March 12, 2009

The Economy of Spirituality, by Daniel Kempling.


As I write this piece, the news blares out a steady chant of economic doom and gloom with unmistakable excitement. Journalism is, after all, a trade that thrives on threat and catastrophe, reflecting our common enchantment with spooky tales. I’m particularly taken with the reports of record lows in “consumer confidence”. Wal Mart shoppers unite!

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m sensitive to the particular anguish that accompanies layoffs and soul-destroying job searches. I’ve lived through bankruptcy, social assistance, and borrowing money from my Mom to feed the kids. It sucks. Profoundly. Some people kill themselves and those they love when confronted with such seemingly intractable circumstances. Many of us, at least, dish up a generous helping of shame and self-loathing in response to these challenges. It doesn’t help the situation one whit, but it is a compelling tendency.

What fascinates me is the experience of the “seekers” amongst us, those applying themselves diligently to effective living and spiritual education, when confronted with the crass slap upside the head that is going broke. As both a participant and an educator in the self-development community for over 25 years, I’ve had a chance to observe an evolution of teachings from self-empowerment to wealth-entitlement. Convincing people that what they need most is to get in touch with their “inner millionaire” has turned out to be a remarkably effective selling point and is the marketing engine that drives many self-development companies and a few modern churches.

Sadly, though, no matter what other quality teachings follow this call to wealth, the participant who embarks upon their sacred journey with their eyes fixed on financial independence will often find that fiscal reversals engender a deep guilt, a sense of short-coming usually reserved for moral failure. Sin.

To wipe out your savings and still lose the house is bad enough, but to then view your circumstance as a sin against your deepest values, well, that’s almost more than you should have to bear. Indeed, it is.

There’s a joke I heard once that speaks to this: “What did the mugger say to the seminar graduate as he took his wallet? ‘Why are you creating this?’”

Hey, folks, the universe and the stock market don’t really orbit your planet, so what I suggest is this: let’s say we just do what needs to be done and forego the self-abuse. What needs to be done might include filing for bankruptcy, job re-training, or telling everyone you know that you are looking for work. And, yes, these tasks typically engender powerful feelings that we label as “bad”. You might notice sensations so unpleasant that you’ll try ingenious strategies to be rid of them, like, say, eating a whole box of cookies, getting drunk, or yelling at someone. We can do better.

When you catch yourself generating anxiety, anticipating failure, or shutting out your loved ones, let’s remember to acknowledge that we’re doing so. These types of self-generated phobias tend to behave like cockroaches—when we shine a light on them, they scuttle off to the corners.

Take a breath, wriggle your toes, and take a survey of the sensations throughout your body, especially your chest cavity. The person of conscience needs to discern the difference between feelings that are uncomfortable (most) and feelings that are dangerous (few). These strong bodily sensations that we link to compulsive, self-destructive action, like a storm cloud, will eventually pass. So make that cold call, rewrite the resume, do whatever you know needs to be done, and bring those feelings along for the ride.

Here’s a few recommendations for those of you who find that they have, at least for a while, more time on their hands than they think they should have.

  • Volunteer. I took time out of my crazy, super-important schedule a while back and became a Cub Scout leader. Wow. I was humbled by the quality of service I saw in that organization. Hanging out with kids, camping, tying knots, playing games, singing songs – you can’t go wrong. Find out where you’re needed and help out.
  • Garden. Nothing like digging in the dirt to bring perspective back into your life. Also, it’s frugal and healthy.
  • Dance. Close the blinds, crank up the tunes, and shake it ‘til you sweat. This keeps your body vital and it’s fun. And, yes, even broke folks are allowed some joy.
  • Meditate. Slow down and reflect. Shine the light of your consciousness on your situation. Give thanks for the miracle of your life and open yourself to guidance.

Daniel Kempling is the director of Mindful Movement Training. He holds a fifth degree black belt in Aikido and teaching credentials in Iaido, and is a certified Personal Trainer and an instructor of the Pilates Method. He lives with his wife and three children in Creston, BC.


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