Many friends of mine are calling me or sending e-mails asking my opinion concerning their situation in the face of recently contracting economy. What do I tell them in a nutshell?
Drop the old first: Firstly it must be well known that new and difficult situations we are facing cannot be managed by sticking to old habits. Many people, particularly those who face material difficulties while everything seems to be fine convince themselves that the situation is only temporary, which is a lie in fact. Yes, it is true that the situation is temporary, but this does not mean that we will restore our earlier way of life after what is temporary is left behind. The one who thinks that what exists now is only a temporary difficulty and everything will settle fine after a short while is in fact a lazy person and does not want any disturbance. Being so, in fact they fail to do what must be done and thus make the existing situation even worse. So, the first thing to do in difficult times as it is now is to accept that there is a new reality in front of us and realize that we must quickly adapt to this new reality. People with flexible mind and fearless heart have quick reflexes to examine the new reality and adapt to it before anything else. In sum, if you want to get out of any difficult situation you are in as fast as possible, first avoid regarding this situation as your “enemy”. There is a new situation there and it has its own rules and order. Quickly find out about this order, grasp its new rules, drop what is old immediately and adapt to the new. Those who suffer biggest losses are the ones who stick to the old, resisting to or being late in adapting to the new. Our losses get bigger as we stick longer to the old.You may have heard about monkey traps in India. There is food in a jug, monkey dips in its open palm easily, but cannot take it out after grasping what is in that jug. And he is easily caught buy the hunter since he cannot let go what he holds. The trap is simple. What makes monkey get caught is not the trap itself, but his own greed. Hence, don’t forget that you put yourself in a monkey trap if you keep holding the old.
Be prepared: The life we live is based on uncertainty. It must always be kept in mind that difficult times await us somewhere in future. Many people feel that negative events in life are rare and they are in fact strange happenings. Yet bad things too happen and will keep happening. So we must understand that this is quite normal in the reality that surrounds us and act in compliance with that reality. Economic crises are inevitable; it must be taken as granted. Even the cycles of these crises are known at least approximately, political uncertainties, illnesses and death are all inevitable. Thus, an uneducated mind worries about adverse events that may happen in future, but does not know how to be prepared against. He just worries and hopes they won’t happen. An educated mind, on the other hand, knows that bad things may happen in future and prepares for. It cannot be thought that a country can live in peace unless its army is not ready for a worst type of war. It cannot be thought that a person or company will remain in a safe haven unless it is ready for the worst possible economic turmoil and collapse. A warrior in martial arts is doing this not to look for trouble but to keep control over his body and more importantly his feelings when trouble knocks his door.
We too must be ready for such deep economic crises first of all. If we fail to do this from the beginning, then what we can do at present time will be limited. A wise person knows, in good times, that bad times will come and prepares accordingly. Then, when these bad times actually come, it will be an opportunity, not a crisis for a prepared person. This is true not only for economic but all kinds of crises. A person who is not ready for psychological crisis gets upset if a crisis of this kind sets in and finds oneself in psychological disaster. On the other hand, a person who keeps educating his mind knows how to manage emotions and who enjoys peace that it not dependent to external factors grows when confronted with crisis. Thus, in a universe led by “uncertainty” the most important thing is “to be ready”. Remember the Heraclitus paradox: “If you do not expect the unexpected you will never find it.” Prepared minds will understand what this means.
Get simple for being ready: As a rule, needs of man increase as his prosperity increases. If man is wise enough and if existence means to him something beyond simple joys of life he will not let his needs increase along with his affluence. There is a crucial difference between being rich and being affluent. The first is that richness requires a big responsibility. If a person cannot understand the responsibility of being rich and fails to undertake it, he finds oneself deprived or his richness eats him up morally. Hence richness must be a “BURDEN” that must be carried only by those who “deserve” it rather than something to envy for. Richness must not be an objective, but affluence must absolutely be so. So what is affluence? Being affluent means not having to work for feeding, housing, clothing, health, transportation and to cover daily necessities in life. Further, having some saving for times we will not work and responding to the needs of others who are dependent to us is one of the indicators of “being more affluent.” The rule is crystal clear: We must understand having enough to be fed up in a healthy manner instead of luxury feeding when the question is food and having our needs met instead of luxury housing when the question is sheltering. In other words if your basic needs can be met without your having to work, you are an affluent person. And that must be one of our vital targets. Why? It is because we can spare time for growing. When I started learning about teachings of the East, my enlightened teachers listed the following 4 characteristics that I must have to truly learn: Correct method and right master; money; correct companions and space. While talking about money they told me not to think about money either by being affluent or being a priest and leading a modest life. They also warned me that though not totally impossible, it would be difficult to be enlightened if I kept working for money. So, money is not an end in itself but means in this struggle. Our basic needs have to be met in order to grow. The only meaning in life is to grow. Thus, you must not be tempted to consider being affluent as something contrary to immaterial life.
