Hard Times

Unlike most self-employed people, I’m quite content when things slow down. I have half a dozen projects on the go that, since they don’t produce any short-term income, usually take second place. Slow business enables me to work on my blog, my new book or my website makeover.

Sometimes, however, things are too slow. The recession that’s put millions out of work around the world seemed at first to not affect me, but last autumn I noticed that funds were not dribbling into my reserves any more; in fact, they were seeping out.

My first reaction was to assure myself that this was a blip on the radar, and that things would work out; I’d be a financial optimist. I recalled that I’ve always managed to land on my feet; that I don’t live in a war zone or a failed state; that I have resources.

Of course, that’s in the cold light of day. In the middle of the night, when panic sets in, I see money flowing out like a babbling brook down a steep mountainside. Worse, I slip one notch lower and see the universe holding me to account for my true nature: a failed human being, finally exposed for who I am.

Sometimes I have to actually get out of bed to shake off demons like this—I can’t do it in that half-conscious state that’s so susceptible to wild imaginings. It takes a few minutes, but I soon get a grip and realise that failure is just a way of seeing myself — a choice, though a subconscious and automated one.

I remember other times, when in a similar state of semi-slumber I saw the whole universe aligned with my hopes, sending bright rainbows to guide my way and pots of gold to reward me. In those times, I see another true self: this time a happy child of bounty!

It never ceases to amaze me how I get trapped by this nonsense—how on earth can I fall for such one-dimensional claptrap as my ‘true nature?’ My visions of total failure and utter success haven’t the least connection with reality; they’re just ways of seeing myself or, as Buddhists would say, seeing my self.

Notwithstanding the cute language, they’ve got a point. In this case, there’s clearly no such a person as ‘Stephen the total failure’ or ‘Stephen the bounteous boy.’ These aren’t just inaccuracies in need of correction; they’re complete fabrications with no bearing on reality.

Actually, that’s not true, and here lies the tragedy, I know from hard and embarrassing experience that I’ve at times fallen for them hook line and sinker, and they’ve guided my footsteps in very real ways. Visions of heaven and hell are interconnected. The harder I try to maintain the optimistic view, the sooner it collides with reality and leaves me with the pessimistic one. It’s a vicious, self-destructive cycle.

In these moments of lucidity I remember that those who present ‘spirituality’ as a wonderful world of positive thinking are off their rocker. I step into the spiritual life when I realise that the reality before me is workable, not a heaven- or hell-sent scenario; that the best perspective is one without projections of hope and fear. Then I can take stock of my situation, explore my resources and prosper.

Survival isn’t just a way of getting by; it’s a great teacher, a reminder that the spiritual life is material, and the material is spiritual. We can’t wrest one side of our nature from the other; we need both, and we need them integrated.

Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

4 thoughts on “Hard Times”

  1. That would be similar to the way I feel, if not for the fact that the pessimistic view has been quite dominant in my life up until now.

    I’m trying hard to be mindful, but nope – that feeling is always here, and it’s crippling me.

    (Sorry for bringing up such an old topic; I discovered your blog some time ago and I’m gradually reading all of it. A really good, profound and touching one)
    (And English is not my mother tongue, since I’m Italian. So, sorry again)

  2. Hey lamb-O: Mindfulness is not going to make bad feelings go away; that’s not what it’s for. However, if you use it instead to understand your feelings as experience (not as theory), you may find new ways to respond to them.

    I couldn’t tell you’re not an English speaker. And thanks for the complement.

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