The Financial Hack Even Your Guru Will Approve

Turns out it’s 100 percent possible—and necessary—to apply mindful principles to your financial life. Here’s how and why. 

Solomon Halpern is the president of Highlander, a mindful finance company in Boulder, CO, and is a frequent speaker at the Wanderlust Speakeasy.

Money talks, but it’s often a one-sided conversation. Aside from that Facebook friend who happened to invest in Bitcoin at just the right time and whose posts boast more statistics than the New York Stock Exchange, talking about money and finances can be tough. It’s right up there with religion and politics when it comes to taboo topics, and even close friends tread lightly when comes to what’s in personal coffers. This is often compounded in mindful communities—can you be a spiritual person and have an affirming relationship with something as materialistic as money? Sol Halpern, president of Highlander, a mindful finance company, has made a career in the belief that yes—you not only can, but you should.

“As mindfulness practitioners, we have this incredible source of goodness or brightness in our life already,” Sol says, “and then we tend to not bring that into our financial lives.” But what does mindful finance even mean? “The short version is the message that you already have everything you need to make financial decisions and turn your financial life into a source of personal strength,” says Sol. He says we can take the same learnings of innate wisdom that we consider when making decisions in other areas of lives—what food we buy, where we buy clothes, how we treat others—and apply those same principles to our financial lives as well.

What Mindful Finance Looks Like

The stigma around money shows up in ways that cause us to clam up when it comes time to make important financial decisions, buying a house, for example. Sol says that very often our default MO when approaching this challenge is to turn off and shut down, because it’s something we don’t intuitively understand. This in turn results in us feeling powerless, because we assume that the nitty gritty of the situation—what interest rate we’ll get, whether we’ll qualify for financing—is out of our control. Not so, says Sol.

“Instead of turning off, shutting down, and getting uptight… Say no,” says Sol. “Just check in with what you’re feeling.” He advises his clients with a technique that he calls Breathe, Feel, Speak. “The notion here is breathe, just take a moment, like a mindful moment, flashing on it and bring mindfulness into your own experience,” he says. Notice how you’re feeling, particularly if you’re feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed in the situation.

“And then “speak” is to say that,” says Sol. “To say, like, “Hey. By the way, I’m actually not feeling terribly comfortable with this.” Or, “Here’s some things that are worrying me.” And you have the bravery to say the things that you think maybe you should already know, or you’re embarrassed about.”

Coming from a place of mindfulness gives you the confidence to be exactly who you are—and in that moment you may well be someone who doesn’t totally understand complex finances. We often learn on the mat that our vulnerabilities are our greatest strengths. Why would taking these lessons off the mat not apply when it comes to money?

Money as Personal Development

Sol recognizes—deeply—how complicated our relationship is to money. Money, in short, is a proxy for how we measure ourselves in society, and the basis upon which social structure is built. “It really becomes this extremely powerful fight-or-flight survival kind of level of our life,” says Sol, which are the scariest parts of our lives. There’s no shortage of evidence that mindfulness practices help us to develop an ability to override that kind reactive response by calming the nervous system. When we bring the practice to financial decisions, we’re taking back the proxy of money as an opportunity for personal development, rather than something limiting.

Instead of turning off, shutting down, and getting uptight… Say no. Just check in with what you’re feeling. – Solomon Halpern

“The mindfulness state,” says Sol, “is really just about self-acceptance on a really fundamental level. The notion of a nonjudgmental awareness, the whole point there is that you can accept what’s happening in the present mind and be there for it. Then, it’s not on a pushing away thing or a bringing in fix. You kind of get out of the whole hope and fear aspect of your life, which is incredibly important for your money life as well,” he says.

Once you’ve moved past the fear, says Sol, you’re first able to better assess and understand your emotions around the situation. “Second of all, you have this ability to feel good about yourself no matter what your circumstances are. No matter what ways in which you think maybe there are issues or problems that you’re facing in your financial life, it’s not a problem in the big sense. It’s just a relative problem.”

I’m Broke. What Can Mindful Money Do for Me?

Being able to approach your finances with the lessons you’ve learned from your personal mindfulness practice is all well and good when you’re at the point in your financial life that you’re seeking a mortgage, planning for retirement, or investing in a new venture. But what if you’re struggling to make ends meet, having to save up to go to a yoga class once a week?

Again, says Sol, mindfulness can help. It’s not just about mindfully approaching money matters, but also about approaching money mindfully. It ultimately goes back to the idea of being comfortable in this exact present moment, exactly how you are.

“The mindful way of approaching money is to look at yourself from the state of abundance in the same way that you do in yoga, resist the temptation to compare,” says Sol. “Someone who has a million dollars in their bank account is equivalent of Chelsey Korus doing a one arm handstand on the top of a mountain with a dog on her foot, you know what I mean? And here I am just trying to get into a Downward-Facing Dog.” It’s all about perspective.

The mindfulness state is really just about self-acceptance on a really fundamental level. – Solomon Halpern

The human experience is full of trials and tribulations and the suffering that comes with it, no matter what your financial situation is. It may be a cliché, but money can’t buy happiness. Sol says our mindfulness practice helps us to rectify that. “The money’s not gonna’ make you stop suffering,” he laughs. The good news is that mindfulness practices are available to everyone.

“Mindfulness is not a classist kind of situation,” says Sol—though he does recognize that the community is largely white and wealthy. “One of the things I most often teach people about, especially with meditation, is that it’s free and it’s transportable.”

Taking it Outward

As with anything, being mindful about money is more than what we do personally. Mindful investing, says Sol, is basically the practice of intentionally choosing to put money—whether that be large investments or small purchases—into organizations that ladder up to our personal values. The first part of this, according to Sol, is to gut check our own personal fulfillment levels when it comes to the issue.

“The second,” he says, “is about bringing humanity back into the situation.” This could mean having human interaction throughout the process (an IRL conversation, for example), or being able to see the forest for the trees when you’re frustrated in a certain situation.

The most important factor in beginning a mindful money practice is just the curiosity to begin, says Sol. When you’re living an intentional lifestyle, it just simply doesn’t make sense to ignore the financial piece of it, he says. “In fact, it’s a really rich ground for us to have personal development,” he says, “there are so many emotions and mixed feelings and pain really that comes in this part of our lives.”

He’ll continue working to help people change that—and we, for one, will keep listening.

Lisette Cheresson is a writer, storyteller, yoga teacher, and adventuress who is an avid vagabond, homechef, dirt-collector, and dreamer. When she’s not playing with words, it’s a safe bet that she’s either hopping a plane, dancing, cooking, or hiking. She received her Level II Reiki Attunement and attended a 4-day intensive discourse with the Dalai Lama in India, and received her RYT200 in Brooklyn. She is currently the Director of Content at Wanderlust Festival. You can find her on Instagram @lisetteileen.