Meditation, financial crisis – they are made for each other. John Tarrant collected stories about how people dealt with the 2008 financial crisis.
I’ve thought to ask others, “What is it like without any practice to help you?” Here’s one example of the stories I’ve heard:
A woman hired a cabinet maker to make a piece of furniture and he didn’t turn up for the job. She called him:
“Are you OK? You haven’t been around.”
“Yeah, I’ve been in bed all week.”
“I’m sorry, are you sick?”
“Not sick, I’m depressed. I’ve been in bed with the covers pulled up.”
“Yeah, well no one is hiring fine wood workers, obviously. Grease Monkey advertised an $8 an hour job and I went down to apply. There were a thousand guys there for the job.”
I like the bit where the thought of not having work stopped him from doing the work he had. That’s a classic reaction to adversity, the deer freezing in the headlights. The old Buddhist manuals called that a hindrance — a hindrance is basically any story that you believe instead of what is actually happening.
I also like that the person who hired him was kind and called him — another basic feature of consciousness.
Then I asked some people with spiritual practices how they were doing. Last Summer a friend’s wife said, “I think we need to get out of stocks, now.”
He explained that that’s not what you do, that over the long haul the market is the best investment and that he is listening to good advisors.
“Are you sure, dear, because I believe the people who are telling me this and I have a very strong feeling that we should get out.”
“No one can call the tops and bottoms. I want to do what you ask, but it would be irresponsible of me to sell.”
She wasn’t convinced, “OK we don’t need to fight about it.”
So I asked him, “Is she mad now?”
“No, she’s interested in reality, not what could have been. We might have to close down parts of her business but that’s a different issue. We both love what we do, and we’re happy doing that.”
“Do you feel bad?”
“I was wrong,” he replied, “but feeling guilty doesn’t help, does it?”
Not a lot of residue, except that next time he will be perhaps more likely to follow her financial intuitions.
I emailed another friend who trades and manages a hedge fund. He’s at the epicenter. He replied,
“I have had a very good trading run through this 16-month period. I didn’t predict the crisis, but as soon as it began in August 2007, I quickly re-oriented my view of the markets to get into alignment with the crash. No one in the market has ever seen anything like this, which makes the whole thing incredibly exciting and interesting.
While I haven’t lost over the period as a whole, as a trader I am constantly making and losing money on trades. My reaction to losing money on trades is that I HATE HATE HATE it!”
Ah, that’s more like it. Enough of this Zen equanimity — “I HATE HATE HATE it!” is a satisfying reaction.
And so here’s what I came to: Two friends: One just went on with his life. That’s how he registers losing his money. The other feels passionate aversion when he loses at trades. He experiences a fierce, almost joyful, revulsion. He’s living to the hilt.
What interested me was not the obvious difference but the similarity in their responses. The thusness of things includes what we feel — having equanimity, hating losses, or thinking the daffodils look pretty.
And the woodworker with his blanket pulled up over his head might not be aware of it but he is also registering his unique and, to me, endearing reaction. Blanket over the head — I know what that feels like. Just the way I know what reacting to loss with a shrug feels like, or, my personal favorite, “I hate it!” I know what that feels like too.
The thusness of our reactions — the old teachers called all of these responses “Buddha Nature.” That’s what we recognize in each other.
So: how are you doing?
Jacqueline Kramer says
When my husband and I broke up in the 80's I went from being an upwardly mobile middle class woman to an out-of work single mom just like that. Although I met my fate kicking and screaming I'm now grateful to know how to pick myself up from a fall. There's a real sense of security in that. Now, when I meet the moment as it is, I can respond to what it needs and I get by. If I need to tighten the belt I do so. If I get to loosen it, that's great! Either way there are people to love and books to read and life all around to savour.
Well that's a practice exercise, to notice what you really love and also what loves you, what gives you joy. Not thinking we have to be unhappy when we lose something is a kind of not picking and choosing. And so is noticing what we really love, which is also just given to us like the weather.
P. Terry says
While I have not lost my job, just the everyday stressors of work, being an wife, grandma……….can bring stress. What helps me is lot's of laughter, lot's of prayer…… I enjoy listening to Pema Chodron audiobooks. Practicing meditation has been truly helpful…oh did I mention…turning off the news once in a while really helps.
Hey, turning off the news sometimes is a meditation all by itself. I do that too. It does allow other things to happen.
Daniel M. Kaplan says
I like the story of the person who just went on with their life. Actually, I appreciated all the stories. But I resonated best with the one about going on with his life. I got a VERY late start in putting ANYTHING aside for when I could not work anymore. Whatever I did have, not a lot, is about 40% less now. At least it was the two times (yes, only two) that i looked. Nothing has really changed, I get up in he morning and i don't have thoughts like "Oh god, what will I do? I guess I have to work until I drop…." I just do what I need to do each day and am grateful that I have a meditation practice and kind friends to practice with.
My favorite story about going with your life is a friend whose adviser had put most of his money with Bernard Madoff. So he lost that most of it, boom! and found out when he read the New York Times online one morning. He said he discovered a sudden interest in cooking and fixing up the kitchen. So I suppose that's a practice, the response of taking up an art.
