PRN: The Zen of Personal Finance

Physician's Money DigestMarch15 2005
Volume 12
Issue 5

The Little Zen


No, I'm not going to get all deepand inscrutable here and I'm certainlyno expert on Zen Buddhism, but Ijust got a gift of (Workman Press; 1994) and,by definition, it made me think. Bookshave been written about Zen andarchery and Zen and motorcycle maintenance,and I hope some of this willenlighten and even amuse you aboutsome of our often overly complexmoney affairs.

Acute Awareness

Zen encourages us to actively live inthe moment, to be mindfully aware. Atfirst pass, this emphasis on the here andnow would seem to just encourage thewidespread tendency to focus on short-termtactics of how to get or retainmoney instead of long-range, strategicplanning—that other great preoccupationof the financial world.

But that is not Zen, which looksbeyond both to independence from wantand striving for more, possibly unnecessarythings and money. Find joy in yourwork today, but don't grind just to accumulate.To paraphrase Robert Frost, anythingmore than enough is too much.

Thoughtful Distress

It's this kind of thinking that makesmany of us consumers feel a tad uneasyhere about getting, accumulating, andconsuming at our society's pace; it is sonot-Zen to do so. But our discomfortover these silly questions about life'spurpose and meaning is very Zen. It'sjust that the answer is, why get whenyou already have?

I hope this is not confusing. Youknow, it is quite possible that this exercisein stopping to smell the roses andthinking about a different way of viewingour existence will help and informus when we get back to business asusual. That is, if it still is. The ideabehind every financial column is tohave you affected enough so that youalways get back to business not-quite-as-usual. Didn't Bob Dylan sing thatfamous Zen line after learning something:"Ah, but I was so much olderthen; I'm younger than that now"?

Ultimately, thinking about managingyour money is not as important as thethoughtful experience of managing yourmoney as part of living every day. Theyare not separate; they are of a piece.

I'm sure the Zen master out there ismetaphysically rolling their eyes at thisnecessarily short effort at comparingand contrasting money managementand Zen thought. But I remember aZen-inspired fortune cookie once thatsaid, "All great journeys begin with asingle step." Now, we have begun.

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a practicing

physician who is a partner on

the Stanford University Graduate

School of Business Alumni Consulting

Team, teaches in the Stanford

School of Medicine Family

Practice Program. He welcomes questions or

comments at

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