Monday, September 16, 2013

How to Practice Conscious Wanting

Something I've learned is that it is normal, if you are alive and engaged and enjoying the gifts the world has to offer, is to want.

I'm not totally clear on the why of wanting--why it seems to be written into the very fabric of human DNA--but I am clear on the reality of it.

I've seen how natural it is in my own two children. My 3.5 year old sees what the world has in it, and he just wants some of that goodness! My baby, only 9 months old, is already grasping and taking and holding whatever she can get her hands on.

And it's not a good thing or a bad thing, as I've also learned. It just is. We are alive, and we want. I've spent a long time passing judgment on wanting as a negative thing, tinged with moral decay and poor spiritual health. As though the state of wanting is a one-way ticket to hell. Jeez, did those Puritans do a number on me from across the centuries or what!

That's not to say that wanting can't send you to a hell of your own making. Just that it is actually neutral. Wanting is like money in this way. Money is just a means of exchange, a currency. What meaning you attach to it and how you habitually relate to it creates your experience and your enjoyment or suffering. And so the same goes for wanting.

Wanting is just a part of our nature, as pervasive and eternal as hunger. Any problems that come with wanting are related, I think, to a deformation in some other aspect of our lives--and then we begin to go beyond wanting and either move into envy or acquiring, depending on our means and our character.

Just as our drive to eat to satisfy hunger can be healthy and normal or disordered and a sign of an underlying dis-ease--physical or mental/emotional--our drive to want can be healthy or it can be disordered.

If you are looking for distraction, or self-worth, or a feeling of security, your wanting can lead you to acquire what you don't need or can't afford. If you don't have the money to acquire what you think you must have to create these feelings, you will find yourself either envious or discontented or worse. If your character allows it, you may even find yourself using deception or outright theft to acquire what you want but can't purchase.

And that's just for the things that money can buy. There's a whole other order of wanting that can cause even more suffering for the very fact that money can't buy it: love, friendship, freedom, relationships, family, etc.

Another manifestation of disordered wanting is that you deceive yourself into believing that you, unlike every other human on the planet, don't want. This generally is accompanied by a pretty healthy dose of self-righteousness and a good deal of self-convincing. This one is harder to spot as a disorder, as it doesn't make itself as obvious--no debt, no clutter, no addictive behavior.

Indeed, you can't necessarily look at someone's bank statement or home or possessions or Facebook friend list and know whether that person has a healthy relationship toward their instinct to want or not. You can really only evaluate your own relationship to your wanting, and decide if it's healthy or disordered.

You probably already know the answer, but here are a few questions to get you thinking if you're really not sure:
    1.    When you are in a state of wanting, do you begin to fantasize about a certain outcome or feeling you will have when that thing is acquired? Do you tell yourself a story about what will happen in the future when you get that thing?
    2.    Do you feel pangs of jealousy, envy or judgment when you see others possessing what you want but do not have?
    3.    Do you tell yourself that you don't need x, y or z because wanting that thing is stupid, selfish, invalid or some other dismissive, negative judgment?
    4.    Do you see your desire and wanting as a force in yourself that you're either ashamed of or wish would go away? Or, even more extreme, do you believe you actually don't want anything?
    5.    Do you spend more than you have or pursue unethical/illegal behaviors to get what you want?
    6.    When you do get what you want, do you have feelings of guilt, self-loathing or sadness?
    7.    How do you currently feel about the things and people in your life? Do you value them, or do you barely notice them now?

Don't panic if you find yourself answering these questions and finding that you're uncomfortable with the answers. I think, if you are a normal human being, raised in the culture of consumerism, that you will find that you have misused your instinct to want to try to generate feelings that comfort and soothe you. But, you're an adult now, and you get to decide if you want to want in a more conscious way.

What follows are some guidelines that I've found helpful in my own life for handling the wanting in a thoughtful, compassionate, and authentic manner.

