…the sage, traveling all day, does not lose sight of his baggage. Though there are beautiful things to be seen, he remains unattached and calm.”— Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching (Feng and English translation)
If we’re on a quest for spiritual self-transformation, we need to give our best attention to how we are with money because it’s one of the keys to a big part of our human nature. A human being, according to the great spiritual teachings of the world has two natures or aspects: a side that is meant to be engaged in the activity in the world, making and doing…the other side has to do with the spiritual, the transcendent . . . We are called on to find the relationship between these two opposing parts of ourselves and to develop the kind of awareness that relates each to the other in a harmonious way. –Jacob Needleman in Personal Transformation Winter 2000
I have this habit of overcoming challenges, doing a lot of research, and then sharing what I’ve found with the world. I did this 15 or so years ago when I got out of debt and started thinking about the role of personal finance in my life and my so-called consciousness. I still firmly believe that you need to “do money” or money will do you. I need to think about money so that money concerns don’t affect my health, my relationships, and my ability to learn more.
Versions of this article appeared in magazines over a decade ago. (BTW magazines are these paper objects with articles and photographs that people read.) The articles appeared in New Age magazines. Yes, they were written when my crystals still smelled of patchouli. But I still stand by a lot of what I wrote, specifically these three steps:
- Watch –your financial patterns without judgement
- Build–a base by eliminating debt and thinking about your life purpose
- Move–invest and find work that you love
I am not a financial expert. Consider me more your financial cheerleader (or coach if you don’t like facial hair on cheerleaders.) Check out the storef or helpful books and specific resources.
Mind, Body, Wallet: Money and the Journey
Eighteen years ago I was at the base of Table Rock, a gorgeous mountain in the Southern Appalachians. I was at the basecamp of the North Carolina Outward Bound School to learn how to become an Outward Bound instructor. I wanted to sharpen my wilderness skills and share my love of the wilderness with others.
Unfortunately, I was lost in a financial wilderness. On top of student loan and credit card debt, I had paid for my Outward Bound apprenticeship with even more credit card debt. More and more, instead of admiring the mountain laurel and tulip poplars around me, I became obsessed with thickets of debt. One beautiful misty morning was marred by a call from a lawyer from the collection agency. I felt horrible, but that day I decided I had to master the issue of money in my life.
Many years later, I’ve continued to make peace with the issue of money in my life and realize that the practical is the root of the spiritual. Even in the most spiritual of journeys you have to deal with what may seem like “baggage.” A Zen student may practice being in the present by washing dishes. A Christian monk may connect with God while tilling the soil of a garden. Dealing with practical details is not “dirty.” It is part of the journey.
Dealing with the issue of money in your life is an act of connection — a mind, body wallet connection. In their book, Your Money or Your Life,Vicki Robbins and Joe Dominguez explain that money actually represents life energy. The money that flows in and out of your life represents the life energy you’ve expended to create it. Learning to master the flow of money allows you to treasure the energy of your life.
The idea of preserving and cultivating life energy has been an ancient pursuit. The principles that these seekers discovered can help us deal with the idea of money’s flow. For example, at my Tai Chi Chuan Center there are three internal arts that help people deal with their flow of chi, the Chinese word for life energy. Each art works in a different way.
Each one corresponds to the principles of Watch, Build, and Move. Meditation stills the mind and body and allows energy to flow by unattached watching. Nei Kung, a series of alignment and breathing exercises, builds a better vessel for chi. Tai Chi cultivates chi for health and self-defense through movement. Over time, these practices have helped to transform my body and allowed me to tap into more creativity and energy. Even if you do not study the internal arts, using the principles of Watch, Build, Move in your thinking will allow you to transform your financial body into one that brings peace and welcomes abundance.
In meditation, you learn to return to your center through unattached watching. If an annoying or exciting thought interrupts your breathing or meditation, you don’t fight it. You watch it and let it pass. Over time, meditation lets you be less controlled by old thought patterns. You can be more present, more creative.
You can also watch your financial patterns. In the spirit of meditation, it is better not to be judgmental or critical of your spending patterns. Keep a spending journal. Write down everything thing that you spend. Write down whether you’re spending based on a Need, a Want, or Insecurity. Use “N,” “W,” or “I” for short. Don’t spend too much time on this. A money journal should only take three minutes a day. Don’t beat yourself up. As you begin to see your patterns, you will be less controlled by them.
I kept a money journal for four years. In the first year, I began to see that I was spending $30/month on ice cream. This was mainly an insecurity purchase, a purchase made because I was lonely, bored, frustrated, or stressed out. As I began to see this pattern over and over, I became tired of it. Now I have an extra $30 of accrued life energy that I can use to develop myself, to give to a life-giving cause, or simply to invest for the future.
Build a mental and financial base for financial growth, and understand that it is part of a spiritual base. The world’s most beautiful temples stayed that way because someone thought about creating a solid base. The more solid your base, the more you can grow in the future. Some of my recommendations for building a solid vessel are:
• Connect with dreams and life purpose:
Connecting with what excites you about life gives you a motivation to deal with the flow of your money. Saving money to save money is boring. Saving money to move your life forward and to respect the energy of the earth is energizing.
• Eliminate little and big addictions:
I define an addiction as an activity or substance that you use in order to avoid feelings. Addictions, large and small, cost energy, time, and money. Furthermore, they sidetrack us from our center. As Shakti Gawain explains in Creating True Prosperity: “Our addictions are ways we unconsciously try to feel the emptiness we feel inside. This emptiness can only be filled by the things we truly need, such as a deep connection to our spiritual source, a close relationship with the natural world, loving contact with other humans…In order to fill those needs, we must allow ourselves to heal them.”
• See paying off debt as empowerment:
Paying off debts, and not accumulating them again, is one of the best investments you could make. As I learned in the wilderness of North Carolina, debt is a spiritual as well as a financial drain.
• Watch for little leaks
Little leaks can lead to hemorrhage. Keep your eye on ATM fees, bank fees, late charges, service charges.
• Create a freedom day fund
Many advisers suggest creating an emergency fund. This is a negative fund because it’s based on what can happen to you. Create a fund for what you want to make happen.
As you still your financial patterns and build a base for financial prosperity, it is also important to keep your money flowing. This means that you invest and reinvest your money, but it also means that you move forward with your life, taking daily small steps towards personal transformation. Tai Chi has taught me the following lessons about the principle of Moving:
• Move consistently, move slowly
Tai Chi is done slowly, yet this generates great energy. Invest your money consistently. Invest a regular amount every month by having it automatically deducted from your account. Read Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson for more technical advice.
• Play — explore your creativity
Play and journal writing has a magical effect on your ability to generate ideas for business or artistic endeavors. Take a small risk every day. It will prepare you for better and bigger endeavors.
• “Fifteen minutes”
Our Tai Chi master encourages us to take at least 15 minutes to practice the form. Take 15 minutes each day to do something that will bring you closer to an unrealized dream. You will find that you enjoy the process.
• Move from the center:
As you master the tools of money, remember that it is just a tool. Keep your life purpose and dream in focus. Making money to make money is not very interesting.
The Taoists understood that dealing with the practical is an essential part of connecting with the spirit and mind. When sped up, Tai Chi is actually the basis of a very lethal self-defense form. Tai Chi was developed by Taoists who wanted to protect themselves during a violent period in Chinese history. At the same time, Tai Chi helps to cultivate health and peace.
Making peace with and mastering the issue of money in your life is an integral part of your spiritual journey. “The sage, traveling all day, does not lose sight of his baggage.” Watch, build, move. Clear the financial thickets and see the beautiful mountains around you.