To be prepared for economically difficult times, our affluence must increase but not our needs. This is also one of the keys to psychological, emotional and spiritual development. It is another issue what you must do with that if your growing affluence turns into richness. (At the moment, the purpose of this article is to present you some simple suggestions that may be useful, but without going into much detail. Anyway, this is an article, not a book. Maybe in future I will elaborate further on this issue in a talk or a longer article and share it). The important point is that we can manage to convert saving into a way of life. In our day, the term economy is associated with consumption. Economy in our day is based on consuming and to go into debt for consuming. This means we have to understand borrowing when somebody says economy. Yet, does not the very name suggests being economical? Unfortunately, this is not the valid connotation in our present day. Then what should you do? Should you go along with the rules of our present day understanding of economy? No, absolutely not. We should abide by the genuine rules of economy: I mean we have to be economical; we have to save and prevent the exhaustion of resources by creating surplus need. Real economy is like a universal rule. Great damages occur when these rules are breached. Thus we should find a way of saving and learn to live plainly. Whenever I tell people to save I get the same response: “I can barely make ends meet; how can I?” This is a lie we keep telling ourselves. Don’t let yourself beguiled by this lie. It is a lie because we would need 4 earths if all lives as a US citizen does; 5 earths in the case of a Kuwait citizen; 4 earths in case of a Canadian, 2 earths in case of a Nepali and 2.5 earths if all lives as a Turkish citizen. That means we are living not as poor but by consuming too much, and we don’t understand what we call poverty is in fact consuming things that we actually do not need to. If somebody complains “I barely subsist, how can I save?” we must ensure that this person understands that he is actually defining his frustration deriving from not attaching sufficient meaning to his life as material deprivation. Everyone can save; even a homeless person living in streets (let’s make what can be said more a subject of a talk or a longer article)
Assess correctly what you can control and what you cannot: Life is a dance between what we can exercise control over and what we cannot. There are some who believe life is totally out of our control. This kind of deterministic and fatalistic outlook unfortunately makes us slaves of destiny. It is true: there is fate and we cannot evade its effect on us; but we must also understand that we have our free will too. We must understand that “I have to”, “nothing else to do”, “my arms and hands are tied up”, “it is beyond my control”, “I can’t afford it”, “it is beyond my capacity” etc. are all fatalistic approaches. Fatalistic approach does not allow for any growth. Fate is an issue of understanding. Fate is the excuse of being accustomed to losing. Losing is a habit and so is winning. Then we have to understand correctly what is under our control and what is not. While we solemnly accept and endure things that are beyond our control without getting demoralized and wasting our energy, concentrating our potentials on what we can do is the key to changing the direction of fate and using our free will. Both fate and free will are in fact stories that we tell ourselves. It is up to us to decide which one to believe. Necessity is just necessity and that is all. When we attribute them meanings beyond this and tie up our own arms and hands we surrender to a habit, to a story called fate. You must learn to change the story. The first step in doing this is to assess correctly what is in your capacity and what is not. After correct assessment, you must get rid of such nonsense discourses as no energy, no power, ne way out or no resource and put an end to that black magic you apply to yourself. The source of the most daunting black magic is yourself and your close environment. A person trying to convince himself to his own story starts it by convincing his friends first. And when that story is fed by friends as well it becomes our reality. So don’t use your friends to jinx yourself. To the contrary be aware of your own jinxing and overcome it. There is the way of correct work for you to achieve what you want to.
Gain perspective: Look over the flow of life every day as if you climb a hill and see what is going on down there. Climb up to your imaginary hill. This hill should be the place where you put gains and losses aside. To climb up, don’t think about what you may gain or lose. Look out for the big picture, the direction of life beyond gain and loss. You will feel incredibly fine by looking at life without being driven away by your feelings, without being a party, and from a perspective going beyond gain and loss.
Firstly, you will relax. Secondly just like a man who goes around by making circles after getting lost in a forest, you will find yourself making circles around your mistakes, desires, fears and beliefs in your life. Like a lost man who finds his way to follow after climbing a hill and looking around, you will be able to see the natural direction of your life after climbing that impartial height.
Question your whys: A person who cannot respond to the question why is without not only direction but enthusiasm too. A person is committed with enthusiasm to what he is doing only if he can give a meaningful answer to the question why. If you cannot respond clearly to the question why you should be together with that woman, you cannot fight for her. If you cannot give a meaningful answer to the question why you want to make money you cannot wage the effort necessary for it. If you cannot explain clearly why you want to be in meditation, you give up after facing the first difficulty. Believe me: Until you reach what you think you want, you will face difficulties and experience stumbles that you cannot ever guess in advance. Nobody can avoid stumbling just by knowing what he wants to achieve. Stumbling is inevitable. If that journey has a meaning, stumbling will not stop you; but if that journey has no specific objective, you will give up walking after first stumbling. So respond correctly to your whys. Why do you want to leave these difficult situations behind? Why do you want to get that place as your objective?
