I can still recall, from my childhood, a TV commercial for an expensive camera. It featured a famous tennis star in a flashy setting and pounding music.
“Image is everything,” he proclaimed.
Growing up, my mother cared a lot about our family’s appearance and would always compliment my sister and me when we looked smart. Excelling in school was also expected, and although she was no strict disciplinarian, I knew how to behave, because disappointing her felt like a grave crime.
Like most first-generation immigrants, friends became as close as families. Blood relations were so far away!
My mother’s closest friend was a larger-than-life restaurateur. A showy, demanding woman at the center of most social gatherings in our circle. Yet her image contradicted her behavior, as my mother regularly complained that she was constantly asking to borrow money, often into thousands of dollars, to fund her ostentatious lifestyle. Believing that’s what friends are for, my mother would give in, knowing that the chance of repayment was slim.
I was annoyed with this setup and vowed never to let anyone take advantage of me. As a result, I rarely did anything for anyone without expecting something in return. For example, I took on an extravagant habit of paying for the whole table when dining out with friends, nonchalantly saying that they can cover the bill the next time. If they didn’t return the favor within a few weeks, I would severely judge their character.
As I got older, my views somewhat softened. I could empathize with those struggling to get by, but I was never going to be like them. “I shall spend responsibly, save and that will guarantee financial security.” And it seemed that luck was on my side, too. I landed a well-paying job right out of university and was quickly promoted. I bought a condo and in a few years sold it for a solid profit. I used the proceeds to buy beachfront land on an island in Thailand, convinced that the property would appreciate value as quickly and handsomely as did my condo.
A Lesson in Impermanence
The 2008 financial crisis, along with political upheaval in Thailand, gave me a wakeup call. The planned quick-profit was no longer realistic and I was stuck with my purchase for the time being.
I decided that instead of waiting for my luck to change, I would start building some homes on the land and rent them out to vacationers. After lots of hard work and more investment, I had a small collection of pool villas ready to offer. However, I began receiving news that all was not well shortly after guests started to arrive. Reports of missing money and electronic gadgets became more frequent, but I dismissed them as carelessness on the part of my customers. However, when friends visited and found their room ransacked after dinner one evening, it was clear that I had a burglar problem.
I had constructed a self-image of the cool, adventurous hotelier, and was caught off-guard when this very ugly problem showed up at my door. I remember feeling incredibly stressed. Will my business fail because of this? I would expect the worse every time my phone rang, convinced that another theft just took place. I spent many sleepless nights when all the homes were fully booked, nervous and worried, instead of resting easy with financial security. Why was this happening to me?
Although the burglary problem was eventually solved, the experience soured me from my beachfront paradise. I started to spend more time away from the island and trusted my staff to keep things in order. I would visit only once every couple of months and left as soon as I could do so. I should have been proud of the business that I spent close to a decade building, but I was instead filled with anxiety, expecting another theft at any moment.
Material Success through Yoga Principles
On the island, I often visited, with my next-door neighbor, a European couple with a collection of bungalows and a lively restaurant, and was always impressed with how they ran their business. Instead of speaking candidly, I wanted to convince them that everything was perfect at my place. Why was I away so much? Because I have other businesses that needed my attention, I explained, trying to sound impressive when, in fact, I felt like a failure. I kept up this charade with friends and family, too. Image is everything, after all.
As the prison of worry and doubt became more and more consuming, I knew I had to do something about it. I started looking deeper into yoga, something that I had been practicing, albeit with a physical focus, for years.
The search eventually led me to enroll in Ananda’s Kriya preparation course.
I had a hard time remembering the last time that I spent money for anything unrelated to my business – it felt incredibly freeing to invest in my spiritual development. Old habits die hard, however, and I was caught with a stinging feeling of contractiveness – shouldn’t I only keep my money for myself? Can the pursuit of yoga make me a more successful entrepreneur?
Divine Mother heard my concern and I soon discovered that material success and yoga can go hand-in-hand. One of the first affirmations that I committed to memory was Material Success affirmation by ParamhansaYogananda – with Mary Kretzmann.
I repeated this prayer constantly. Every time that money worries threaten to drown me, the vibrant rhythm of this affirmation lifted my mood. Even though my circumstances didn’t change, I now had a tool to combat my incessant worries. I found myself more accepting of my situation and did not give into fears and anxiety as easily as I did before.
Then, out of nowhere, my European neighbors approached me about leasing my property! This was, quite literally the answer to my prayer. We easily agreed to a mutually beneficial contract and, suddenly, my concerns disappeared overnight. Amusingly, my neighbor admitted that he wanted to approach me for a years now but didn’t want to insult me. “You always seemed so proud of your place,” he said, “I didn’t want to suggest that I could do a better job.”
Image, as it turned out, was everything that was holding me back.
Giving Unconditionally to God
I learned about tithing, or giving 10% of your income to the source of your spiritual inspiration, around the time that I was free from the business of running my resort. It was a new concept and it made me feel uncomfortable, for I had never given money on a regular basis to any organization before.
However, I decided to give it a go, as I longed to build up a renewed relationship with money. In addition, I felt like I was receiving so much from Ananda and I wanted to give back.
I must admit that I hoped to be rewarded for my generosity. Who knows, perhaps another investor would show up and offer me millions for my place! Of all the things that could have happened, though, the last thing that I expected was to face a financial karmic storm that took about a year to resolve.
Following that, the pandemic shut down the tourism industry for another couple of years. I did not know if my neighbor could survive the lack of tourists, which would mean the end of my rental income.
Throughout it all, I tithed, some months more than others depending on how much money was coming in. I noticed that my outlook was changing. I no longer expected to be paid in such uncertain circumstances, so, whenever money did come in, I would gratefully tithe.
By now I’ve come to see that my approach to money is reflected in my understanding of spirituality. To quote Yogananda: “I wrongly fancied that I was poor, so I was poor.”
Shifting the focus away from personal scarcity to shared abundance is an ongoing project for me. For so long, my security had come from the amount of money that I possessed, but the events of the past few years have taught me that things could change in an instant. Faith in God through supporting the source of my spiritual inspiration has been a priceless experiment in how much I value the teachings.
Many sages, including Yogananda, spoke of an upcoming global upheaval so that a new, more enlightened world, can emerge out of its ashes. Thus, giving up a contractive, lacking outlook on money now can only be advantageous for our collective spiritual development. We find this advice in 1 Timothy 6:18-19, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”