The art of feeling wealthy and understanding money

laotzu

Year after year, job after job, it is the same story. Whether the salary is 70K or 150K; whether the hike is 5% or 20%, one keeps complaining how she deserved more. Is there a number that makes you feel safe? Why do we have this constant feeling of being poor?

The concept of wealth is a very subjective one that I have found evolving from one definition to another over time. Feeling wealthy and empowered has very little to do with the actual bank balance (above a minimum threshold you need for basic sustenance) but more with a clear idea of your needs. When you understand your basic needs and the extra comfort buffer you wish on top of that, anything beyond it makes you feel rich. On the other hand, earning a higher amount but not being clear about these needs will never give you a sense of fullness. You will always chase a higher salary and cut extra corners. But whatever you do, you will always find yourself poorer than someone else.

When I was working in corporate America, I earned x amount but would always think before spending and always crib when yearly appraisal happened. There was always someone else to compare with. Finance guys like bankers make more, so I felt poorer. My company did not give as much bonus as my friend’s company did, so I felt poorer. All the while, I was living in a luxury apartment and saving ample amount. Still I never felt rich. Because I had extra money, I would shop more. I would buy stuff I never used. I thought buying the next expensive thing would make me feel better but it never did.

Then, I left it all and came back to India. For two years, I took no salary and spent from my savings. It sucked to spend your savings but somehow, the independence and working on my own ventures was peaceful. So, I persisted. My concept of wealth had already shifted. I was not focusing on a number but more on my happiness and independence. I had more control over my time and could spend time on things I enjoyed. This was also a kind of wealth. My persistence paid off as my business started becoming more stable and I started drawing a salary. I was no longer digging into my savings and in fact, was starting to save again. What a delight!

Last year, I crossed another aggressive business target which gave me more room to spend. But I recognized that I was falling in the same old pattern. While I was having more to spend at my discretion, I would think twice before spending and kept feeling unfull. Fortunately, I still decided to do something I had wanted to – I decided to spend 3 months in Auroville – a place that resonated with me. I knew I could afford it and I decided to go ahead with it although the orthodox Indian in me kept nagging how I was being a spendthrift.

In Auroville, as if by the hand of destiny, I got to read about Aurobindo’s philosophy on Money. It is a small booklet that compiles what Sri Aurobindo and Mother have commented on money and concept of wealth. Great, this is what I was looking for! This is what it said about Money –

“Money is indeed one of the three forces: power, wealth, sex – that have the strongest attraction for the human ego and the Asura and are most generally misheld and misused by those who retain them. The seekers or keepers of wealth are more often possessed rather than its possessors.

You must neither turn with an ascetic shrinking from the money power, the means it gives and the objects it brings, nor cherish a rajasic attachment to them or a spirit of enslaving self-indulgence in their gratifications.

The ideal Sadhaka in this kind is one who if required to live poorly can so live and no sense of want will affect him or interfere with the full inner play of the divine consciousness and if he is required to live richly, can so live and never for a moment fall into desire or attachment to his wealth or to the things that he uses or servitude to self-indulgence or a weak bondage to the habits that the possession of riches creates.

Money belongs to the one who spends it; that is an absolute law. You may pile up money, but it doesn’t belong to you until you spend it. Then you have the merit, the glory, the joy, the pleasure of spending it!

Money is not meant to generate money; money should generate an increase in production, an improvement in the conditions of life and a progress in human consciousness. This is its true use.”

So earning or desire to earn more is not at all bad but hoarding or spending for the sake of spending on material things that you do not really need causes negative energy. Earn more so that you can be empowered to do things you really wish. Buying books to enhance your knowledge of taking a course to build a skill set or spending on traveling to explore the world are all worthy causes. This is where the importance to understand your needs comes into the picture. Discussing this topic with a friend, I came to realize that I never define my needs or that of my business. By doing this, I never know how much is enough, and how much feels abundant? So, I calculated how much I need for basic needs every month and how much extra I would like to have an option of spending on things I wish to do. If my business helps me earn more than this, I am already rich! I could simply move to a place like Auroville for 3 months – affording the expenses is one big part but isn’t this availability of my time and the freedom to make this decision actually the true wealth?

No wonder, I have never felt richer in my life. More importantly, I am learning on how to spend freely on things that matter. It is as important to know where to spend as it is to understand where not to.

