A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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From the New Age to the New Economy

Trinket cart, Jodphur, Rajasthan, India

I get my best ideas in the shower and this morning as I lathered up, my mind was adrift in thoughts about marketing.

In our modern marketplace with instant access to information, it’s not always easy to set oneself apart. (For more on this topic read the wonderful Trust Agents by super-blogger Chris Brogan and wunderkind Julien Smith.)

I’m in the process of writing a marketing campaign for a client in a very competitive industry. I’ve been immersed in market research, which yesterday included a conversation with one of her referral partners, a residential real estate broker. An astute business woman, she told me that the most important criterion for referring her customers to my client over one of her many competitors, besides doing an expert job, is that she thank their mutual clients for the business.

I called my realtor friend, not only because she is highly respected in her field, but she is successful and has surrounded herself with other successful professionals. In an industry that has lost its shirt in the past several years, my friend is busy, productive and still getting referrals. Sure her income is down, but she’s personally thriving and she’s still in business, unlike legions of others in our state who have returned their broker’s licenses since the market crash of 2007-2008.

I truly feel that the simple and humble attitude of gratitude is what will continue to set apart the haves from the have-nots in our New Economy. Gone is the heyday of our collective trust in the impersonal corporation. Hello to the age of personalizing business through the Internet, where there is nothing to hide. Of course that’s what social media is all about. And the social media craze has so much to teach us about good old-fashioned values like gratitude, love, staying connected and reaching out with community service.

I’ve got to run, but stay tuned for more ideas on how to infuse your life and your business with more gratitude. This is a wide open topic, a New Economy babe being swaddled in the arms of  its New Age mama.



What’s faith got to do with abundance?

Artisan village children, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

I offer this story in the hope that generosity begins to take hold, one small act at a time, during this era of questioning and searching in our worldwide economic crisis.

No matter what one thinks of the new age lexicon that has made beautiful, simple concepts like abundance, gratitude, and prosperity into the war cry of the entitled, the fact is that there are two types of people in the world: those who are genuinely grateful for what they have and those who haven’t a clue about gratitude. And if we take just a moment to reflect on our own experience, we might be surprised to see how closely our attitudes and our circumstances line up. A recent experience illustrates.

In my work as a Spiritual Companion, I meet people from many walks of life. I listen to many and some folks come to me for readings. Most want advice about how to negotiate issues that threaten their security—financial livelihood, relationships and health.

A new client—I’ll call her Jane—recently contacted me for a reading. She described her situation as urgent and I agreed to see her on short notice. A beautiful, intelligent and articulate woman, her issue revolved around her job, a temporary position that had already run half its course. Although she worked in an exciting and challenging field, she complained of being unhappy, unheard and disrespected in her work. She also expressed concern about her precarious financial situation.

We discussed her fear about even being able to pay for my services. Regarding the lovely, sweet and capable figure before me, I saw no reason to worry about being paid, however. I told her that for now I would accept whatever payment she could afford. She agreed and we scheduled a reading for the next day.

We spent an hour and a half together, and afterwards Jane asked me if she could pay me the next day, which happened to be payday for her. I agreed and she went on her way. The following day arrived, and although she stopped by for a cup of tea, no payment was forthcoming.

I did, however, receive a check later that day. Another client, Sandra (also a pseudonym), a successful business woman, had sent me approximately the same amount as my normal fee for a reading. In a lovely note, she stated that there was no reason for the payment; she simply wanted to express her gratitude.

I couldn’t help notice the juxtaposition between the attitudes of Jane and Sandra.

Now I’m not going to use a magical New Age argument about causation that has me gazing into my crystal ball to determine the monetary flow around my business arrangements. I would like, however, to point out a number of observations

In the trio of players in my story, Jane has not yet discovered the secrets of generosity. Sandra has mastered them. I have lately noticed my own financial steamship turning in a positive direction while working with these principles.

In the Buddhist tradition that I follow, Greed–the idea that I cling to what I have or chase external things to make me happy—is a form of negative thinking that leads to suffering. Along with Anger, it is one of the most pressing problems of our times. Although the newspapers report daily on the greed of a few at the top of the financial food chain, when we truly examine our motives we can see that we all suffer from clinging and chasing behavior. In fact, since the economic downtown, every one of us can understand suffering from the kind of unhappiness that has us holding tightly to what we have. The economists even measure it in an index and report it on morning radio news programs.

What to do? Should we try harder to maintain our secure status in the world of work, real estate, retirement accounts? Should we spend less money in an attempt to protect our comfortable lifestyles? And what about the poor souls who have already lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings?

The answer we seek is simple, even while it rubs against the grain of everything we have practiced, everything we hear, and everything we have been enculturated to believe. The answer is to practice Faith.

By faith I mean, not religious blind faith, but rather faith in our own good thinking. This is faith in the innate human ability to program one’s actions with intentions that are basically good. While this is not something most of us were taught, economic times are ripe to try something as new and radical as this ancient Eastern idea.

