The Money Game 🤑
Hope you had a nice month of August even though summer seemed to be a bit too short this year. The seasons are changing just like everything else. Change is happening all around us, all the time, we can either resist it or be one with it.
The topic I want to discuss this month is money, which can be somewhat of a loaded topic, particularly for those who try to live an examined life. If you feel triggered by this topic maybe it's best that you skip reading this. All of us carry some baggage in one way or another when it comes to finance. I can share from my experience as someone trying to live a yoga compatible life that dealing with money has been a struggle and to be honest I have spent a few years in the past leaning heavily in the direction of money aversion, looking at money as a potential threat to my wellbeing and my progress on the path of yoga. I am happy to say that I have gotten much better at it but this is still a work in progress since there are clear dangers that money can bring about to a dedicated yoga practitioner.
I think most people who go through a process of sincere contemplation discover that money, as well as many others mental constructs, is nothing but an illusion. It is in essence a belief in an imaginary concept that was created in the imagination of people many years ago and has been ingrained in all members of human societies around the world. In reality there is no such thing as money, the papers or pieces of metal we use as currency or the digital data we exchange, they are all empty of any real value. They can only have value if everyone believes that they do. In opposition to that there is something like water which is a real object that exists in nature and has tremendous value to us, we need it in order to stay alive and so does almost every other species on earth.
Despite money clearly being a story that only exists in our imagination, it does have value because it is a widely shared belief that allows humans around the world to cooperate in large or small scales, exchange goods, services, ideas and much more. This genius shared story seems to be one of the main reasons that humans have been dominating the planet like no other species has ever done in history, and yet, good luck explaining what money is to an Alien.
The main internal conflict in taking part in the game of money for someone who wishes to live a happy contemplative life is that ignoring the realization that this is an illusion is not possible without deceiving one's self. The problem is that lying, or dishonesty (Satya), is a major source of psychological suffering according to all yoga traditions, and it also makes very clear sense to anyone who practices sincerely. In addition to that, allowing our metal tendencies to be hidden in the unconscious part of the mind is considered one of the biggest obstacles on the path of yoga (Avidya). This conflict needs to be resolved if one is to engage with money without compromising their spiritual progress.
Another source of internal complications is the ease in which money can trigger mental states like craving, greed, jealousy or selfishness, it can also lead us to seek status and admiration and perceive others with suspicion or resentment, we may very easily find ourselves obsessed with it. Money can be a fertile ground for these tendencies we all carry in us which can become quite a big obstacle in our yoga process.
On the other hand, the outcome of rejecting the concept of money in the current circumstances can really sabotage our life severely, maybe even to the point of putting at risk our very basic needs and survival.
I find that developing a non-harmful relationship with money for a yogi is one of the hardest things to do. Being ethical and fair, not exploiting anyone, and yet at the same time making an honest living is not at all trivial in 2023. I must say that I am not sure many people who claim to be sincere yoga practitioners have really given much thought and contemplation to this matter. I see many patterns of behavior that are clearly driven by unconscious harmful mental tendencies, and if I am completely honest I may have still some of these unresolved tendencies myself.
Here are some ideas and insights I want to share with you on how to reduce the harm that engaging with money can cause us and maybe even turn it around and get some positive effects from it:
Being conscious of mental patterns that arise when money is involved in all daily life situations. This means that we pay attention to emotions, thoughts, sensations in the body, and even the breath when we are dealing with money, whether receiving money or spending it, investing it or making financial decisions, when we discuss money with others or fantasize about it, whenever money comes into our consciousness in any capacity.
This kind of mental attitude is best developed in formal mindfulness practices such as yoga or meditation which helps later to apply in daily life.
Very important reminder: mindfulness practice must always include a non-judgmental, non-reactive attitude (Upeksha).
Focus on the quality of exchange, the give and take process that manifests in all forms of relationships. When we spend money there is giving and receiving that occur simultaneously (we give money and receive goods, services, etc.). When we receive money we can look at with the same perspective. This give and take dynamic is at the heart of every relationship on every level, from the smallest cell to the biggest planet. Money is just one expression out of many of this flow of energy which is taking place at every moment in every corner of the universe.
Shift the desire for money or wealth to living in abundance. There are things that can fill our life with deep positive value and bring us joy and fulfilment such as loving relationships, meaningful experiences, contemplative practices, spending time in nature and so on. Money can be on that list too. How do we know which of them manifest as abundance and which are just things that we possess? Abundance has an expanding quality, a sense of vastness, whereas possessions seem to be more contracted and narrow. When we experience life full of unlimited resources we tend to have a spontaneous urge to share everything of value with others. When we experience things as possessions we tend to want to hold them close and tight and protect them from others.
We can make a habit of being generous with our money even if we don't feel a genuine altruism at first. The act of giving some of our extra money with care (making sure we don't compromise financial security and our basic needs) can be a powerful antidote to attachment that most of us tend to develop around it. At the same time we want to make sure that we fully recognize the value of this money we are giving away so we are not bypassing our tendencies to cling on to it with disregard or taking it for granted. We also want to be grateful that we get a chance to share our good fortune and play some role in helping others.
I am a big fan of the Effective Altruism initiative (check it out HERE) but there are lots of ways to donate money in a way that really makes a difference and also brings a deep sense of fulfilment.
At the heart of most spiritual teachings of the East is the wisdom of the transitory nature of all things. Everything in this world is born, lives for some time and then dies. This applies to plants, mountains, people, cells, and even thoughts or sensations. Realizing this truth at the deepest level means we can enjoy things while they are there and then let them go when they're gone. It is like floating down a river on a boat enjoying the view rather than trying to grab every branch or rock along the way. Money keeps on coming and going in every moment, even when we think it is just laying there in our bank account it is actually losing value every day. Money is as impermanent as anything else and realizing that can relieve us from the tension of being afraid to lose it or the drive to get as much of it as we can.
Whatever we decide to do, whether we start paying attention to how money affects our psyche or not, we probably should remind ourselves that the yoga path is one that is focused on setting intentions and then evolving through an introspective process. Allowing space for kindness softness usually leads to a more illuminating, transformative, sustainable process. That doesn't mean that we avoid challenges or give up on making some internal changes but rather that we face whatever we need to face with the right attitude, one that leads to resolution and does not exchange one harmful pattern with another.
Always happy to hear your thoughts on this topic or any other!
May you all enjoy prosperity, peace and love!
Looking forward to sharing yoga with you in September.
With love and gratitude
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