Often the news of an impending economic recession is accompanied by an equally heavy mental recession – our minds shrink to thoughts of fear and uncertainty, and the days ahead seem filled with gloom. It need not be like this, and in fact we are only making the situation worse for ourselves by becoming more depressed. Here are a few pointers for facing financial hard times with poise and calmness:
Focus on the here and now
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.
– The Buddha
It is very easy to imagine worst case scenarios and let them distract you from the things that need to be done. We may not have control over all the factors that dictate our economic well-being, but at least if we can do the things we have control over, we can look into the future knowing that we have done our best. Taking practical here-and-now steps gives us a sense of empowerment and generates a sense of momentum in our lives, whereas worrying has quite the opposite effect – making us feel more and more helpless!
Learn the art of detachment
Circumstances cannot change man’s life.
His attitude can and does.
– Sri Chinmoy
Too often we let our well being lie in thrall to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, as Shakespeare would put it. We are elated when circumstances are good, deflated when things are not so good. And yet our outer circumstances will always be in a state of flux, like the waves in the ocean: rising, falling and rising again. The chances are that in our lifetime we will probably live through quite a few periods of economic growth and recession, just as we go through good and bad in our personal lives. We have to make a choice: whether we wish to remain a small boat in the middle of the ocean, emotionally tossed around with every rise and fall of the waves, or we can be a huge ocean liner, remaining steadfast on course regardless of the ups and downs.
To achieve the latter, we need to have equanimity, and to take everything that happens, both good and bad as an experience that is shaping us into a better person, sometimes in ways we don’t understand right now. Sometimes it is only a few years later when we can look back on ‘bad’ times we faced and see how much it contributed to our inner growth, even though it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time! Being detached means learning to see the forest for the trees, and looking upon each thing that happens to you as a lesson in that great school called life.
If the news is affecting you too much, don’t watch it
Depending on who you listen to in the news, it is very easy to come away with a feeling that the world is heading to hell in a handbasket, as the old-timers used to say. The truth is, that despite all the endless speculation, you do not know what will happen until it actually affects you. When it does begin to affect you you can then take concrete steps to deal with your specific situation. Certainly we have to keep informed about what is going on in the world, but just bear in mind that the media, being human beings, often share the very human trait of seeing the worst in everything.
Be grateful for what you have
Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.
– French proverb
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to our mental and emotional well being during times of financial hardship is thinking about what we have to lose. These thoughts can cloud our mind to such an extent that we forget about the blessings and good things in our life, and all we see is the impending trouble that is upon us. When we take some time every morning to be grateful for the things that really matter – our health, our loved ones, for the gift of being human – we begin to claw back some of that mental territory and achieve a balance in our lives, seeing everything that is going on around us in the proper perspective.
Remember: the true wealth is within.
A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.
– Jonathan Swift
In panicking and worrying we erode away the only wealth that truly matters – our inner state of happiness. And over the years I have seen many people surrender that inner wealth to outer circumstances, simply because they didn’t value it enough. When you sincerely value your inner state of mind and strive to keep it no matter what, you see that it is in fact the most valuable tool you have in learning to deal with any outer crises, and you learn to keep it as the bedrock of your approach to life.
Photo of Nepalese boy: Ranjit Swanson, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries