Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Enough is Enough

I was chatting to a student the other day, and she was bemoaning the dismal state of her credit card. It has been several years since I have even had a credit card, overdraft, or anything of the sort, and I have come to regards this type of ‘service’ as borderline evil. This conversation was a good reminder of why.

There is nothing better than knowing that the item you just bought was paid for with money you actually have. I think our societal credit frenzy may in part come from losing sight of some of the basics. In yoga the basic principles of how to live in the world are called yamas. Yama is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as restraint, and they are:

  • Ahimsa (non-harming)
  • Satya (honesty)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (responsible sexuality)
  • Aparigraha (greedlessness)

The two that relate most to financial difficulties are asteya and aparigraha. We tend to think of steya (stealing) in its most obvious form: actual thievery. But there are many subtler forms of stealing – from ourselves, from the planet, from others. One way to steal from ourselves is to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. I did this in my early twenties: the day after I signed the contract for my very first job, I trotted out to buy a car on hire purchase (although I had a functional ‘student’ car) and open a clothing store account. I maxed the clothing store card on that very first day, and then spent the next few years trying to pay off the debt. Then I moved on to an actual credit card. Which I maxed. So I had clothing credit, bank credit and card credit to pay every month, and I always ran out of money before payday, so I had to spend more on my credit card. What a vicious circle. So I was basically stealing from my future prosperity in the interests of instant gratification. The other type of stealing inherent in this behaviour is the stealing from the planet by taking far, far more than you need. It was only once I realised this that I started I get my spending under control.

Taking only what you need is the practice of aparigraha – greedlessness. Basically, to practice aparigraha, you need to feel a sense of gratitude for what you have right now, and know that if you are in a position to be reading this, chances are you have as much as, if not more than, you need to survive comfortably. If you are like I used to be, and you think the perfect pair of shoes will actually make any difference, it may be interesting to examine why you really want the shoes, and whether you need them (really). Everything changes – we age, we gain and lose weight, we have prosperous years and not-so-prosperous years. If we try to base our sense of self-worth or contentment on these external things, we are doomed to failure.

It has been interesting for me, former shopping queen, to choose a simpler life in which clothes are what I wear, not who I am, and the illicit, sickening thrill of overspending no longer holds any appeal. I still like to shop, but these days I buy things I will get long use from, and I live a ‘Compact Lite’ life. The Compact are a group of people who have sworn off buying anything new for a year, except food, toiletries and underwear. I am not quite there yet, but I really admire what they are doing. Some of them are even on their second year – amazing!

If you find the idea of cutting down or changing your lifestyle intimidating, consider the areas that feel wrong – when you spend and you get that sick feeling, for example. Maybe just look at that one area and see if you can make small changes there. As with all things in yoga and life, you just need to become aware, and take baby steps, to start seeing a difference.


KB said...

This is a wonderful topic. I can relate to your student and it sounds like you gave great feedback.

It seems to me that there are some things that get us into trouble more quickly than others because we have to make constant decisions about them and there isn't always clarity as to what is in our best interest. Food for example; we make 200+ food choices in a day. And we can't not make those choices unless we stop eating. Fasting is good…to a point. The problem I had the last time I fasted was coming out of it because at that point I was back to having to make all of those crazed choices. The fast gave me that awareness, though. Something like yoga does with our physical selves.

While I have due respect for the 'Compact' life choice. I think of it as a type of fasting: something that should be done in the extreme only for a confined period of time. Otherwise, we aren't really practicing Ahimsa with ourselves. I go to hear the Philharmonic for inspiration, I take Yoga classes and workshops for their rewards, and I do other similar things that cost money and aren't 'Compact.'

And here we step into the difficult gray area where there are constant decision to be made. For example, there is a great yogi coming to town to give workshops, but it is going to cost more than my yoga budget. My decision is in an unclear category. There's the young poor person deciding to take out big loans to go to college. How far? How much?

As you point out so well, building awareness helps us make the better decisions. Yoga, Fasting, or going fully compact for a month are great ways to nurture this awareness and to hopefully help us with the gray decisions about money.


Nadine Fawell said...

So true, KB - too much of anything is too much. Including the good stuff!

Karen Beth said...

Wow! Amazing blog you have here! I love that I came across it in my blog plodding today.

I love your application of yoga principles to spending.

It has taken me a LONG time to realize that spending and getting into debt won't make me happy - the opposite actually. I've never been a credit card user - never even had one - but I have gotten into debt (i.e. overdrafts) other ways.

It is no way to live.

Lovely post. It really spoke to me.

Namaste. :)

Nadine Fawell said...

Thanks, Karen Beth! You are right, it really is no way to live. And I love your thoughts on yoga too - so great to make new blog-friends!