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Nov 01
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Money, Mind, and Meditation
Part one of a two-part interview with Shastri Matthew Lyon about how the Shambhala spiritual path works with financial success 

How do we, as meditators, learn to balance a spiritual path with worldly achievement? Sometimes financial success can seem at odds with spirituality. Yet, the tradition of Shambhala teaches that through meditation practice we can have a fulfilling and prosperous life. Shastri Matthew Lyon, a Shambhala teacher and financial advisor, answers questions about his class, “Money, Mind, & Meditation: the Inner Path of Prosperity,” which brings practitioners together to contemplate the relationship between money and mindfulness.

Q: Why does the topic of this class feel important to you? 

A: It feels important in several ways. The theme of working with money in relationship to our state of mind, and in relationship to our meditation practice, ties into a pretty major concern that most of us have in the modern world, which is how to work with money properly. This affects so many areas of our lives because of the prominence of money in our culture. I’ve also found in many years of working as a financial advisor that money issues bring up a lot of emotional and psychological aspects of life that we need to address as well.

For example, there is a prevalence of poverty mentality in our culture. Poverty mentality can be defined as a sense of not having enough, feeling insufficient, feeling that our lives are lacking something, fundamentally. That the glass is half empty. This particular problem seems to be endemic in our society in many ways. Addressing poverty mentality in regard to money opens space to talk about it as it applies to other things. We can look at our relationship to money as a way of illuminating other aspects of our state of mind.

The practice of meditation can help us to address these issues. A lot of the problems that we experience with poverty mentality are unconscious and unacknowledged. The big problem is that having what we want on an external level does not translate into having what we want internally, which is an inner sense of fulfillment, happiness, and enrichment. Bringing together money matters, self awareness of our state of mind, and how meditation can help with these matters: these are stepping stones into that larger aspect of modern life.

How can we address poverty mentality? How can we establish an inner path of enrichment so that we have a way to feel fulfilled regardless of what our material situation is? These are important questions that we ask ourselves in this course.

Q: I’ve heard you talk before about “poverty mentality.” Can you explain what that is and how it affects us? 

A: There are a few different ways in which it comes up. It comes up in the sense of basic fear for survival, because in modern life, unless you live an extremely simple life, we can’t survive unless we have a certain amount of money. This is an unconscious level that underlies a lot of the decisions that we make about money.

It also affects our ability to be generous. We would like to give more, but we’re afraid for our own well-being. There’s a kind of fear that comes into our decisions. This shuts down our ability to be generous and gives us underlying anxiety about money issues. We’re afraid of leaving a job because we’re afraid of what our financial situation might be if we left.

Another issue which I have noticed is that, within people who have a sufficient amount of money to live decently, there is still very often fear about not having enough for retirement, or not having enough for this or that. So how should we work with money in our lives? How much do we spend for certain things? What are our priorities? How much should we give reasonably?

I think one of the keys to living a fulfilled life in general is to cultivate generosity. And even though that doesn’t relate just to money, it’s invoked by money. How much money do we give? We naturally have a sense of wanting to give, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear around that in our lives, causing us to hold back.

Stinginess if it’s applied to our lives in general, not just money, shuts down our sense of generosity or sense of fulfillment. On a practical level it limits our happiness from day to day. When we buy the cheapest thing without even considering our budget, what are we supporting? Are we supporting a local farmer who’s producing high quality organic fruit or are we supporting a large corporation? And how is it affecting our health? Are we really being clear about what we actually can afford and what we can’t? Or is it actually this gut level uncertain impulse just to buy the cheapest one all the time?

There’s no set answer for these questions because everyone’s budget is different. But we need to ask these questions and allow ourselves to look at them.

Q: How does the Buddhist version of having a healthy relationship with money differ from tips and tricks we might learn in the financial world? Are they related? Can these two things work together?

A: There are a few things. One is just to be clear on what our financial situation is. And you know this varies a lot from person to person.

Another part is that when we’re clear on what our situation is, then we know how much we can give. One of the major themes of this course is generosity–the whole process of generosity, and how it works. And it’s pretty hard to be generous with money if we don’t really know how much we have. Do we know how much we’re giving? What percentage of our income is that? Could we give more? We need to clarify these issues.

Then we can ask ourselves the question, “Why is it important to actually give money?” Generosity is described in the dharmic teachings as the virtue that produces peace. But what I’ve found is that in this culture, the process of giving money is extremely important, because there is such neurosis around money in our culture. And so when one gives money, even if it’s a small amount, even if it’s just a dollar or five dollars, that becomes an antidote or an empowering act, which helps us to overcome some of this worry. It’s this intuitive sense, or a sense of inner richness, that we have enough, as opposed to that we don’t have enough to be able to give.

Q: Can you talk about the teachings and where they come from? How does this connect to a personal meditation practice? 

A: Well there are a few different levels. For example, the course follows the logic of the first three levels of Shambhala Training. The basic standpoint is from the point of view of meditation teachings. When we are mindful, when we learn to be present with ourselves and our own experience, we’re naturally tuning into and learning to experience our basic goodness.

In the context of this course, I am expressing that feeling basic goodness is also feeling basic wealth or a sense of inner richness–that our inner life is worthy and includes great possibility and potential, that just to be a human being gives us an inherent richness. Because of our mindset we often feel a sort of insufficiency or anxiety. We’re often out of touch with that sense of inner richness.

And then, looking at it from the standpoint of mindfulness, how meditation helps us: it brings the issues that we’re working on well into the forefront of our consciousness; it brings us self-awareness so that we can be aware of the obstacles we personally have, obstacles to experiencing that sense of inner richness.

Finally, since most of us are required or motivated to be in the working world, how does that sense of mindfulness invoke our inner richness? How does that apply to our life in the world? In our jobs, and in working with the money matters in our lives, how does that apply to the process of being a more generous person, being a happier person, being more fulfilled?

Mindfulness practice and meditation connect us to our ability to deal with all of those things: our inner experience, the obstacles that we have in our lives, and the possibility of working more effectively in the world in general. With the concept of “warriorship” in this type of tradition, in developing a path of mindfulness and learning to be present we’re also learning to express that natural courage of human nature. This is really tied in with generosity.

“Money, Mind, and Meditation” applies the sanity and gentleness of the Way of the Warrior to our relationship with finances and how we define prosperity. Shastri Matthew Lyon has been a financial advisor for the past 34 years, and has worked extensively with countless people in helping them to find a form of financial well-being, which includes inner peace. 

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