Think carefully and don’t remain long on the ground: You will definitely stumble! A wise person knows this is inevitable and so he learns how to stumble and fall. When I started learning Judo from my master Namık Ekin, the most important person I worked martial arts with, he told me “It is easy to make the other fall but difficult to learn how to fall” and added: “You will lose not because of your rival but for not knowing how to fall.” Learn about falling down. Learn how to fall without harming yourself. After this, the second important thing you must learn is that every second you spend on ground will make getting up two times harder. As it gets more difficult to wake up if you move the waking time further ahead in your alarm clock, longer you stay on ground more difficult it gets for you to get up and you become exposed to all kinds of threats. You don’t take a rest when you fall down; it is not an opportunity to take a breath. So when economy or life in general puts you down don’t stay there as misled by your feelings, by stories that your mind is telling you. Let stories wait for their time, do the same with stories, and jump up. Namık Ekin, my master in martial arts had allowed me contest him when I was just a white belt learner. He had beaten me up badly after seeing that I could hit him from gaps that he deliberately left. It was such that I fell down after his blows, but I was getting up instantly. My master Namık Ekin was throwing me around with a fist or kick, but I was jumping up each time I hit the ground. I did not let pain or fear stop me. Finally, master Ekin realized that the only way to stop me was to put me out by strangling and so he did. According to what he told me afterwards I was trying to punch him while coming around myself. After this experience he included my in his team of students that he gave special training. Don’t give up! Delete that word from your vocabulary. Jump up on your feet immediately after you hit the ground. You can keep fighting if you are still alive.
Have an objective beyond winning: It is not difficult to win; what is difficult is to decide on what you will do with your gain. Once they have sufficient motivation, 99 out of 100 persons can achieve great things. But only 2 or 3 out of 100 winners
can find permanent satisfaction with what they have achieved. Thus, if your aim consists of getting what you have been striving for, your happiness will terminate at the moment you get it. You will find yourself confronted with loss of meaning. So your aim must be what you will do with your achievement rather than the achievement itself. For this, in turn, your plans must be for longer term, not short sighted ones.
Live the present day but focus on future: It is nothing else but rubbish when they say one must live the present and catch the moment. In fact, it is of course necessary to live the present and catch the moment, given that what we imply is something correct. On the other hand, if catching the moment means dropping any assessment on future and not having any long-term plans then the present may turn to be the biggest evasion of our life and the biggest trap at the same time. It may even be the source of biggest tragedies that we confront.
It is true that all living creatures are biologically conditioned to live the present. For human kind, it will be an absolute nonsense to claim to be living the future just for having understood some mathematics or developed some technology. Human beings too are under the influence of biological impulses like all other living creatures. One of the most important of these impulses is to prefer the present to the future. In other words, as all psychological studies conducted by respected science institutions show we prefer to be happy today to the prospect of being happy in future. Thus, we find it difficult to leave our comfortable coach for meditation or sports even if we know it will be good for us. We prefer delicious food to healthy one even if we know the latter is better for us. We prefer an immediate joy to a state of well-being in future. And this overall tendency makes short-term planning more preferable than long-term planning. It is for this reason that we buy or sell foreign currency depending on given exchange rates. Yet, logically we must do the reverse. Our present fears leave no room for long-term thinking. So, in order to find relief from present economic difficulties and vagaries of life, we must learn to prefer long to short-term planning and to inhibit our present quest for pleasure for the sake of tomorrow’s achievement.
Learn that everything has its rhythm: Everything has its rhythm. Everything is subject to cycles. There is time to buy and time to sell. There is time to sow seed and time to reap. Though correct actions at correct times yield perfect results, this is not true for correct actions at incorrect times. So we must not suffice with learning to do something right and also learn to do correct things at correct times. Timing is a merit that only a man with a perspective and capable of controlling his feelings can possess. Timing is one of the most valuable and absolute skills that can be developed in life. To understand timing we must first get rid of needs. It is too difficult, though not impossible for a person to make use of timing if he has his needs. The way of getting rid of needs is to meet them without sweating. People around say things like “money attracts money” or “success brings another success” upon observing those whose needs are easily met can achieve more and more in the course of time. Yet the wonder is neither in money nor in success. The real wonder is making use of timing as a man free from needs, and thus from concerns and expectations. As Lao Tzu says: “Men of wisdom do not try to do something, so nothing is left missing.”