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.

  

Power of memorylessness

For past one week, I am plagued by the unreliable internet at my home. I have been trying to download 5.18GB update of OSX Yosemite and since the update comes directly through the App store, it is like a game of roulette when you bet on a specific number – there is only one possibility of you hitting the number and if the ball settles anywhere else, you are doomed. In this case, the update can stop abruptly at any point before hitting the 5.18GB mark and all you can do is wiggle away in pain.

yosemite

I have started calling it my screen of death. I tried to time the day guessing when is the internet appearing to be most reliable and downloading only then. I have tried pausing when speed slows down in the evening. However, the whole sequence remains as unpredictable as life. In total, I must have downloaded more than 12GB in different tries but a full successful download still eludes me.

As I was staring at this screen once again today, something hit me. I would start off happy and for the first 2GB, I wouldn’t even bother checking the progress of the download much because even if it failed, I would tell myself that I had not downloaded that much and can start over. Twice it happened that I had downloaded close to 4GB when it failed and it made me miserable because I was invested in it too much. Same thing happens when anything that you are invested heavily in life falls apart. The more invested you are (financially or emotionally), the heavier is the toll. But why should it be?

One of the points we discussed in the ‘Exploring your Deeper Consciousness’ workshop at Auroville recently was to be conscious of every moment and treat it as a separate entity without carrying the burden of past memories – simply be attentive to what is going on at that point of time. Imagine if you could start fresh every time with same energy, without correlating past failures or future anxieties. Imagine if ‘right now’ is the only thing you ever care about. Imagine the freedom. No past, no future, only the present state. How free your mind would be from unwarranted burden of memories and regrets? It would have more space for accommodating the beauty of ‘right now’. It is also called ‘Mindfulness’. Deep down in my heart, I know that is the only way to live but practice takes time 🙂

For now, I am prepared to start the download all over again even if it fails at 5.15GB (or to go for better Internet vendor!).

  

Seeing Mother’s room and Aurobindo Ashram: Pondicherry visit

21 Feb 2015. I was in Auroville for a workshop and had kept one day to roam around Pondicherry. Around midnight, my Dad messaged me that it was Mother’s birthday and one of the few days in the whole year when her quarters are open for the public. I thought it was a significant coincidence and I must avail this opportunity. To my chagrin, there were no bikes available to rent because it was a darshan day. Since 7 am, I had been trying to call bike lenders but no one had anything. Around 9 am, a scooty became available due to a last minute cancelation. Stroke of luck!

Pondicherry Ashram
Pondicherry Ashram

When I reached the Ashram at noon, a long queue filled the street. Token for half an hour slots were being handed out to people when they could come for visiting Mother’s rooms. I had to return to Auroville before dark and it seemed impossible to get a token for myself on time. So, I went away for lunch. While eating, I felt a tug to go back to the Ashram and give it another try. When I reached back, the queue had doubled. I spotted the girl with whom I had chatted before leaving for lunch, she seemed ahead in the queue. I am usually a shy person who would never do a thing like this but I saw no other option. I went to her and asked politely if I could join her and her father in the queue. I expected her to give me a look. I expected the person behind to complain. Surprisingly, neither happened. She very happily let me in. I still cannot believe how sweet she was. I chatted with her and her dad for few minutes until we got our token for 5:30-6pm. I thanked Lakshmi and went to see Sri Aurobindo’s samadhi. I wasn’t familiar with his or Mother’s work until then. So, all I can say is that I was meant to visit and pay my respect there. I liked what I saw – the peaceful ambience, the lovely flowers, the quietude and the stillness.

Lakshmi and her Dad
Lakshmi and her Dad
Pondicherry beach
Pondicherry beach

I spent sometime roaming around the beach and parks. As scheduled, I returned at 5:30 and got to see the rooms and some of Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s personal effects. I would not claim to have felt any extraordinary vibes or visions but I do feel that it was no coincidence my being there. Since then, I have come to find out more about Sri Aurobindo and my interest is piqued. Some of the people I respect have great appreciation for his philosophy, perhaps it is time for me to explore him in greater detail. Whether it was a calling or my imagination does not matter, Pondicherry visit (and overall my exploration of Auroville on which I will write separately) was a revelation to me in more than one sense. That day started another journey.

My Pondicherry shopping
My Pondicherry shopping
  

A Day at Morpheus

I have blogged about the crazy day in Chandigarh but what made that trip worthwhile was the time I got to spend at the Morpheus HQ with Sameer and Nandini. They need no introduction to the world of Indian startups but my admiration for them comes from their different values and way of working than typical VCs and mentors.

After being in touch with Sameer for over a year, he had invited me to be a part of the Morpheus Gang. At this point, I didn’t have a growing startup or anything but somewhere the values matched I guess. What sold me was their focus on entrepreneur’s happiness and not commercial success. In today’s world when the expectations to succeed are pushing great founders to the edge (so many suicide stories come to mind), Morpheus chooses to let them enjoy what they are doing. I knew I wanted to meet them in person at some point but didn’t expect to get the opportunity so soon.

During my 2-3 days stay at their home/office, I got to participate in their startup meetup, meet the core team in the accelerator and spend a lot of time with Sameer, Nandini and their lovely family (super awesome parents and a creative daughter). In this short time, I got to experience their startup philosophy, spiritual bent of mind which expands from their daughter’s progressive school to every aspect of their lifestyle and a peek into what drives them. Right from the success of their original startup to now helping a portfolio of exciting startups, they are doing what they love. In an age where VCs have become a gambling agent, it is refreshing to see their decision to move to a non-financial engagement where startups can gain from their experience without entangling in a financial give and take.

We start as takers – taking from our parents, teachers etc – then become traders – trading work for money and thats where most people stop. But we wanted to evolve to being a giver and thats what our new model focuses on,” Sameer said over a cup of Amla tea. Everything in their home gels with their nonmaterialistic approach to life. He told me how he is researching on unlocking ‘intuition’ in our minds. The conversation went from how he had found some resonance in Sri Aurobindo’s work to how he found that spirituality has lately given him more answers than science. I chit chatted about some crazy parts of my book as well and can’t wait to send him a copy when it prints. He gave me ‘The Life Divine – Sri Aurobindo‘ to read.

morpheus

Next day, he took me to the alternative education school Coveda where his daughter is studying. It is a small school that promotes learning by curiosity and practice as opposed to structured rote learning. It currently has 30 students under various age groups. There are no standards or curriculum. It is run by passionate people (most of who are parents of the kids who study here) who wanted to give their kids a chance to learn in most natural way possible. The philosophy is to help a child become what comes most naturally to her. If this wasn’t an education revolution, then I don’t know what is. To hell with all the political bullshit around ‘free education’ or ‘lets teach India’ blah blah, I wish we could embrace such methodology and be open about it. Sameer rightly pointed that such structures are most likely to flourish only in small numbers, if there would be too many students, the learning and focus on each child would diminish.

No, its not a franchise because thats again not the purpose of this school. It is being run by and for the people who truly care about their children’s learning. Whether it will ever become mainstream is perhaps not the question, but I genuinely hope that we see more of these in all cities soon. Perhaps the next education upheaval in India should not be about a product but changing the perception about education itself. It is hard to describe the ambience or feel of this quaint 5 room school, so I thought I’ll capture it in the lens.

covedapremise covedastudents covedatree covedalibrary

I think I was destined to meet them and it was a new chapter in my journey of self-exploration. I always used to wonder that ‘abhi to kuch achieve kiya hi nahi hai life me‘ but after meeting them I realized that ‘the achievement would be to not feel the need of achieving anymore’. He said that magic happens when your work aligns with your true self. I agree.

  

Stop chasing and panicking

Diary: 5 Aug, 2014

I have long lost the illusion that you control your life. Today was a great example of having that notion reinforced. When I had reached Chandigarh on 2nd, the plan was to see Kasauli on 5th. I was there with my camera and others were there, the car was there and the weather too. But plans don’t define what happens in real time. Suddenly, fever intervened and leave apart visiting Kasauli, I had to decide upon leaving back for home as soon as possible. I had no tickets but only a vague sense of desperation to reach home before things got worse.

After booking next day’s flight ticket from Delhi in a rush, I had decided to leave for Delhi with a friend by car on 5th morning. At 7am, the friend messaged that he is more feverish than me. Now, I am in Chandigarh with a flight ticket but have no way to reach Delhi first. Any travel by road takes at least 5-6 hours. Internet comes to the rescue – I got up and searched for trains. There popped up a Shatabdi at 12pm that would reach Delhi at 3:20pm. With a flight to catch at 6pm and simply no other option, this was the only way I could try. I had heard about the Delhi Metro running between the train station and airport and it was time to try it out. I took the medicines, called the cab and headed to Chandigarh station, bought a ticket for Shatabdi and sat down at the station.

But it was a different day as well (because yesterday and day before yesterday were different – more on that later). None of it made me panic. As the plans were falling apart in front of me, something in me was smiling because all this was only showing me what I already knew – you don’t control life, you can only try. And I was trying. If it worked out, good…if not, somehow I didn’t bother yet. In normal days, I would have sat there with nearly an hour and a half to go, fidgeting and grumbling but there I was, taking photographs. It wasn’t Kasauli but it was a place with its own story. I clicked many pictures and time flew by. Once on Shatabdi, I figured out next steps on how to take the Metro and then got lost into music and scenery outside the window. I still didn’t care what would happen if I miss the flight. I had no direct acquaintances in Delhi but I was still not going to think about it. I had lunch on the train (which was surprisingly good) and I had a peaceful time.

Rain at Chandigarh Startion

The guy next to me started chatting as we were about to reach Delhi and we talked about some stuff here and there. He was trying to get into Army and wondered why I had come back from US. Brief and interesting conversation. The train halted somewhere in the outer region and again, the clock was ticking by. It was getting close and although the thought of getting out and taking a cab to NDLS crossed my mind, I decided that action is not always the best course. We talked again some more. It was almost 3:40pm by the time train hit NDLS on platform 1. We got out together since he was going to take a Metro to Noida. We discovered that Metro station is all the way on the back and it meant crossing to platform number 16. There are no escalators in NDLS and we started walking again and fast. I was thankful for packing minimally as I always do. I could lift my luggage without needing anyone’s help. When we reached the Metro station, it was only 3:55pm. After parting our ways, I walked to the Airport Express line. By 4pm, I was down in the Metro station waiting for next Metro train. By 4:30pm, I was in the T3 terminal and by 4:55pm, I was outside the gate number 29B from where my flight was supposed to depart.

I sat down with a piping hot Americano at Delhi Streat (which sucked). I had made it on time against all odds or rather something had made it for me. Although I’m fairly strong and a risk taker, I used to panic enough and often in life. But it doesn’t make things better. Sometimes, it is just better to do your part and be happy with it. Kasauli didn’t happen because it is not yet time for me to see it. The railway stations and airport looked as charming to me today. Perhaps my fever had got into my head. Perhaps not.

Perhaps it is better to not try to control everything in life. Perhaps it is time to stop chasing and start catalyzing miracles. Yes, I think it was a good trip.