Money and the Truth: Practicing Satya

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by Brent Kessel

“What do you know about yourself that you’d rather nobody else know?”

I typically ask this question in my "Yoga of Money" workshop, because after 16 years of financial planning for individuals, couples, and families, I’ve learned that we all have money secrets. Maybe it’s the credit card that you use for little indulgences that your husband doesn’t know about. Maybe it’s the friends who think your family isn’t nearly as rich as you are because you intentionally dress down in front of them.

The second yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is satya, which loosely translated means “truthfulness.” Another definition I like even more is “that which has no distortion.” What would it mean to have “no distortion” in the way we portray ourselves with money?

To begin with, we need a truthful, distortion-free assessment of our current financial situation. Do you know how much you spend each month? I was recently helping out a 21-year-old college student who thought her spending was probably “a few hundred dollars a month.” We set her up on mint.com, which immediately downloaded her last 3 months of spending, and voila–she’d actually been spending $2,100 per month! This was a painful but necessary moment of truth-telling which has allowed her to reduce her spending by 60 percent over the past several months. Getting a handle on what you spend, earn, have, and owe is a necessary first step to making any type of progress financially.

Next, we need to be willing to see the money masks we put on every day in front of others. This is a lot like having a well-trained and courageous yoga teacher point out the places in your body where you’re unconscious in a particular pose. The moment of being busted is painful, uncomfortable, perhaps even a bit shameful. But there’s also a boost from the increase in integrity that can be felt if you’re paying close attention—a subtle feeling of becoming more aligned with Truth and not living your life to reinforce an image of who your ego wants you to be.

Lastly, we need to be able to come clean with others about our money masks. A client of mine was recently asked by a new acquaintance what she did for a living. She deflected the question with “I’m thinking of going back to school to get a PhD.” After thinking more deeply about the truth of her situation and the fact that she wanted a more honest relationship with this person, she changed her answer at their next lunch. “You know when you asked me what I did for a living and I told you I was thinking of going back to school? Well, that’s all true, but not the whole situation. My late husband was involved in a startup that was very successful and as a result, I’ve got resources that allow me to not have to work. It’s a very privileged situation, and one that I fear will create a barrier between me and others, so I usually hide it. But I felt as though you could handle it, and I’m making an effort to be more truthful in relationships that feel important to me.”

Money is so closely tied to success, power, and attractiveness in our culture that it’s become taboo to talk about what’s really going on. It’s easier to ask someone about the quality of their sex life than how much money he or she made last year. Try on the practice of satya in your financial life. In the next 24 hours, come clean with yourself or at least one other person about something true about you and money. Perhaps find out something you don’t already know about what you spend, earn, have, or owe. Or own up to a money mask you’ve been wearing. And then notice how life rewards you for your courage.

Brent Kessel is a yogi by dawn and financial planner by day, having dedicated himself to yoga since 1989 and progressed to the fifth series of Ashtanga under Chuck Miller and Pattabhi Jois. As the cofounder of Abacus Wealth Partners, a financial-planning firm specializing in sustainable investing for individual clients in 35 states, Brent has been named multiple times as one of the top financial advisors in the United States by Worth magazine. An advanced practitioner in both finance and yoga, Brent is the country's foremost authority on bridging these two disparate worlds for personal transformation. He has appeared on the CBS Early Show and ABC News, has been quoted in the Wall Street JournalNew York Times, and Los Angeles Times, and is the coauthor of "The Money & Spirit" workshop. Learn more at abacuswealth.com/yoga.