Can money and spirituality really know each other?
This is the question that haunts some people and initiates them into deep money work. “Why can I bring mindfulness and compassion to every area of my life — from my career to my parenting to my sexuality to my nutrition practice — but money still feels like the icky, dirty, fraught exception?” they ask. If you feel like money is the “final frontier” of your conscious lifestyle, you’re in excellent company.
Other people arrive at this deep money work thanks to some big financial wake-up call (like an unexpected pregnancy, a bankruptcy, or launching a business). All they know, at the beginning, is that it’s time to learn the language of money. But maybe, after months or even years of slowly, gradually tending to their money relationship, they start to experience some of the deeper, more spiritual currents within their money relationship.
If you choose to go deeply into money as a self-care practice, you may be shocked by just how deep these waters run.
You may soon find yourself asking some profound, existential questions that go beyond the practical or even the emotional: questions about trust, gratitude, and generosity. This is the spiritual side of a money practice.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs might be, there is almost always room for contemplative or faith-based practices within a money relationship. As countless wisdom teachers from many traditions have explained, when we approach any aspect of our life with awareness, openness, and commitment to presence, it can become a genuine spiritual practice.
“The true task of spiritual life is not found in faraway places or unusual states of consciousness: it is here in the present. It asks of us a welcoming spirit to greet all that life presents to us with a wise, respectful, and kindly heart.” —Jack Kornfield
“Cultivating the capacity to be fully present—awake, attentive, and responsive—in all the different circumstances of life is the essence of spiritual practice and realization.” —John Welwood
“ ‘This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it’s always with us’ is really a most profound instruction. Just seeing what’s going on—that’s the teaching right there. We can be with what’s happening and not dissociate. Awareness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.” —Pema Chödrön
“If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives. Let us not fear the responsibilities and the inevitable distractions of the work appointed for us . . . let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere.” —Thomas Merton
“Whether we are traveling far, or just doing our daily tasks, all our actions can be sanctified by offering them to God.” —Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
With mindfulness and heart, washing the dishes can become a meditation; gardening can become a devotional practice; and even paying your bills or reconciling your accounts can become an intimate, mindful practice of bringing your fullest, most essential self into the world.
Over the years, I’ve come to rely on four essential practices to support this deeper level of money work: Trust, Generosity, Thriving, and Thankfulness. Think of them as invitations to deeper inquiry, ways to honor what is happening in your life, or simply interesting perspectives to consider and take to heart as you follow your money-and-life journey.
Many people find it incredibly challenging to trust themselves with money. Simply talking or thinking about finances might make them feel deeply unsafe. They might mistrust their own ability to effect change, the financial institutions they interact with, or even the simple possibility that everything will be OK.
If you’ve invested some time and effort into money practices, you might notice yourself building your self-trust, brick by brick. Yet you may also peel back layer after layer of beliefs and emotions, only to discover a profound substratum of mistrust.
I like to think of trust as an ingredient we can stir into our money work. Doing some practical money work, or looking at your emotional stuff around money? Stir in some trust.
If this seems challenging, take heart: you can actively work to cultivate trust.
Each time I go for a hike, I grow my trust. I tune into my body, ask, and offer up my fear, anxiety, excitement, anger, and joy to the universe. You might experience and deepen your own sense of trust through gardening, playing with your grandchildren, watching the sunset, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Some people practice meditation, prayer, or other devotional practices to cultivate trust, while others delve into great works of philosophy; you might even experience trust through dance or other movement practices.
Find whatever brings you greater connection with yourself and a sense of faith-filled wellbeing. And know: cultivating trust is deeply relevant to your money work.
There is a rhythmic, cyclical nature to life (and money). When we recognize this, we can relax into trust. We can know, with faith and certainty, that everything in life is ephemeral, and even the most challenging moments will pass.
Trust doesn’t whitewash the pain or reality of challenging situations. It infuses them with a little spaciousness and ease, so we can move through the difficult times.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” – Pema Chödrön
If you find yourself facing big challenges in your life or financial world, allow yourself to forgive, to conduct a Money Healing Ritual, or to rely on your expanding support network so you can gradually bring more and more trust into your relationship with money.
In many religious and spiritual traditions, generosity and even tithing (giving ten percent of your income to your spiritual community) are encouraged. Though these practices are sometimes controversial, I think there is a beautiful teaching at the heart of them: we should be as generous as we can with our time, energy, and, yes, money.
That “as we can” part? Is crucial.
If your generosity toward others harms yourself, it is not true generosity.
Many years ago a young man came to my hospice office to talk about a lovely charitable organization that desperately needed our financial support. My colleagues and I listened to his heartbreaking stories for a full hour, and at the end of his presentation, he passed around a clipboard, requesting we each set up an ongoing donation, to be automatically withdrawn from our paychecks. As much as I wanted to support this worthy cause, I didn’t contribute that day. At the time, I was making $11 per hour, and could barely make ends meet. I knew I simply could not afford a financial contribution at that time.
