own breath right now. How relaxed are you about letting oxygen in and out fully without worry, struggle, or anxiety? Now imagine this is money you are breathing in and out. How much of it are you willing to let in and release?
What is your "story" around money? How much of that comes from your family history?
If we could simply learn to pause and check in about what is really going on underneath the anxiety, fear, and stress of our stories, it would become possible to make more skillful decisions about our money, both on a personal and a collective level. This is where the concept of mindfulness comes in "” a technique I have been teaching clients and students for many years. We hear a lot of talk about mindfulness practice these days.
But what exactly is it?
Mindfulness is a widely used practice in almost all spiritual paths, but it is called by different names in different traditions. It is discussed in great detail in ancient Hindu, Vedic and Buddhist texts, and also in the Christian and Jewish faiths. Since introduced here in the West in 1958 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, meditation and mindfulness has taken off as the "next big thing" in many spiritual circles. But this valuable practice is not a fad. It's not just something that you do once in a while or even once a day on a cushion, nor is it a state of mind you must attain off in a monastery.
Mindfulness provides financial clarity and balance in how we make, spend, save, and share our money. It can serve us in the most humble ways, keeping us present and calm while paying the bills, asking for a raise, creating a financial plan, and both offering or receiving generosity. It allows us healthy boundaries around money and informs how we deal with debt.
When we pay attention with compassion, mindfulness is like giving ourselves and others a great gift "” a space for our fears, sorrows, gains and losses all to be held in a peaceful, non-judgmental way. When we are mindful, we are present with gratitude; breathing in abundance and breathing out peace. We feel no need to postpone happiness until something good, ideal, or perfect happens with our financial circumstances. We can experience it now, regardless of how much money we have.
Mindfulness starts with simply being with your feelings and sensations and learning to listen to your body's somatic responses to fear and the other hindrances that impact your financial and life balance.