06/06/2014 06:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do You Have Enough?! Mindfulness and Money 1-2-3



Having it, not having it, not having enough of it -- this ends up being a big, hairy monster for an awful lot of people.

Talking about money is forbidden. Even between BFFs and partners, things can get more riled up, more quickly, than pretty much any other topic. If it's ever discussed.

After all, when was the last time you and your BFF talked about how much you earn, how much debt you're carrying, what you choose to spend it on, how you feel about money and safety and security and power?

Are You Lost?

I've worked with a lot of clients who've been lost in their stories about not having enough, no matter their financial picture.

People with millions in the bank who panic when the stock market drops a few points.

Others who're working 80 grueling hours every week, feeling miserable. Developing physical illnesses and/or drinking or smoking just a wee bit too much, and/or spending a little bit more for those shoes than they should have.

Folks who are desperate to be anywhere other than where they are financially. "I don't want to think about it, so I did this [fill in the blank with something unhealthy] instead."


We're a culture full of hungry ghosts.

In his bestselling book, "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction," the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Gabor Mate, says:

these inhabitants of the hungry ghost realm are depicted as creatures with scrawny necks, small mouths, emaciated limbs, and large, bloated, empty bellies. This is the domain of addiction, where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment... We don't know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we'll never know. We haunt our lives without being fully present.

It's not a giant stretch of the imagination to argue that Western culture is addicted to its own ghost stories about must-have-more-now. The collective story about money, which lives in each one of us -- one way or the other -- serves to try and fill our bellies.

We don't understand that our bellies are already metaphorically full.

One result being that millions of people go to bed literally hungry every night. In this country. If I don't think I have enough, I'm sure as heck not gonna share with you. Right?

How can Mindfulness Possibly Help?

Well, first, let's talk about what mindfulness means, in this context. The author Michael Carroll ("Fearless at Work: Timeless Teaching for Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life's Demands") describes mindfulness this way.

... Cultivating this wisdom of seeing clearly is at the very heart of the mindfulness meditation practice that trains us to step out from behind the curtain of our restless minds and touch life directly, getting a full, authentic measure of our experience beyond self-deception and impulsiveness. And when we do train our minds to relax, open, and step out, we notice that our drive to achieve, with all its passion and forward-looking intent, can frequently blind us to the very things we seek to understand.

Mindfulness in Action 1-2-3

Pause. Breathe. Repeat. That's all there is to it!

Mindful awareness is the doorway into seeing clearly. It creates space so you can hear the hungry ghost stories you're telling yourself.

Mindfully explore what you have, or don't have in several ways.

  1. Pause. Sit in a chair for 10 minutes a day, bringing your attention back to your breath.
  2. Pause. Write in a journal for 15 minutes each morning, with your first cup of coffee or tea. Let your breath carry you as you write.
  3. Pause. Take a quiet walk outside. Get in the water somewhere. Breathe. Look around.
  4. Pause. Work with a coach or therapist who's trained to help you hear your own stories, and who has done his/her own hungry ghost work.
  5. After each mindful exploration, simply notice what you notice about fears, beliefs, can't-dos/don't-haves.

From that newly created place of mindful openness, you can then begin taking apart the old stories of enough/not enough, and start living a new one. The new story that you write, for yourself and your loved ones. Not the one the culture, your family, or your fears are insisting is true.

Here's the thing -- we don't have to live like hungry ghosts. You have tremendous power over your choices. Perhaps more accurately... you can learn to have tremendous power about your choices.

I Lost It All

But first, you've got to wake up to where you are. Starting with mindful observation. I sure wish someone had helped me understand this earlier in my own mindless fear story.

I spent years lost in my own hungry ghost stories. And guess what? I lost it all. That's what it took for me to wake up. Bummer, indeed.

You can write a different story for yourself. You don't need to lose it all before you get mindful about your money.