a yogic perspective to the world of wealth management
The world of financial investments might seem out of reach for those of us more concerned with the wealth of our spirits than the worth of our stock portfolios. However, the two worlds might not be as far apart as they seem. Brent Kessel, expert financial advisor, president of fee-only Abacus Wealth Partners and experienced yogi, has somehow bridged the gap between the spiritual and financial worlds.
His book, It’s Not About the Money (released by HarperCollins), was written to help the more spiritually inclined cultural creative audience who might lack experience with money. Brent recently shared his insight on spiritual finances with Yogi Times.
Yogi Times: How do spirituality and finance connect?
Brent Kessel: Money is just a means of communication and a means of moving energy around. It’s kind of like thinking of humanity as one organism””that we really are one. And the blood of this one organism is money. That’s the thing the moves nutrients and resources around from one part of the organism to another. To me, spirituality is primarily about the dissolving of personal identity, personal wants and ego and realizing a much deeper truth about who we really are, about what our relationships are. It’s not so much that money can bring that realization to us, but it is an agent through which we can express that realization.
For example, most people’s investments tend to be very targeted, very exclusive. The way I’ve applied my realizations from yoga class and from meditation practice to our investment philosophy is to make it inclusionary. We actually provide our capital and our clients’ capital to as many companies around the globe as possible. We invest in slightly more than 18,500 companies right now. So I don’t know how many employees there are for the companies we invest in, but it’s tens of hundreds of millions, and then each of them has a family they’re supporting and then you get into the customers that are using the products and services of those businesses. It feels more consistent with the word yoga””which means “one,” which means “union,” which means to “yoke” ””to provide our stored life energy, which is what money is, to the broadest possible community of human beings.
YT: How can money be used as a spiritual tool?
BK: I think of it as a self-inquiring way of approaching life. Do you look within for the answers to what ails you, or do you look without? Most of our culture looks without. They may think, “If I get a new car, if I remodel my kitchen, if I do these yoga classes with these teachers, then I’ll be happy. My problems will go away because something is changing in my outside world.” There are aspects of that that are true, like with the yoga analogy; it’s only true because it changes what’s happening on the inside. It takes our attention and shifts it from outer objects and points of interest to our inner life. That to me is the real value of money.
People have intense, emotional experiences with money””often very painful ones. Yet it’s the most taboo subject out there. It’s more taboo than talking about sex. There’s no good arena to get sage advice or to share vulnerability or to perceive guidance. So I encourage people to look within when they’re struggling with money and really start to excavate what’s behind this particular emotion. Ask yourself: “How do I create a noticeable pause? How do I create a gap between the emotional response and what my mind tells me to do about it?”
I’ll give you an example: I wake up and I’m feeling a little despondent, a little dreary. The mind, for a particular person, might say, “What I really want to do is go back to that home furnishings store where I saw that amazing candle and I want to buy that this afternoon.” Most of us will follow those kinds of impulses unconsciously, without much self-exploration. Money can become a real spiritual practice when those impulses arise. Instead of just following them unconsciously, we want to create a noticeable pause. We want to create a gap between following that wanting impulse, or whatever impulse, and actually doing it. It’s very illuminating to see what arises in that pause.
YT: Our society places great importance on material wealth. How do we know when we have enough money?
BK: Well, chapter one of my book is called “You Will Never Have Enough.” That’s addressing the “wanting mind” part of you””the insatiable craving part of each of us that can never have enough. It’s designed to never have enough. It’s basically designed to ensure our survival; we’re always looking for the next food source, we were always evaluating where the next threat might come from. It’s an anxious, nervous, insatiated part of the mind. I think until we recognize that, it tends to own most people.
How do we evaluate when we have enough? It’s really a function of who we’re asking. If we’re asking that unconscious, craving part of us, it will never have enough, whether “enough” is money, stuff or time. Through yoga and meditation practice, we can become aware of that. I think that’s why spiritual practice has so much to teach us about money, because it is the discipline of awareness without action and seeing how those thoughts arise. Then, what starts to emerge is the re-identification. Who I am shifts from those thoughts of craving and wanting to something else. In my experience it’s a very sacred, sublime energy. It’s the energy that animates our body; it is whatever that thing is that’s looking through these eyes and listening through these ears and walking this body around. And that essence doesn’t want for anything. It’s just here to experience good and bad. That part of us always has enough, and that’s the paradox. It’s not that that’s better than the other one, because if you only follow that voice, you’ll probably never pick up a fork to eat again, and the body dies. A big part of the teaching is embracing the middle way.
YT: Can you offer Yogi Times readers some practical tools or advice for dealing with money?
BK: The most common problems people have with money are overspending and debt. I talked about creating a noticeable pause. Another thing you can do is go ahead and buy the thing you were thinking of buying, but then come back and check in with yourself three hours later, and check in the next day and see if the promise your wanting mind made to you actually came true. How long did it take? How impermanent was it? Becoming more and more aware of the impermanence of the outer manifestations of the world is tremendously helpful with overspending and indebtedness. The patterns won’t change quickly. Again, it’s like yoga. It’s a practice. Most YT readers understand the gradual nature of increasing flexibility and strength in their asana practices. Money is the same way. Think of yourself as the captain of a super tanker; if you can turn the steering wheel one degree, six months later you’ll end up in an entirely different hemisphere. If you can allow yourself to avoid one wanting impulse every day or every other day, it makes a massive difference six months down the line and five years down the line.
Another piece of advice is to make things as automatic as possible. If you’re someone who’s constantly late paying the bills or has a hard time saving, set up those things automatically via the Internet. The same day that your paycheck is deposited, have an automatic dollar amount transferred into your investment account. It doesn’t matter how small it is; if people can do $10 or $50 a paycheck, it changes the internal wiring. Once you start saving, the internal wiring no longer feels like “I’ll never have enough.” It actually starts to shift to “I do have enough.”
And the biggest one is finding ways to express generosity. It doesn’t have to be financial, but if it is, it communicates to the unconscious that we do have enough. Because how could we possibly be sharing and helping others if we didn’t have enough? It’s a great counter medicine for the usual medicine that people in indebted situations have had, which is: “You’re nothing. You don’t have enough. You’ll never understand money.” We shift our awareness. We shift who we think we are with money.
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