Sit today and understand your needs. Save for a rainy day but do not hoard. Money is an excellent medium to pursue self growth. Use it for that instead of stashing it in a bank thinking that it will help in case your children can’t build a good life for themselves. If your children are dependent on the money you are saving, you already have bigger problems in life.

  

Back to Auroville

With so many places to visit, I rarely find myself excited about revisiting what I have already seen. But the love affair that began with Auroville this February has brought me back to the Neverland – this time, for longer duration with an open-ended plan. This is the place which introduced me to Mindfulness and Consciousness. After all, Dec-Feb are the most beautiful days here with lovely breeze and lush greenery. And I have heard writers and artists hang out here often :)

As I sit quietly in my serene Guesthouse, I ponder upon the last few weeks when Chennai floods hit, chaos ensued and my trip seemed in danger of abandonment. But choices emerged as they always do and I improvised as I always do. Sometimes, it is better not to plan too much and let yourself drift. I got a fresh loaf of bread from bakery this morning and some eggs. And there are these cute looking bananas. The idea of rustic meals, minimalistic living, and just reading and writing for the heck of it excites me more than a 5-star vacation. In the end, I am here and looking forward to what this visit entails. I distinctly remember the last special visit in February. Read this Quora answer to see how I fell in love with Auroville.

I am here on a creative break after working hard over last few months. Beyond that, there is not much plan. However, I did scratch few notes for myself. And perhaps, this is meaningful for you too when/if you go on a self-exploration or a new place.

Goals:
– broaden the perspective
– feel driven and refreshed
– reinforce peace and value of meaningful relationships
– meditate, yoga, be mindful
– discover yourself, cut out the noise. Awaken the dreamer and the artist
Do’s:
– Take a bike and explore everyday
– Talk to new people everyday (use solar kitchen, Auroville units, visitor center etc)
– Eat what you like, experiment (try new things)
– Get ‘your’ time. Relish the solitude
– Be thankful for this time
Dont’s:
– Coop up in the guesthouse room
– Waste all morning sleeping
– Overwork, this is your creative break
– Let fears take over
– Be stingy
– Finishing the book is not the goal but to write freely is

A dear friend reminds that having any goals is against the idea of free flowing. So yeah, chuck the goals, let things happen :)

 

Auro1
Auro2
  

TMJ 4: 10 things I learned in 10 days of Silence and Meditation

This is the fourth post in The Meditation Journal series. You can read previous posts here.

I hear a faint bell at 4 am that signals that the day is on. I walk out in the dawn that is yet to come, clutch the blanket tightly around me and climb few stairs up to the Meditation Hall. In my assigned seat, I sit down cross legged on the meditation cushion, back straight and eyes closed. A day of Vipassana begins in that dark hall as my breathing goes slow and slower. My body rebels and so does my brain. They want to be in control as they have always been. They threaten me with aches and distraction but I know even the wildest bull can be tamed. So, I continue breathing, watching my body and observing the sensations.

10 hours of this exercise every day for 10 days – days that you spend in quiet, contemplation and a journey inward. You do not speak or communicate, you partake of a simple vegetarian meal once a day, you do not keep your phone, book or diary. You just be and observe. Perhaps, it is the first time when you really see yourself for who you are. And, this is what Vipassana is all about.

[Vishesh (special) + pashya (to see) = to observe things as they are]

It is an excruciating journey that has cured drug and cigarette addicts on one hand and scared the weak-willed away on the other. You get what you put in. At the end of 10 days at Dharamkot, Vipassana course, I came out although not with a halo but a subtle glow of self-realization. This is what I learned.

Vipassana Campus, Dharamkot
Vipassana Campus, Dharamkot

1. Experience is everything in the realms of spirituality

While we can learn how to make fire from someone else’s experience, reading about meditation can never make you an expert at it. Gautam Buddha’s achieving enlightenment does nothing to my spiritual growth. The people who have demystified the causes of human suffering can only give us a path to follow but unless I walk that path, I cannot eliminate my suffering. So, practice is the only way. While I had been reading about meditation and consciousness for some time, sitting 8-10 hours per day meditating for 10 days hammered down the concept in my mind in a way that intellectual discussions cannot.   

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha

Continue reading TMJ 4: 10 things I learned in 10 days of Silence and Meditation

  

TMJ 3: Breath counting technique of Meditation

This is the third post in The Meditation Journal series. You can read previous posts here.

I had tried Meditation previously as well. But except for sitting with a quiet mouth, this was hardly an achievement. I tried to follow random advice including focusing on a physical object or focusing on a mental vision but it simply did not work for me.

In Auroville, Partho said something interesting. He brought every point back to ‘living in the moment‘. What did it mean really?

When we say that we cannot concentrate, we are simply referring to how occupied our mind is with our past and future. But if we can bring ourselves to focus only on present moment, there would be less running around for the mind to do. The former is known as the kshipta (scatter brained) state of mind and the latter is ekagra (one-pointed). After all, through meditation, we are trying to cultivate a calm/ekagra (one-pointed) mind so that we can think in a sahaj bhaav and then move on to niruddha mind (fully arrested in concentration). The very meaning of meditating is to engage in thought or contemplation. The first step is to prepare a mental environment conducive for such an act. This is also the step where most of us fail and drop out.

src: pinterest

Having failed at my previous attempts at meditating, I decided to follow a proven meditation technique after coming back from Auroville. I read about the breath counting technique (src: David Michie’s Buddhism for busy people) and it seemed to be a good starting point. To put it simply, you sit in a comfortable posture and try counting your breaths – as many as you can. Of course, it is hardly as easy as it sounds. The trick is to focus on the breath and count it. This is the precise procedure-

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture (on ground cross legged, not necessarily padmasana, or even chair)
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Inhale and while exhaling, count your breath focusing on the tip of your nose
  4. Every time you exhale air through your nostril, you increase your count
  5. The moment you realize your thoughts have drifted away, you reset your count to zero
  6. Do this counting for two minutes or as long as you can. The goal is to count at least 10 breaths in a go

The essence of this technique is to engage your mind in the process of counting so that it is not chasing other thoughts. But after counting 3 or 4 breaths, I started thinking of my work. ‘I have to pay the phone bill’, ‘I should call my CA’, ‘I haven’t yet booked my ticket’ etc etc. ‘Oh, I was supposed to count breaths, lets start again’. You get the picture. It is hard to even count 10 breaths sincerely in the beginning. What you can do is to make the process of counting even more engaging. So like we are counting on exhaling, start saying ‘and’ as you inhale. Thus, we have given our mind something to do both on inhaling and exhaling. Good. Remember, our mind is like an energetic pet Spaniel constantly looking for a new ball to fetch. Keep it occupied so that in the next step, we can start stilling it.

My first week was hard. I barely reached 6-7 breaths at a stretch. But then, it improved. This is how my next couple of weeks were like – I would sit for a minimum of 10 minutes and be able to count breaths till 10-15 at one time.

The main challenge is to not give up. You will have a troubled time counting breaths and you seem to be getting no where. It is easy to think of discontinuing this futile exercise. I had made up my mind to sit and meditate everyday whether I reach the desired goal or not. I began with a strong will and kept at it. Don’t look for results, just show up for your practice.

It reminds me of another beautiful quote Partho told us –

The thing about habit – if you take out ‘h’, ‘a bit’ remains. If you take out ‘a’, ‘bit’ remains; if you take out ‘b’, ‘it’ still remains.

So, make it your habit. Also, I did not fuss too much over the timing or rules. I decided that I will find my way of stilling my mind. I am not a morning person and I meditate around 1:30-2 pm. Who cares? Sit at night or spend five minutes in your office chair trying to do this. Seriously, who cares? The important thing is to keep doing it instead of trying to get it right. Buddha himself has said that he doesn’t intend that people take his word on the face value. He wanted them to try the process of awakening for themselves. Meditation is an intimate experience that cannot be learned through books or blogs. And what worked for me may not work for you.

src: blog.freepeople.com

At this point, it may still not be clear what we are achieving from this. Let it be. Keep a journal of your experience. How is this little practice of meditating impacting rest of your day? It’s ok even if we are not seeing any changes. How are you feeling? Just keep a note of it. You may not realize it but you have already started the process of transformation. Keep going.

  

TMJ 2: How does Meditation help?

This is the second post in The Meditation Journal series. You can read previous posts here.