    1. First, you have to acknowledge the wanting. It does you and no one else any good to pretend that you don't want. I actually think those who remove themselves to a mountain top or a monastery may appear as though they don't want what the world offers, when it is actually an inability to practice their spiritual path while being tempted and finding no other way to control the impulses but to detach fully from the world. Incidentally, I'm not judging here. If that is what works for you, it is what works. However, I, personally, prefer to remain in the action of the world, with all its evils and temptations and challenges. It is where I, personally, find my path. So, bottom line, acknowledge and accept. You are human. It's OK.
    2.  Practice gratitude for what you already have. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but there is no more powerful foundational practice--meaning it will underlie all your other practices, spiritual, relational, emotional, etc.--than that of gratitude. The more you appreciate the gifts and blessings in your life, the more content and satisfied you will be. This will begin to take the sharp edge off of that hungry, devouring kind of wanting.
    3.    Celebrate, don't covet, what others have. OK, maybe for a split second you can say to yourself, ah, that looks so nice--to have a magazine-perfect home, or to have a charming family, or to have a healthy relationship with a spouse, or to have that shiny new sports car. But, once you've named the thing you are wanting, celebrate it without judging. Appreciate and generate feelings of generosity--that house is so beautiful--yes, that's awesome! Or, how amazing that people create and people buy beautifully engineered, gorgeously designed sports cars! Or, I am so happy that she has a beautiful, healthy family she gets to enjoy--the world needs more happy families! Envy and covetousness does you no good. Celebrating, on the other hand, improves your relationship to things and people, and leaves no guilty aftertaste.
    4.    Eliminate sources of "wanting influence" in your life. For me, this means advertising, magazines, shopping in stores and online. Yes, you will see ads, magazines and you will need to shop. No, you do not need to invite those things into your home. Cancel cable, or DVR your favorite shows so you can skip commercials. Don't shop for recreation--shop only to replace or purchase what you need. Cancel magazines that make you feel inadequate--that's really what most of them exist to do: tell you you have problems that they can solve.
    5.    Get clear on money. As I've said, for me this means "counting" as practiced in Julia Cameron's The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of "Enough" Evenually I'll get comfortable with this practice, and do a budget. Once I know what money flows in and out, I will know when it's okay to spend, how much to spend, and this will eliminate some of the emotional energy that surrounds money.
    6.    Don't berate yourself for wanting. Negative self-talk never, ever gets you anywhere but a one-way ticket to Guiltville, with a side trip to Selfloathington.
    7.    Allow yourself a wish list. This goes for things you can buy, as well as things you can't. (From the sports car to a spouse or a baby or a bestselling book.) If it's really important to you, you'll come back to the wish list and eventually get what you need. If it's not, and more an impulsive want, some distance and the visual of seeing it written down will usually clarify whether the want is a conscious one or an emotional one. Again, you can't be alive without wanting, so it's OK to want, and this is a great way to clarify your wants and validate the conscious ones.
    8.    Operate from a starting point of minimalism. This doesn't mean you have to actually practice minimalism, though it's what I, personally, am striving toward. But a minimalist always asks themselves what the true cost of something (beyond the price of acquisition) is: What will it cost to maintain? What space will it take up? Is it energizing or draining? Is it beautiful or ugly? Does it align with my values and who I am, authentically? Do I really want this or is it to satisfy some other impulse--to distract, impress, maintain a fiction or fantasy about who I am or how I live?
    9.    Give. For those of us raised in a mindset of scarcity, this is a huge challenge, which is why it's so important. But if you're practicing gratitude and you're feeling clear on the flow of money, this gets easier. And it reminds you that others want and need, and that you can give of time and money to connect, vitalize and fulfill your (hopefully) higher purpose. And the more you can give, and feel how good it feels, the more your wants become clarified and conscious.

So there you have it--some thoughts and ideas for how to manage your wanting and make it a more conscious force in your life. Cause really, it's not going anywhere. You may as well get to know it and make friends with it, and realize how profoundly wanting consciously can improve your life.

Please let me know in the comments if you found this helpful, and what your relationship with your own wanting is like.

With all my love,

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Cultivate Limitless Prosperity

Eldorado Canyon Stream, near Boulder, Colorado. August 2013.

It was in this place, hiking this canyon and picnicking by this stream that I was overcome--to the point of tears stinging my eyes--with a feeling of limitless prosperity.

This feeling was not a brief flit through the mind or body--it was all-consuming, powerful and true. I felt it down to the marrow of my bones.

In a way I didn't know before, I now understand: it is moments like that that are the definition of wealth.

Now, it's true we spent money to get there, but that's not the kind of wealth I mean. I had a feeling, not quite this intense, but similar, just a week before in Zilker Park--which we had to spend almost no money to get to--just the price of a few mile drive--watching my son and daughter cavort on a wide expanse of green lawn in the copper light of the setting sun.

I have begun to feel wealthy and rich and prosperous--which, I will assert, is no different than being rich, wealthy or prosperous--with no change in my income level.