Now, before you begin the rationalist eye roll and toss my argument into the dumpster labeled “Tired New Age Thought,” think this through: reacting to a perception of lack in one’s life, focusing on it, nurturing it, coddling it, surely keeps it alive. Our focused attention is essentially the computer program that runs this machine called the human body. Focusing on more positive thoughts of abundance, generosity and prosperity, consciously or unconsciously programs our thoughts to encourage prosperity-producing actions.

Back to my example above: who are the winners and losers in my story?

For myself, I performed an act of generosity when I offered Jane the reading, knowing that she has limited funds. I also exercised faith in my ability to make a living while occasionally offering my services gratis to those in need. Indeed, the money for my time and effort arrived from an unknown source. It took a second act of generosity to apply those funds to a person in need.

For Sandra, who has been working with these principles for some time, she has come to realize that when she feels gratitude and performs generosity, she consistently makes choices that bring her the financial success that she needs.

Put another way by the Tibetan teacher Tulku Lama Lobsang on a recent visit to Portland, “Thinking ‘give’ makes you happy because when you say it, you feel that you have it. Likewise, if I think ‘take’, it’s because I don’t have it.”

That’s how it feels. And how it feels is exactly how we program our unconscious.

Our third person, Jane, has unfortunately found herself in a difficult spiral. Unable to honor her agreement to pay me whatever she could afford for my services, there naturally occurred a rift or coolness in our acquaintance. No longer trusting her as a person who keeps her agreements, I am not inclined to offer her further services at this time. Instead, generously offering whatever was in her means, even if just a dollar, would have built good will between us. I would have had the chance to share with her the little miracle of the unknown benefactress who had paid her way. This could have further added to her faith that when we intend to help others, people naturally step in to contribute. Unable to see and understand the suffering that her own greed causes, she has missed an opportunity to step one foot out of a dire financial predicament. Luckily life will offer her many more opportunities.





Everything is temporary

Fall leavesWell, I’m back, and astonished to see my last post dated exactly a year ago today. I took a yearlong hiatus to earn some money and find a more secure financial footing in the world, something an avowed mystic must do if she is to keep body and soul bound as one. St.Theresa of Avila called it “peeling potatoes.”

Indeed, after deciding to heal my precarious relationship to money, I registered with my neighborhood temp agency, took the first job offered, and that’s how I came to work in the banking industry. Where else to learn about money than at the bank?

Although I was unclear about the nature of my money ills, a year at the Big Bank clarified my issue. Like a long course of radiation and chemo-therapy, the stultifying routine and dearth of beauty, sweetness and light killed-off my creative urge and left me too exhausted at night to pen blog posts.

I left my job several weeks ago and the charred stubble of my creativity is now happily sprouting new life, for I learned an awful lot this past year that I’d like to share.

The main insight of my 300 days as a temporary worker came on my first day on the job. I arrived at the massive suburban office complex on that dark fall morning only to discover that I would be working in a department called “Subordinations.” The term refers to a legal maneuver that enables borrowers to refinance a first mortgage while leaving their second mortgage in junior position on the deed. Not being familiar with banking jargon, I assumed I was there to get my ego kicked to within an inch of its life.

Bring it on, I prayed, let’s get this over with.

My friend Jane, herself a freelancer, reminded me this morning why I took a job at the wrong end of my pay scale and ostensibly beneath my skill level. As I sat nursing my cup of tea she bemoaned the dearth of decent part time jobs to tide her over the holidays. “Why should I take a job that pays $13 an hour?” she whined.

Having just quit one of those jobs, I had the answer: because it shakes you out of your routine and destroys the sense of entitlement that prevents one from understanding the value of a day’s work.

I’m not saying I liked it. I did not like accounting to someone else for every minute of the day. I resisted following instructions. I rebelled against the rules and regulations that constitute banking “compliance.” I detested the lack of privacy, the fluorescent lights, the vending machines, and being chained to my computer forty hours a week. But it was the slap in the face that I needed.

I did, in fact, come to enjoy the process of getting up every morning, moving in rhythm with the bulk of humanity. I learned to appreciate the small joys, a smile from a coworker, or the discovery of a more efficient route home during rush hour. And it felt so good just to relax and learn, even mundane things like a new computer skill or technique for cutting through HR red tape. I even learned to touch-type, a class I’d eschewed in high school because of the big plans I’d made for myself.

At the bank I made it my mission, each day, to be open to whatever happened. I pumped-up my observer muscles and sharpened my listening tools. I stretched my sense of gratitude all out of proportion and wore it like a comfortable baggy sweater. Soon I had enough cushion in my bank account to call myself a freelancer once again.

But I did not give my notice at the Big Bank until I was ready to approach my chosen career path, not with the idea that I deserve to be paid for what I do, but rather with a sense of awe that when I do what I really love, others value it too.

I realize that I could easily end-up in the temp pool again. And that realization, of the impermanence of everything, including my current employment status, keeps me grateful for the things money can buy as well as the things it can’t.

I’m so happy to be back in the blogosphere…it’s a much lovelier place to be now that I can type!