Many might think that Meditation is a fad, a new status symbol or God knows what. I mean what’s up with all those Buddha paintings and ‘zen’ talk? Why is everyone rushing to meditate these days? What do they do sitting there? For a long time, I had tried to meditate with little success. I felt a major change in my attitude towards meditation when I read actually what it is supposed to do. And, I got an answer to ‘Why should I meditate?’

I am summarizing few points from various books by David Michie on the subject of Buddhism and Meditation. So, following are not my original ideas but I can vouch for some of these after practicing Meditation over last couple of months now.

This is how Meditation helps you physically-

Stress Management

Practices around meditation identify body and mind to be a holistic system rather than separate entities. This helps you understand how controlling one’s mind (because that is what meditation is in simplistic terms) in turn, impacts the physical aspects of your body. Meditation causes breathing to slow down which decreases your blood pressure and in turn helps you relax. Do not confuse this with resting (sitting idle does not decrease the rate of your metabolism as meditation does).

When we meditate the lactate concentration in our blood also decreases by up to a third. Blood lactate level is associated with tension and high blood pressure, and the infusion of lactate in the blood produces symptoms of anxiety.

 

Meditation increases the production of endorphins on our body (same hormone released when we consume chocolate, indulge in sex etc). It causes a feel-good emotion and creates positive mind-body states.

Dr. Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School said, ‘repeated activation of the relaxation response can reverse sustained problems in the body and mend the internal wear and tear brought on by stress’.

Reducing the risk of heart diseases

One clinical trial took 103 patients suffering from coronary heart disease, and over a sixteen-week period showed that the group which practised meditation did much better than a control sample who simply received education about their condition.

Their blood pressure had reduced by 3.4 mmHg (systolic) at the end of the trial compared with an increase of 2.8 mmHg for the health education (control) group.

 

Meditation also made the heart patients physically more robust and increased their exercise tolerance. Thus, the interplay between body and mind is clearly proven otherwise how can one explain such physical improvements by a practice which is considered sedentary.

Boosting immunity

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is another powerful hormone that has been shown to increase with regular meditation (it helps in improving our immune system). Regular meditators are known to be less affected (in some cases, also got past) by allergies, flu etc.

Fighting cancer

This is my favorite and the one which I hope many people can know about.

Melatonin, produced by the pineal gland in the brain, as well as other parts of the body,has also been shown in lab studies to stimulate cells called osteoblasts that promote bone growth. Lower levels of melatonin stimulate the growth of certain types of cancer cells, while adding melatonin inhibits their growth. While we have no definitive evidence right now that meditation helps prevent breast and prostate cancer, we do know two things: that meditation boosts melatonin production, and that people with breast and prostate cancer have lower melatonin levels. Until such time as further clinical work is completed, we can’t formally join the dots—but the dots are there.

 

Some personal experiences by cancer patients have been reported where in regular meditation helped in combating the side effects of chemotherapy to the extent that the patients showed no hairloss etc.

Lowering the rate of ageing

DHEA also has another bearing with age factor. It decreases as we age. As DHEA levels plunge, ageing related problems come to the fore more strongly. DHEA has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is known to play a critical role in the development of many diseases of ageing, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and certain cancers. It prevents atrophy, dementia, depression and many other age correlated problems.
The longer we maintain higher DHEA levels, the longer we put off the many problems that accompany old age. And the practice of meditation achieves exactly this.

 

A study by Dr Robert Keith Wallace showed that those who had been practising Transcendental Meditation for over five years had a biological age twelve years younger than their chronological age.

This is how Meditation helps you psychologically-

Use of fMRI shows that brain’s circuits in the right prefrontal cortex are the most active when a person is angry, agitated or depressed. Whereas, when people are happy, energised or up-beat, activity shifts to the left prefrontal cortex.

 

A neuroscientist Dr Richard Davidson ran the test on an experienced Tibetan lama and his activity showed to be positioned on the most extreme left of the happiness spectrum. Meditation also helps keep your mind at an even keel and preventing mood swings.

Meditation is closely linked to Mindfulness which means paying attention on the present moment. By doing this, we prevent our mind from living in past or future, pain or anxiety and thereby spending unnecessary energies on these. This is an extremely difficult thing to practice but can be miraculous in long run. Practicing mindfulness and consciousness also leads to reduction of negative thoughts and depression.

MRI images of the brain of a novice meditator show signs of pain nearly disappear (source: Robert Coghill/Wake Forest University School of Medicine)

 

I wrote this answer originally on Quora.