I lost about half the money I had which wasn't so much in the first place, and it's OK, liberating in a way. It's often good to lose my idea of who I am, as Jacqueline mentions below. I'm excited to find out 'Who am I now?' And in some sense that is what every day is—a discovery exercise in finding out who we are. So I guess I'm in the category of someone who just went on with his life but with a little more excitement about it.
daniel kaplan says
I just finished watching MILK, and continue to have tears down my face. Who am I now, every day a day of discovery. He literally put his life on the line for this. And although there are tears running down my face, I feel grateful to have met Harvey Milk when he ran a camera store, and grateful that such a stunning and beautiful reminder of that life was honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures. And most of all, I am grateful for a practice and good friends who help me learn every day that every day is a day of discovery, and that I just don't know what I will encounter at any given moment. I used to be paralyzed with fear over this realization. Now it brings me excitement.
Jacqueline Kramer says
When my husband and I broke up in the 80's I went from being an upwardly mobile middle class woman to an out-of work single mom just like that. Although I met my fate kicking and screaming I'm now grateful to know how to pick myself up from a fall. There's a real sense of security in that.
I've never blogged before and don't know proper blog procedure but there is something to add to what I said. Oftentimes when we loose money we also loose a sense of who we think we are in the world. This has happened to me in a strong way and, although painful, I see it as a blessing to have less "self". Actually freeing.
Over the last few years I have made foolish choices, while many of my friends and colleagues have made wise choices. Now we're all in the same spot. The whole country is in the same spot. I gain some satisfaction knowing that I'm not the only one crushed under an avalanche of unintended consequences. Yeah, I'm working on that.
How do I deal with picking myself up after a fall? Normally the first thing I do is quit meditating, stop yoga, stopsaying affirmations and cease inspirational readings — all the things that keep me sane in normal times. Then I crawl back up the same way I always do, returning to my practices one at a time, struggling with regret and acceptance, depression and passion (and letting myself experience these things), knowing that the negativity will run its course, and that I will go back to being joyful, whatever my circumstances. The advantage of being up and down a few times is that you know there is always an up after a down.
Cool about the way you pick yourself up. I'm interested in the idea that your practices are things you drop when you are having a hard time. Perhaps that's a practice itself—to drop anything that is in any way added onto life—even if it's a good thing, it's still something that takes energy. Not sure if the following is true for you—I'm interested too in the idea of practices that strip away anything that is between me and my life. Crawling back up the way that you describe it is vivid, it seems to be one of those subtle ways of practicing in which we taste life raw and that taste gradually changes us.
Thanks, and cheers,
I have found that when I'm in a state of depression and anxiety, like now with business so slow, I am not mindful of my studies. I, too, suddenly dropped them. Not on purpose though, I just get caught up in everyday life of being a business owner, wife, mother and friend, etc..
Last week a close friend asked me if I had been meditating. It blew me away that she could tell that I was caring for everyone but myself.
So, I picked up my Shambhala Sun and started reading……..the article "The Jewel Inside" (not sure if that is the exact title) brought me to tears and back to reality. It is really amazing how simple words can completely change your thought patterns. Thank you Shambhala Sun for being my teacher, my friend and my therapist. This magazine has really helped me through some dark days.
Nice, that makes sense. We believe our thoughts and everything is dark and then suddenly—it's like waking up—we are free. That thing about a hindrance being a narrative we are more committed to than we are committed to what is really happening. Thanks for the story.
Karen Waskow says
My version of having lost a lot in retirement assets as well as assets that I am still, in part, drawing on to supplement my income, is to not look. Yeah it sounds funny but that's what I'm doing. I'm simply not ready to be under the kind of pressure that I assume I will be under, when I do the math and start to figure out that my resources are not endless.
I just want a little more time. More time to do a little better with the real estate business. A little more time to work on getting a second job so I can fully support myself.
It's been fun working on it from the other side too by trying to live with less and find creative ways to get sparse. Having a housemate is great. In addition to getting some help with expenses, it feels good to share what I have. Not going anywhere makes me realize that I love where I live
I just want to be able to carry on working with this stuff everyday and see where it takes me. That's why, for now, I'm just not looking.
Well ignoring something you can't do anything about is probably better than worrying obsessively. When Issan Dorsey who was the Abbot of the Hartford St Zendo in San Francisco was dying and not visibly worried about it, someone said to him, "You're in denial" and he said, "What's wrong with that?" which I found very funny. The other thing a crisis can do is to free you up to look at possibilities for work that you haven't considered. That can be exciting.
Karen Waskow says
It's funny what turns out to be exciting. Sometimes nowadays it's just been shucking and jiving my way, financially, through any given month. It's like a little blessing to just be present with that.
