“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” — Matthew 21-22.
My friend Jeff wanted to win the lottery. It would be the answer to all of his prayers, he thought, and he daydreamed about it constantly. A solid middle class blue-collar worker with two healthy children and a loving wife, he considered himself fortunate, but couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to have a lot of money. He could see himself paying off the mortgage, maybe getting that fishing boat he’d been longing for, and, of course, a year off for travelling wouldn’t be bad either. Life would be so easy — no bills, no hassles, and no stress. What a dream! Who in their right mind wouldn’t want that?
Then he started thinking how having that much money would change the way others saw him and how his friends and relatives would want a handout. He would have to say no, of course, to most of them, and would probably alienate everyone. After all, most lottery winners take their cash in yearly stipends, not all at once. And with prices going up all the time, what seems like a fortune today could become merely a sufficient income tomorrow.
Costs have a way of escalating. Getting a nicer home would mean higher mortgage payments. A larger house would require more furniture, which needs more upkeep. Getting an extra car would mean getting more insurance. He would want to send his kids to college, and they would need cars, too, along with a myriad of other things. There just wouldn’t be that much to go around. He would have to put his immediate family first. Everyone else would have to fend for themselves, just like he had been doing all along.
Jeff and his wife always put family first. Both their parents lived nearby, and they needed more and more help as they got older. He had two brothers; she had a brother and two sisters. None of them had gone to college, and all of them were in about the same boat, financially, as they were. If he helped his parents, would his wife think that he was being unfair to hers? The family politics were complicated enough without adding a pile of money to the equation. And even if he did have enough to meet everyone’s needs, did he really want to set himself up as godfather, making all the decisions about who got what? God Almighty! How could he possibly make everyone happy?
Friendships were important to Jeff, too. Most of his buddies had gone to high school with him, and some went all the way back to grade school. He had always felt awkward around rich people, because he had the bad habit of trying to impress them, thinking that they might give him money or at least some valuable advice. What would his life be like if he never knew what his friends’ motives were? Would he be loved only for his money? Would his friends be nervous around him, and would they continually be asking him for things? They were all great people, but they would have to be extraordinary not to start seeing him as either their personal banker or someone who was purposely denying them help when they needed it.
Jeff also believed that if he suddenly became wealthy he would have to associate with those whose incomes matched his own, and he didn’t particularly like those people. They seemed pretentious and shallow. And anyway, they would never accept him as an equal, no matter how much money he had. After all, they had gone to college, had professional careers, and came from wealthy families. He was unlike them in every way.
Obviously, Jeff had opinions about rich people. He had been schooled in the daytime soaps — the rich were self-indulgent and led reckless lives. Husbands and wives always cheated on each other. Divorces were frequent and often violent. Their kids were cynical and usually wound up on drugs, became pregnant, or both. For Jeff, being wealthy meant that you were decadent, narcissistic and bored. And you could never trust anyone, not even your spouse.
Life for the rich, he believed, was all about “getting yours.” How could anyone who lived like that ever enjoy the simple things in life, the things that really matter? If he was rich, would he become obsessed with getting more and more money, the way he thought wealthy people were? Would his kids become spoiled and get into trouble? Would he become suspicious of his wife? These scenarios were frightening. No amount of money was worth losing love and happiness over!
Were any of Jeff’s opinions about rich people true? He knew they probably weren’t. But deep down, he felt that if he suddenly came into a lot of money that he would lose his place in the world. The newly rich usually make fools of themselves, he thought, through conspicuous consumption. And though people envy them, no one really likes them. No, there was just too much about being rich that he either didn’t trust or didn’t understand. He realized that he had it pretty good right where he was and decided that being wealthy wasn’t for him.
All of this didn’t stop Jeff from daydreaming about winning the lottery, but now he knew it was just an idle fantasy and not what he truly desired. Life might not be a bed of roses, but he had his family and his friends. This was the kind of wealth he could accept wholeheartedly. His life was a perfect demonstration of what he was actually praying for. Top on his list was a loving family and lots of friends with whom he could relax and be himself. This is exactly what he had. He was in complete control. Having money, in his mind, would jeopardize everything.
Once we learn that prayer works, we feel that we must immediately set about getting our prayers answered. There is a feeling that we should ask for the things that everyone else on our block is asking for, such as health, wealth, and happy children. What we don’t realize is that there has never been a time in our life when we haven’t been praying, that the patterns of acceptance woven into the fabric of our day-to-day living are, indeed, our prayers.
Our actions mirror the conditions that we will accept and the conditions that we will not accept. The truth of this is reflected in the saying, “You are always exactly where you need to be.” Merely changing our actions, besides bringing us face to face with our resistance, will not by themselves affect any lasting change. We have to look closely at our “bottom line,” those deeply held, sometimes subconscious beliefs that motivate us to do the things that we do.
Are all rich people obsessed with money? No. In fact, the opposite is usually true — it’s when we’re broke that we become obsessed with money! As Mark Twain said, “Money isn’t everything, as long as you have enough of it.” The lack of money breaks up more marriages than being wealthy does. But these were Jeff’s beliefs about what it means to be rich. Our beliefs about money are powerful regulators of how much of it we allow to come into our lives.
Possessions work the same way. We are successful when we own what we have, not just on paper, but in our heart and mind, as well. Pursuing things we don’t really want, simply because we think we should, is the same as going into debt, only spiritually. And regardless of how much of the material things of life we possess, we can only have as much as we are comfortable having. As long as our possessions do not interfere with the things that we really value, such as love, family, and friendship, we can have as much or as little as we want.
The fact is, we always have exactly as much as we are willing to accept. Sometimes we think we want much more than we actually do. When we think about it, really think about it, we find out that money and possessions might not be the things that we are actually praying for.
Principle into practice
Here is an exercise that I know you will find helpful. It’s called “Fasting from Acquisitiveness.” It is the deliberate reversal of the desire to acquire more money and possessions.
Here’s how it works: each morning when you wake up, say to yourself, “I have enough.” Briefly review the things that you have, your money, your possessions, and your relationships. Create the feeling (pretend) that all of these things are more than sufficient to fulfill your desires. Allow your heart, if only for a moment, to feel satisfied. Then forget about the exercise and start your day.
At night, as you’re falling asleep, say to the Infinite, “Thank you.” Again, mentally encompass all that you have — “select all” like the computer menu says — and create the deepest feelings of gratitude that you can muster. Allow your heart to touch, if only for a moment, the hem of the garment of perfect gratitude. Then drift off to sleep.
Do this morning and night for 21 days. This will effectively establish the pattern of perfect fulfillment. After all, if there’s no pattern for perfect fulfillment within you, how will you ever experience it?
The feelings of gratitude and satisfaction are independent from the circumstances of your life. In other words, you can feel grateful without having to feel grateful for a particular thing. You are simply allowing your heart to have the feeling without attaching the feeling to an external object. Likewise, the act of saying “I have enough” allows the mind to accept this new idea.
Remember that our mental environment is saturated with the message, “You need more!” This keeps the race going — both the rat race and the human race. We counterbalance this extreme position with another extreme position — “I need more” with “I have enough.”
Our inner pendulum of desire is constantly swinging between the extremes of frustration and satiation. Only when the pendulum comes to a standstill do we find the stillpoint of Buddhism, the “I shall not want” of the 23rd Psalm, and the peace of Jesus Christ.
“When the mind is quiet and the heart is still, the doors of perception are cleansed, and we see the universe as it is — infinite.” — William Blake