Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

03/28/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Brent Kessel Brent Kessel, author of It's Not About the Money, recognized by Kiplingers, financial planner honored by Worth magazine, yogi veteran

I'm sitting on my meditation cushion in my closet, my usual spot, and it's about 6:30am. My sons are already awake and downstairs with their two best friends, who've had a sleepover. I've been sitting for about thirty minutes, and the boys have been playing beautifully. Then I start hearing something that sounds a lot like hammering. Perhaps thumbtacks are being nailed into drywall. Perhaps screwdriver handles are being used as drumsticks against the wood of the TV cabinets or the dining room table.

I feel the upsurge of a question that desperately wants to escape my mouth - with volume. "What in the world are you guys doing down there?" But on this particular morning, I've been sitting with the mantra of allowing everything to be exactly as it is. In case you didn't catch that, I'm sitting with allowing everything to be exactly as it is.

So I bite my tongue, and listen to the sounds of four hard objects striking wood. My mind races to the possibilities; a few hundred dollars of drywall damage; small indentations along the top surface of the dining room table; gouges in the hardwood floors; exploded yogurt containers all over the kitchen. "I really ought to stop this." I think to myself. But this is ostensibly what my practice is about, today, letting things be exactly as they are. And so I do.

Eventually, I make my way downstairs, and I find that they've placed frozen tubes of yogurt in plastic bowls. Because the yogurt was too hard, they were hammering on it with spoons to soften it up inside the wrappers.

Because of this experience, the rest of the morning was much easier than I'd expected it to be, what with me single-dadding it with four boys between the ages of five and seven. The common triggers for my reflexive anger, control, or frustration didn't have their usual firepower.

While the example above is quite particular to parenting, this practice of becoming intimately aware of our usually desperate reflex to react, protect, and control pays handsome awards in almost all of life's important arenas; love, money, and sex, to cover just a few.

Given that my specialty is money, (as in It's Not About The... ), let's chat for a minute about how allowing things to be as they are can help free us of long-standing financial habits we'd really like to break.

The initial tendency when we notice things starting to not go our way in the financial world, as with my gaggle of boys, is to rush to our tried and true strategy for feeling okay about ourselves again, smoothing over the fear and anxiety which were starting to arise. For some, this could mean retail therapy after getting a bank statement filled with overdraft fees (if this sounds like you, read about the Pleasure Seeker), while for others, it might mean overhauling the investment accounts to better weather the impending recession (if this sounds like you, read about the Saver).

Regardless, the key to freedom lies in allowing things to get pretty hairy inside before we react in our habitual ways in the outer world. This can cut both ways, however. Some people are used to grabbing the financial bull by the horns when the going gets tough, and for these types, they need to stop doing and just observe what feelings their inactivity brings up. As Sylvia Boorstein so eloquently states it, "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There". But others tend to put their heads in the sand and avoid looking at financial issues squarely in order to get through. For these types, 'letting things get hairy' means pulling out the yellow pad, calculator and pencil and actually figuring out where things stand rather than avoiding the subject altogether. This goes against their grain of just going out to have a coffee with a friend to bitch about the election or the price of European shoes given a weakening dollar.

A PRACTICE: In the next week, pay attention and notice when some interaction with or touched by money sparks a strong reaction in you. Notice what your mind is telling you to do about it (what I call your Financial Core Story). And just this once, don't drink the old familiar Kool-Aid. In fact, try the opposite tack. If a sideways glance from your svelte sister-in-law would normally send you hunting through catalogs for a new black skirt, try instead to focus on giving something away to someone else. If you're a starving artist who gets riled up at the mention of Corporate America's profits, try saving and investing some money, and finding the most ethical places you can to put it. Whatever your tendency, see if just this week, you can experiment with flexing some atrophied muscles. If it's too hard to relate to, ask a friend who lives more in the way you're trying to emulate to give you some coaching. The freedom and space this practice will give you to truly allow things to be just as they are is remarkable, and according to many a spiritual teacher the key to true inner freedom.

Brent Kessel is the author of the HarperCollins book, It's Not About the Money (forthcoming April 1st), and the co-founder of Abacus, one of the nation's top sustainable investing firms. Brent is teaching his It's Not About the Money workshop over Easter weekend at Kripalu.