You know, I've also been talking lately about going back to school and starting a new career in the middle of all of this and that is a certain kind of excitement too. How will it turn out? Will she make it? Right now, I don't have anything to worry about unless/until I get accepted into the MSW program. Then it's oops, don't think I have all the undergraduate credits that I need in each category. Don't know if I have the necessary GPA, then what? I have no idea how it will turn out or not. Meanwhile, I'll be doing volunteer work in my field of interest and maybe that will be enough. Who knows? I just relishe the freedom that I have to simply get on with it. Fun to see how it all turns out.
I like that sense of possibility. If we were doing what we didn't entirely want to do, then economic meltdown frees us to play with what we would entirely want to do. Which might be something completely different that you always wanted to do. That does sound interesting, a different place to stand in the world.
I think of myself as pretty much doing what I want to do, so I'll keep doing it until I can't. At the Pacific Zen Institute we saw the crisis coming to the extent that we decided to stay open and run a deficit if people couldn't pay for retreats and so on. We can't do that forever but partly that's about not thinking I'm in a business exchange. We're just doing a little effort towards keeping the culture sane, offering a place where people can meditate and care about each other.
Ms. Pang says
So far the financial meltdown has not affected my finances. My spouse & I didn't have any savings to lose and we still have enough part time work to get by month-to-month. I have become more aware of the insecurity of it all. So I'm perhaps living more in reality & that might be a good thing. Insecurity is not hing new. It's the ordinary state of affairs. So, in a way, I'm somewhat bemused by all the fuss and bother about it.
Practice hasn't changed the reality of insecurity. I sometimes expect my practice to teach me to "handle my life better", to be more responsible, to make better choices, etc. That hasn't turned out to be true. I'm still the grasshopper in the grasshopper and the ant story. I really don't know what the end of the story will be or what the moral of the story is.
Falling into not knowing is a bit thrilling. A bit breathtaking. I see the qualifyer there — "a bit." So, I suspect is more there … or perhaps I'm just falling in slow motion.
I like that, Ms Pang. Relying on insecurity, falling into not knowing is always a relief for me. I like that you are not improving yourself too, I think we have to be ourselves and that leads to a deep listening and finding out what we really love. That in turn leads to changes but they might not be quite the ones we thought we wanted. The changes come as a gift.
Patricia Terry says
Finding time for joy……….cannot be estimated……..I wrote earlier…about prayer, meditation, laughter…but honesty…sometimes you have to look for joy…on purpose…it is out there in this very sick world………..for example…..early in the morning just the sound of the birds when they are full of joy, singing, like the fresh smell of flowers in the morning when the world has not fully awaken, like the sound of a liitle girl in the store…singing a song to herself…..while her mom is busy shopping…joy is in the most unbelievabe places………….I think I am only beginning to understand seats of Joy…at the age of 45………..better late than never
I think of Messiaen in a prison camp during World War II composing a symphony listening to the birds. He thought birds were the greatest musicians. If I look at almost anything without making a critique of it, then almost anything has beauty and then the joy comes. Some things are naturals in that way—your girl in the store, I have big Canada Geese walking around loudly and awkwardly on my barn roof right now, thumping and calling. And even very plain things, a wall, a piece of pavement, can bang into me, reveal home. Then it's hard to find what is not beautiful.
I just read your article: The Buddha and Suze Orman …
Seems to me that one way to respond to all this stuff happening so fast (apparently) right now, is to just approach our unfolding/changing lives in a creative type of way. As a painter (Artist) I know that I must draw from my intuition – mostly – and just spontaneously create – staying open (from the heart) and conscious – constantly letting go of what no longer works in the composition (so, too, in our lives?). To allow compositional change takes courage, a certain fearlessness and faith to experiment and explore – as deeply as possible … and to struggle hard sometimes in order to break loose of the restraints (of myself) – trying to ride the edge of the a creative process and maybe break new ground. The work, then, evolves … shifts … transforms. Sometimes painting is like a game, tho – fun, nothing serious – like life, sometimes, too. But one thing I do believe is important right now – in terms of the economic conditions – is to cross that threshold of how life seemed to be in our culture, in order to take a good look at what may be driving these economic conditions (the reality of it). To understand this. Guess I will be re-evaluating my values over and over in order to adapt to the other changes that are sure to lie ahead. Hopefully I will be creative about it.
I think that's right on, that art is a spiritual path and also the other way round: there is an art inside spiritual work. I think the art in Zen and spiritual work is that it's a journey not a plan—there is a discovery happening so you might arrive at a place more interesting than the one you set out to arrive in. And that's the way to navigate difficulties—the koan of that goes:
Step by step in the dark—
if my foot is not wet
I found the stone.
Thank you for the koan and the advise.
May I ask you a question re: the art in spirituality compared to creating 'fine art'? … seems they are both a precess / journey – a little like traveling in a spontaneous sort of way (rather than with a 'planned tour', say) … and it seems that creating art is more along the lines of the idea: Mimesis – interpretations / representations of what one thinks one sees or feels – but, not the real thing. Is the art in spirituality, in Zen, closer to the truth, do you think – more like a mirror? (hope this is not too abstract). Thanks!
Paul MacNaughton says
Many thanks for your time with us last weekend at Nalanda West. I'm now reading "The Light Inside the Dark." Suffering and beauty, every moment a wonder.