In the years since that day, my ability to make financial contributions has waxed and waned and shifted— and so have my income, values, and priorities. For many years, I donated ten percent of my business income to a different charity each month. After my son was born and money was tight, I pulled back significantly and looked for non-monetary ways to give, often donating my time or services. These days, I’m experimenting with giving in more spontaneous ways: I give to crowdfunding campaigns for friends who are sick, a family who lost their home in a fire, or to good folks kickstarting their business dreams. I continuously fine-tune and experiment with how I can be most effective and where I feel both able and good putting resources, time, and energy.
Of course, donating money isn’t the only or even primary way you can express your generosity. For many years, I donated support and mentorship to community members and gave free talks at an organization that helped lower-income women start their own businesses. My husband regularly volunteers his consulting services to creative entrepreneurs, and often donates his time driving a school bus to and from field trips at our son’s school. Members of my community practice generosity in various and eclectic ways, from offering a compassionate ear to a friend in trouble to chauffeuring the elderly to and from doctor’s visits or making sandwiches and giving them to the homeless.
In a very real and tender way, the practice of generosity points us to the profound truth of our interconnection with others and the world in which we live.
We all need to find our own balance in generosity, depending upon how resourced we are at this moment in our lives.
Self-awareness and self-compassion are essential elements of generosity.
Be generous with others and yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Regularly check in with yourself, your finances, and your connection with your concept of what is greater than yourself.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” —Simone Weil
Controversial confession time: I’m not a huge fan of the word “abundance.” Over the past twenty years or so, it has become a buzzword for anything having to do with money.
I prefer the word “thriving” to describe that incredibly powerful and essential human experience marked by dignity, joy, and resilience.
There are so many facets, levels, and subjective aspects to thriving—and, as always, they include the financial numbers yet also go far beyond them. A 2010 Princeton study found that emotional well-being for Americans increased right along with income levels, but only up to a certain point: once individuals earned $75,000 per year, further income growth showed nominal or no increase in emotional well-being.
Of course, there are a multitude of factors at play, here, from the varying costs of living in different areas to the number of dependents to support networks and on and on. Few of us can thrive when we’re worried about basic needs like food, shelter, healthcare, or surviving into old age. However, it’s rarely that simple.
Thriving looks different to everyone, and our perceptions and ability to experience it change over the course of our lives, sometimes independent of our financial reality. Many people thrive in very simple, low-income lives, thanks to wonderful community connections, devotional religious practices, or fulfilling work. On the other hand, I’ve known more than a few millionaires who struggled to take a single satisfied breath.
We all have our own pathways to thriving, including the practical, emotional, and spiritual. If you find yourself longing to thrive more, it’s worth taking this inquiry seriously. Tune into yourself and ask: What do I need to thrive? Be open to the answers that come.
You may discover that you truly need to increase your income or save up a “life happens” fund (isn’t that a nicer name than “emergency fund”?). You might be able to utterly shift your sense of well-being, at least for a time, by splurging on a great meal or dancing alone in your kitchen. We can also deepen our capacity for thriving by recognizing the gifts we already have, living within our means, and taking time to enjoy the small pleasures in life.
Be on the lookout for your personal gateways into greater thriving, however small or surprising they may be.
Ah, gratitude. It is so beautiful, so life-changing, and sometimes so challenging.
Life and money can feel—and be—so hard. Yet even on our toughest days—perhaps especially on our toughest days—we can take a few moments, take a few breaths, and shift our focus to what we are grateful for. It might be that savings fund you saved so hard for—or it might simply be this moment, sipping a cup of tea, listening to the robins chirp.
Sometimes, we can get so goal-focused, we lose sight of the beauty that’s right here, before us. Or, we can achieve one milestone (raising your credit score or paying off that debt), only to move directly into the next project, without pause.
No matter how much or how little you have in the bank, please: take the time, take a moment, take a breath, and be grateful for all that you have, all that you’ve done, and all that you are.
· · · · ·
Bring loving attention to this precious moment.
Relax into the rhythms and cycles of life . . . and money.
Bring your fullest self to your money work.
Tap into your essence, beneath the worry and mental chatter.
Cultivate your connection with truth, beauty, and goodness.
Seek opportunities for gratitude.
Feel the fullness of this moment.
Let trust in.
Honor your spirituality, with money.
When you’re on a Money Date.
During a Body Check-In.
Any time you interact with money, you can look at this level of your money practice.
It’s always there.
And you can choose to bring loving, compassionate awareness to it.
To direct it, consciously.
To make your money an expression and embodiment of your spiritual life.
And beyond that,
To make money one more reliable gateway into
Your ever-deepening spiritual awareness.
This article is adapted from an excerpt of my new book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, now available for purchase anywhere you buy books.