Mindfulness, Mirth, and Money

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One of my greatest spiritual teachers has been (and continues to be) money.

It sounds strange, even to my ears.

When I think of spiritual teachers, I think of the Buddha, Jesus,  St. Francis, Rumi. Saints and Sufis, philosophers and monks.  I think of men and women who have demonstrated spiritual law, who have lived godly lives, who have magnified peace and compassion.

I don’t necessarily think of things. Especially not money-type things. After all, love of money is the root of all evil (or all kinds of evil, depending on your biblical version); it doesn’t seem to be an expressly spiritual thing.

And yet money seems to be my first–and longest lasting–teacher in mindfulness.

I first started paying attention to where I spent my money when it seemed I was running out of it.  I had, month after month, mindlessly paid my bills and without ever paying attention to them.  Why? I had enough to pay for them. It was only when my “safety net” dropped below my “acceptable” threshhold that I really started to pay attention.

I noticed how very much I was spending in a nation-wide “big box” store, a store, I might add, who promised to save me lots and lots of money.  I hated going to this store, everything about it was unpleasant, from the struggle to find a parking space to the obviously unhappy cashiers. The chain has a horrible reputation both for poor customer service and for the way it treats its employees.

I knew all of these things.  But yet, I went.

Because it was convenient. It was convenient, I found, to be able to buy light bulbs, socks, and milk all in the same place. It had everything I needed.  And then some.

As I became more aware of my distaste for the store, I began shopping at local stand-alone grocery stores. The prices were higher, I noted, in some cases much higher. So, for a while, I vacillated, torn between the better service and quality of the grocery store and the lower overall prices of the big box store.

And a strange thing happened.

I noticed that the more often I chose the grocery store over the megastore, the more I actually saved on my grocery bill.

It seemed that, aware of higher prices, my shopping became more choosy. I depended less on boxed dinners and general junk and depended more on quality food that wasn’t available in the megastore.

And it occurred to me that, for better or worse, whether I liked it or not, wherever I spent my money, I was supporting what that company stood for.

And that was a wake up call.

If I buy shirts made in a third world country and sewn by three-year-olds for two cents a day, then I am supporting the company that allows that to happen.

If I buy coffee from a company who builds wells and demands living wages and healthful working conditions for those who grow its beans, then I am supporting the company that allows that to happen.

Being mindful enough to know that I have a choice is a very good beginning.

And with everything, mindfulness requires practice.  I’d love to say that I make the right choice 100% of the time, but I can’t.

What I do know is that I’m far more awake than I was a year ago.

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