February 7, 2015

Money. Shame. Mindfulness. Relief.


I am deeply curious about why we have societal taboos around a topic that affects everyone every day.

Money. Finances. Having.

Isn’t it interesting and potentially limiting to one’s freedom that it’s “not polite” to discuss financial numbers? I sense a collective assumption that if numbers are brought in to the open (either verbally or visually), then someone will get hurt, offended or lose something they value (even if it’s not clear what specifically would be lost).

I’m an independent contractor. I absolutely love profession and I relish the freedom that comes with setting my own schedule. I feel satisfied with the creative expression of making a positive difference in my client’s lives.

Part of the “cost” of that freedom is tolerating the lack of steady paycheck associated with being an employee. Though, on a day-to-day basis, I am delighted to be doing what I do.

As I write this, it’s the very beginning of 2015.

Recently, I added up my 2014 earnings. Definitely, throughout the course of 2014, I knew that I was a bit behind in reaching my income goals, but it never seemed like a terrible problem at the time. I actually earned more in 2014 than any previous year.

Sounds pretty good, right? I would anticipate that someone in this situation would feel happy after seeing the annual total. I love what I do, I get “paid” in myriad ways in addition to financially and I was aware all along of what I was earning each month.

I want to share with you that simply not reaching my annual financial goal and what I thought and believed about that, led me to a situational depression that took my breath away for a couple of weeks. I felt angry, ashamed, disgusted with myself, harshly critical and an overall sense that I was failing in life in general.

It was as if I were being bruised internally. I felt battered by the emotions, beliefs and fears. Within seconds, my internal condition plummeted in to deep despair. Just from seeing a number, which I could have easily estimated in advance.

Wow. That’s a formidable shift.

My meditation and mindfulness practices, thankfully, gave me some distance from believing these painful internal assessments for too long. Challenging and painful moments like these are exactly why I meditate. I sit when the proverbial weather is calm, so that I have some relative ease with accessing awareness when the foul weather rolls around.

Mind you, I am extremely organized. Part of how I personally generate a sense of safety is to keep on top of tracking my numbers. I look at them weekly, at a minimum. I am officially a geek when it comes to tracking this stuff and proud of it!

So, how was it, then, that I could faithfully keep up with the micro-picture of my finances all year and suddenly feel like a complete failure in life when viewing the macro-picture? That is a big instantaneous jump!

I will share with you how applying mindfulness and gratitude helped me navigate the very difficult set of emotions, resulting from a mere mental interpretation of my 2014 earnings number.

Difficulty #1: Panic.
Tool #1: Mindfully Noticing.

I learned a helpful acronym for Fear: “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

It helps me to fact-check the fears that arise. Back to my 2014 earnings story, I noticed that before I computed the number, it seemed like I was fine financially. Then after I computed the number, all of a sudden, my mind panicked and tried to convince me that my proverbial sky was falling. “It’s not enough! We didn’t make enough! We must change things, immediately, to fix this emergency! This is terrible!” (False Evidence Appearing Real).

Mindfully noticing helped me detect the painful fears exploding like fireworks. When I observe my thought stream, sometimes I can detect the False Evidence that is Appearing Real. The panic doesn’t just stop in my mind, however—my body reacts accordingly and the “fight or flight” system kicks in to gear. As if I’m a firewoman and the mind is sounding a false fire alarm. The firewoman doesn’t know it’s a false alarm until she investigates the situation.

Helpful practices for when panic blooms:

Focus on breathing regularly and evenly, and count the breaths in and out to 10.

Write a non-judgmental list of the thoughts and fears the mind has generated, just to clear them out and gather them in one place that is not inside the head.

Label sensations in the body, especially where there is tightness. Say out loud something like, “Chest feels warm. Cheeks feel tight.”

Look around the room, and say out loud a simple description of what is seen (i.e. green lamp, gray carpet, blue sky through the window).

Difficulty #2: Shame.
Tool #2: Affirmations.

I’m curious why my mind generates harsh judgment towards me for things that I cannot change, especially when those things are in the past. If the mind said something like, “It’s okay, kid, you’ll get ‘em next time,” I can understand working with that and getting constructive feedback out of it. But when the mind generates any kind of “should,”  I can be pretty sure that it’s not my highest-self delivering that message. I am not able to change anything that I have already done. No intensity of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” thinking, will allow me to revise history.

I’ve learned another helpful acronym for this pinch. Shame—Should Have Already Mastered Everything.

The shame response tells me that I did wrong, and am falling short as a person somehow. I should already know how to do everything, and do it perfectly. The shame response told me that the entire year was a failure for me personally, due to not meeting my income goal.

I can take great benefit from cultivating self-love and tenderness towards this creature (who is always doing the best that she can). For whatever reason, it comes more naturally to me to act and feel tenderly towards other creatures. At some point, my mind exempted me from the deserving of tenderness club and mindfulness practices help me get back in the club.

If it doesn’t seem to come naturally to speak kindly with myself, then I need to cultivate the skill. That’s where the “practice” part comes in; I do it over and over until it becomes second nature.

Helpful tools for when the shaming self-critic is activated:

Write affirmations. I’ve learned that I cannot just stop thinking the negative thoughts. I have not found the Mute button for them. I need to consciously replace them with positive thoughts. If the positive feels too hoky, especially when taking on an affirmation practice, then neutral affirmations (in my experience) are far better than no affirmations at all.

Imagine the last time I was kind and gentle towards someone else. Pretend I am dealing with them, and speak to myself in a similarly kind manner.

Difficulty #3: “Compare and Despair.”
Tool #3: Reality-checking.

A painful second wave of self-judgment washed through when I compared myself to other business owners who I assumed made more money than I did in 2014. At the time, my defenses were down from the pain of the first wave of self-judgment. The negative process seemed to pick up momentum and cast its net wider for more potential proof of my failure. This type of thinking can spread like wildfire without my taking some mindful action to change its trajectory.

Helpful tools for when suffering from imagined comparison:

Just the facts. Really, do I specifically know other people’s financial information?

The 12-step tradition says, “Don’t compare your insides to other peoples’ outsides.” I have no idea how it feels to be that other person who I am envying. When I stop the comparison cycle, I am better able to access compassion, patience, and friendliness.

If I can’t be 100 percent loving towards myself in the moment is there anyone from who I could request verbal appreciation? Sometimes I have said to friends, “Could you remind me what you love about me? I’m having a hard time remembering in this moment.” I’ve noticed that it can be intensely vulnerable to make that request and I acknowledge that it is easier said than done.

However, no one has failed me yet, especially when I choose mindfully who to ask.

I encourage you to select any of these practices that would fit where you are in life at this time. I know for a fact that each of us deserves an internal experience of kindness and acceptance. Habitual self-criticism is one my greatest ongoing life challenges. Undertaking mindfulness practices, and using them in good times and bad, has made a world of positive difference for me.

May you be kind to yourself and others.

May you accept the perfection of who you are.

May you see reality and truth under all circumstances.

May you be well right now.


Relephant read:

6 Wise Quotes on Failure.

Author: Beth Crittenden 

Apprentice Editor: Melissa Scavetta

Photo: Materialboy via Flickr

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