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You Might Be Thinking About Abundance All Wrong

Shifting from thinking about your life from a place of scarcity to one of plenty is a pretty limited version of abundance. Here's a better way.

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A year ago, while scrolling through Instagram, I came across two famous spiritual/wellness coaches from the yoga community holding a live conversation about lack mentality and abundance. Coined by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, lack mentality (or scarcity mindset) is the tendency to think that there’s only so much of good things—money, happiness, joy—to go around. It’s like there’s a finite pie, and if one person takes a big slice, others go hungry.

The women’s argument was that looking at life through the lens of scarcity holds you back. Their solution: cultivating a mindset of abundance. Essentially, believing that there’s enough pie for everyone. The women—both bestselling authors whose names have become multi-million dollar brands—were marketing an online program that they claimed would help women develop an abundance mindset around money.

Normally, I would have been engaged by this conversation. After all, I’ve done a lot of work on my relationship with scarcity and having a mindset of abundance in therapy and in my yoga practice. I’ve found that doing personal work around lack mentality is crucial to mental and emotional health. And mindfully honoring the abundance of positive things in our lives can help us access a deeper relationship with the Self and self-worth, with inherited and generational financial issues, and with the communities we are connected to. But this virtual event left me feeling angry and annoyed.

Mid-conversation, one of the women said something around the lines of, “The energy you exude attracts things into your life. If it’s negative, you’ll be surrounded by negative things. If it’s positive and abundant, you’ll be surrounded by wonderful things.” This line of thinking has never sat well with me, because it places the responsibility for negative events on the individual. But often, these are the result of circumstances beyond the person’s control. That’s especially true right now, in the midst of a pandemic and economic collapse.

See also: 6 Simple Ways to Clear Negative Energy

The problem with focusing on personal abundance

The women’s conversation reeked of toxic positivity. Messages such as “Stay Positive No Matter What,” “Raise Your Vibration,” and “Your Circumstances are a Direct Result of the Energy You Project Into the Universe,” are always harmful. But they’re particularly damaging to our health and wellness right now because they don’t acknowledge our current circumstances.

A few months ago, I lost my primary income teaching yoga when my local studio had to cut back on their offerings due to COVID-19 precautions.  I felt a lot of shame about my unemployment, even though I wasn’t at fault. I was also afraid about what this meant to me, both financially and professionally. When I voiced my concerns to others, I often got responses that were a form of toxic positivity, like “Well, your husband has a good job so you don’t really have to worry about work right now,” and “Now you can just focus on raising your son, won’t that be nice?”

Since the pandemic began, millions of people have lost jobs or loved ones through no fault of their own. And here these women were, packaging that loss into an online course that further shamed and marginalized people’s experiences.

See also: Should Yoga & Politics Mix?

A better way to think about lack and abundance

What I found most disturbing about the conversation was that the women having it were defining lack mentality as something that prevented people from achieving their most desired goals—financial or otherwise—without first acknowledging their own privilege or actively finding ways to help people who were struggling to afford food nearly a year into a pandemic. I have never seen either of these coaches lend their voices to social justice movements or involve themselves in any type of philanthropic endeavors.

In the past year I have witnessed extraordinary things from members of the yoga and wellness community. At the beginning of the pandemic, for example, my friend Jen Pastiloff organized a three-month-long fundraising event in the form of IG Live conversations, titled after her infamous workshops and bestselling book, On Being Human. The talks featured everyone from celebrities to mental health specialists and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support people who were unable to afford groceries after losing jobs and businesses during the lockdown.

So many spiritual coaches, yoga teachers, authors, and activists have been trailblazers for those of us who are looking for ways to help others who are struggling. Some have led conversations around mental health, poverty, systemic racism, and the intersectionality of these issues. Others have leaned into political activism and created free programs, counseling, classes, and workshops for the benefit of those dealing with hardship.

To me, this is what an abundance mindset really looks like. It’s not cornering lack mentality and making it go away completely. It’s about acknowledging it and working alongside it with mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation to help yourself—not just for ourselves, but for everyone else, too.

Mindfulness does not mean ignoring our own pain, suffering, and lack. It means acknowledging our circumstances as true and real and being open to support from our community. It also involves recognizing systemic injustices that cause the lack, poverty, hardship, and circumstances of others who we are most inclined to distance ourselves from in an effort to avoid pain and sadness. 

See also: Support Your Local Yoga Community

Abundance for all

I switched off the live chat and took out a pen and paper. I began making a list of all the things in both my personal life and the world that made me feel less than and helpless: how the pandemic isolated my child from being able to learn social skills, and how I wasn’t meeting all of his educational, emotional, and social needs. Instead of telling myself that this was what was holding me back, I acknowledged the fact that these were all very real concerns. I then texted my support system and asked for help. The help came.

Once I felt supported and validated, I made another list. This list was ways that I could use my privilege, my voice, and my small platform to help support others and acknowledge their struggle in meaningful and lasting ways. I recognized the fact that—like millions of other parents—I was never meant to be the sole provider, educator, nurturer, and playmate for my kid. So I reached out to fellow parents of both older and younger kids, and formed an emotional support network. We all checked in on each other once a week.

I volunteered for organizations like Planned Parenthood, and When We All Vote to support and promote candidates whose platforms addressed the root causes of why parents felt like we were all doing it alone, and how we could change things for the better.

By stepping into Seva (selfless service), I wasn’t just helping others, I was creating an abundance mindset for myself, too. When we uproot oppressive systems within the Self, we do the same to oppressive systems in society. Our personal and collective wells of abundance should not come with a price tag. The pain and hardship of others should never be a taboo topic, or a source of financial gain for the few.

See also: Embrace Your Bounty With This Meditation on Abundance