I think this has become possible in a few ways, which I will share with you now:
  1. My daily practice (for 1.5 years now) of 5 gratitudes a day
  2. My daily practice of setting an intention
  3. Spending the time I used to spend shopping in nature/parks/the outdoors
  4. While I'm outdoors, working really hard to limit my smartphone use, and to only use the camera (I find it helpful to place it on airplane mode so I'm not as tempted to check it)
  5. Turning around my feelings of lack and envy into feelings of prosperity and appreciation 
  6. Practicing clarity around money by "counting" as described in The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of "Enough" by Julia Cameron
So, how do these things give me the experience of wealth and prosperity and richness that it seems so many believe only comes from money?

  1. No matter where I am, what my situation is, what the circumstances are, if I can practice gratitude for what is here, now, I am in a state of appreciation.
  2. Setting an intention allows me to also place myself in positive states, where I help to facilitate good feelings and energy for the tasks, joys, and challenges that face me in day-to-day life. 
  3. Shopping for anything beyond the essentials is not only a waste of time and money, it also exacerbates feelings of lack and envy. Conversely, spending time in nature is restorative and plunges you deep into the abundance of the natural world. Have you ever thought about the fact that the only beings on the earth that use money are humans? (For more on this, read this fascinating interview about "The Man Who Quit Money".)
  4. Smartphones, while useful, are pitfalls of distraction. Just what exactly do I need to be distracted from, if I'm feeling lucky, appreciative and prosperous? If I'm present, I can deepen these feelings and discover new details and thoughts and feelings. 
  5. I'd like to write a whole post on this, but I've decided that when I see something that someone else has that is beautiful or fine in some way, rather than sinking into feelings of longing or envy or wanting, instead I make an effort to smile and say, "good for them!" or "how lovely!" or something that appreciates the element that I find so attractive, and celebrates the fact that someone has that beauty or fineness in their lives. It is not up to me to judge whether or not they deserve it, or whether they have earned it...that's not my concern. I get to be excited by prosperity wherever I find it, and not just when I own something. And, as the brilliant Carrie Contey has taught me, "What you appreciate appreciates."
  6. So much of our anxiety around money comes from not really knowing how much we have, how much we get, or how much we spend. If you begin to consciously write down what comes in and what goes out, you can begin to lessen your anxiety and inhabit a place of greater trust and peace when it comes to the money part of prosperity. And, if you debt frequently, this can help you address that. 
In our culture, money (and specifically, the having of money) equals prosperity. But while money facilitates a lot of things in life, and can of course buy beautiful things and important services, you do not need a lot of money to have the experience of being wealthy and prosperous.

I know people who have lots of money, but do not have this experience. There's always a number that would make them feel better, more secure, more important. No amount--really--will change those feelings.

And, after all, as Tim Ferriss, author of the The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
 says, it's not the million dollars in the bank that people are really after--it's the way people assume those with millions in the bank feel and live.

There's also a way in which carping about what we lack or what other people have, or what we have that other people want to take is a shirking of responsibility, a way to play the victim. When we always say that we don't have "enough," we give up a lot of our power to others. It's a game where you're the loser and someone else is the winner, even though that's not how the world works. Focus on yourself and your sphere of influence. Save the world by saving yourself first

Let me repeat: You can be prosperous and abundant and rich right this very second, if you appreciate what you already have--both the material and non-material--and you realize that you have enough. For those of us raised with messages and feelings of scarcity, this is powerful medicine. I know that I often asked my parents if we were poor, not even knowing really what that meant. I just knew what I heard--that we didn't have enough. This is hard to overcome, and why the practices I listed above are daily ones. The gratitude and prosperity muscle needs daily work to keep it strong.

 I'll close by saying that I love living like this. I love looking at my children, my husband, my dog, the trees around me, the birds and frogs and earthworms and my amazing (totally normal, but still amazing!) refrigerator full of good food, my strong, healthy arms, my eyesight, my comfortable office chair, scotch tape, nicely bound books full of poetry... (you get the idea, I could go on!) and I! I am rich beyond my wildest imaginings. And if I only had my family and we were all healthy, I think I'd feel rich even then. And if I didn't have my health, I would have to do some serious work to appreciate what I did have--but I think I'd get there, so long as I survived.

It's a practice, but to live feeling wealthy and fortunate regardless of the number in my bank account is such a blessing.

I hope this post has given you some good ideas on how to increase your wealth and prosperity right now, in this moment that is all we really have.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me, and let me know your thoughts in the comments. When was the last time you felt really prosperous?


Friday, September 6, 2013

Back from vacation...

...and working on a new post for you soon. I could just rush through it, but it feels meaty to me, so I'm gonna take my time. Look for it early next week. As always, thanks for being here!