3 Ways to Work with Your Financial Fears

COVID-19 is more than a global health risk. It’s shaken the world’s economy and has many of us worrying about our financial future.

Spencer Sherman
13 March 2020
Photo by Michael Longmire.

Last month, you might have said to yourself, “Oh, I’m worried about my knee. It hurts both when I meditate and go down the stairs.” Now, much more serious worries may crowd your mind: my job is vulnerable, my investments are disappearing, COVID-19 could attack at any moment. You might look back on your thoughts about your knee pain and remember them fondly.

Everything is changing all the time, including economic conditions and the stock market.

The volatility in the financial markets caused by COVID-19 reflects the impermanent nature of reality. While we’ve always been at risk of losing everything (or, gaining everything!), this universal truth of impermanence is painfully obvious today.

The Buddha said our ignorance of the truth of ever-changing world conditions, as well as the changing conditions of our bodies and our minds, is a source of tremendous suffering. This ignorance leads us to grasp at and cling to things as if they weren’t supposed to change. But everything is changing all the time, including our bodies, our minds, our work, our schooling, and, of course, economic conditions and the stock market. Are we so deluded that we think the economy or stock market should only improve? There’s no way out of this suffering, until we recognize the futility of grasping at impermanent phenomena.

Realizing that everything changes allows your grasping mind to relax and suffering to abate. So, given the amount of fear and pain right now, here are some ways to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity for awakening:

1. Befriend your fear

Instead of wallowing in fear of the virus or the economy, turn your attention to where the fear shows up in your body. Befriending your emotions and thoughts and cultivating equanimity are the best tools for financial ease and success. The silver lining in the panic is that it can be the catalyst to help us return to our center, let go of impulsivity, and create equanimity.

Equanimity is the fourth of the highest emotions that the Buddha instructed us to cultivate. It’s the quality of being at ease with everything outside and inside of yourself, a sublime state that Ram Dass, who recently passed away, exemplified. Loosening your grip may bring you an experience of joy.

2. Get curious

The pain we currently feel directs us to look, clear-eyed, at what is so upsetting. Perhaps your net worth has decreased, but what about your value as a human being? As you sense into your vastness, the far reach of your increasing awareness, do money worries subside? The impermanence of market stability pales in comparison to the ever-present awareness and wisdom of our minds and hearts.

Summon up the courage to sense the pain viscerally and allow your awareness around it to expand. Next, describe this pain, the nuances of sensation and temperature, and notice how it changes. Just like your finances fluctuate, so do the sensations in your body. As you get present and become a keen observer of changing bodily sensations, you see that the nature of impermanence extends beyond your body to all phenomena.

Now, notice that your thoughts are changing even faster than the world news and stock market. What’s the value of listening to these churning thoughts when they change so frequently? Instead, try listening to your awareness of impermanence, and let wisdom speak: “Everything is always changing. The markets have gone down before and they will rebound, just like they did after 2008, after 2002, after 1974, and even after 1929.”

3. Be generous

The Buddha talked a lot about generosity and to me this is very connected to the truth of impermanence. As I contemplate and more fully understand the nature of impermanence—that everything arises and passes, including our money—I have become inspired to give to individuals in need and to organizations that increase our collective wisdom. I know this sounds crazy—to give at the very moment when your money seems to be disappearing. But it’s an effective path to dissolving fear (the amount is less important). It’s a courageous act of letting go of the grasping and attachment.

Allow generosity to become a lighthouse for you. It’s a way to tell your brain that all will be well. It’s a way to stay connected to one another. Community  is one of our greatest sources of wealth. Recognizing community lessens the focus on our separate, impermanent, small identity. The fact of our interconnectedness has never been more felt than with Covid-19. The separate self will always find a way to be fearful. Feeling connected to others, with an open and caring heart, is the path to right action, true well-being, and financial freedom.

The world is impermanent, the markets will recover, and the COVID-19 virus won’t go on forever. You could stock up on toilet paper and tofu, stay in fear and worry, and count moons until the world heals. But, here’s another option: befriend and get curious about your most unwelcome emotions and thoughts with an awareness that is more spacious and vast than these hindrances. And be generous with your heart, time, and money. May this be our action rather than our re-action. As our life, finances, and work change over the coming months, we can make this a time for inner growth and serving others.

Spencer Sherman

Spencer Sherman

Spencer Sherman, is on a mission to use the timeless wisdom of the dharma to transform and empower our relationship with money. After getting his MBA from Wharton, he founded Abacus, a financial firm with Buddhist-inspired values. He is the author of The Cure for Money Madness and the Spirit of Money Workshop. His thirty-year Vipassana and Dzogchen meditation practice informs his work with money. His upcoming workshop with Menla, “The Dharma of Money,” begins September 17.