The stock market went up today, or down. But besides feeling happy or sad for the world, I am relieved personally to have made peace with the Dow.
Call it Dow or Tao, each calls for at least a certain level of detachment. It takes some kind of faith, after all, to place your retirement savings in the hands of forces beyond your control and yet maintain not only your emotional equilibrium in the present moment, but trust in the future. One news cycle, something has happened in Europe, or with housing, consumer confidence, the weather, a political conflict, a terrorist attack or oil prices. Then, there's all that evidence that there are insiders who know things before we do, who react counter-intuitively to common sense issues that would otherwise predict the market to rise or fall, and who even bet against themselves.
It takes equal amounts of faith, however, to choose not to play the market and live your financial life off the grid. There are financial as well as spiritual ramifications for every decision -- each one bearing its own special flavor of risk. Ultimately, it comes down to two questions. First: In what do you put your faith? Second: How do you want to live the rest of your life?
Today, I'm going to leave the economic considerations to the financial experts. (I hope you have a financial adviser you trust as much as I do, and who doesn't laugh at you when you bring up spiritual concerns.) Rather, I'm going to offer five spiritual gates through which you must pass, if you, too, hope to truly make peace with your retirement savings plan.
1. Determine whether you're an optimist or a pessimist -- and whether it is important for you to be consistent. For instance, how much of your planning is based on the best possible things happening to the stock market but the worst possible things happening to you personally?
2. Come to terms with thinking you can know the year of your death. Since the beginning of time, religion has helped humanity deal with the fact that no mere mortal can pierce the veil of this most fundamental of ultimate mysteries. But financial plans depend on your answer. "What will be the length of your retirement?", "How many years should we be planning for?" and "What is your financial horizon?" are all variations of the same question. Lest you come up with the definitive answer, and stick to it, the wheels of financial planning will be based on illusion.
3. Ask yourself if you define spiritual attainment as being able to put your savings in the hands of forces beyond your control and forgetting about it for 20 years? Wall Street's long hold strategy depends upon it.
4. Decide whether trusting financial advice is the same as having faith in the world. Wall Street suggests that the two are one and the same.
5. Make a decision about how you want to live your life. Life is a risky affair and things do spin out of our control. But what's new? The entire span of our lives has been something of a bundle of potentially scary things that could have happened. Sure, some things have gone wrong. But certainly, not everything that could go badly has gone wrong -- at least, not all at the same time. Over and over again, we have seen unexpected, surprising, miraculous things save us in just the nick of time. But to whom or what do you give the credit? Has it and will it be the stock market -- or something of a deeper, more abiding nature?
It is important for you to think about the spiritual as well as financial implications about your investing choices. As for me, I place my faith in the same source of strength, resilience, resourcefulness and good common sense that has gotten me this far. Like the dollar bill says: "In God We Trust."
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