I did a silly thing. I put on my socks. That’s how I tweaked my back. That’s how I know I’ve been carrying too much stress for too long. A bit of stress is good. A lot of stress is bad. For my sake and our sake, I hope this level of stress is temporary. Beneath furrowed brows, clenched jaws, and hunched shoulders are crowds of people ready for a break – hopefully in a good way.
Conventional wisdom loves cause and effect. Back pain? Something physical must be damaged. In my case, I know I have a compressed disk. Sometime during July 1988 I managed to compress a disk either through severe dehydration or physical impact. It was either running a marathon without sufficient water. (I became so thirsty that I inadvertently drank from a bucket being used to wash sweaty runners.) That could shrink a disk. I was also probably dehydrated on my climb up Mt. Rainier, though dropping into that crevasse probably didn’t help. And then there was the karate class where I was dropped on my head. (Go ahead, insert your joke into the Comments section. I might allow it to be posted.) July 1988 was an interesting month, and it certainly wasn’t dull.
Fortunately, there are other versions of conventional wisdom. Some of the more systemic approaches ask less about the immediate cause and more about the underlying aspects of an individual’s life.
It may sound silly at first, but there’s an analogy in personal finance, the concept of the gazinga. A gazinga is something a person feels compelled to buy repeatedly. The cause of someone being unable to save money may be that they feel compelled to buy yet another flashlight, or yet another tea pot, or yet another pair of shoes. The simple answer is to say, quit spending that money. The more effective question is, what do you hope to gain that the last flashlight, tea pot, or pair of shoes didn’t provide? It may be that there’s a need to be prepared for every power outage, even if they’re uncommon and there are already more flashlights than people or rooms in the house. It may be that a tea pot is a reminder of quieter and simpler times. But the other tea pots can be reminders, too. Shoes may attract attention, which isn’t being found other ways. Rather than saying don’t spend, understand what it would take to feel secure, or peaceful, or appreciated; all of which may not take any money.
A friend posted a video in 2012 that changed my perception of my back pain by his description of his back pain; which he posted as part of a video.
He hurt his back, by doing too much, because he felt it had to get done, because there were external pressures, that were brought on by a personal crisis – but – wait, of course the emotional issue was the ultimate cause.
Just like with my socks. I put on each sock while on the other foot, because that’s good karate balancing training and practice. Which was me adding another stressor into my life because I don’t have much free time for my regular karate practice. Which I don’t have because, by working seven days a week I’m able to probably keep my house, which is great, and which means I’m working seven days a week. Which is something I am doing because I want to see myself as a responsible person properly maintaining a conventional home, and because I enjoy living in a house that is owned by me. Which is something I place so much emphasis on that I am worried about the fact that I haven’t been paid by my three biggest clients for my June work and that the bills are coming due at the end of the week, and that amidst this I am determined to maintain my optimism because this is much better than the situation I was in last year. But carrying all of that tension is not just mental or emotional. It cascades through my muscles and nerves, such that a slip of a foot as I put on a sock can upset the practiced and choreographed alignment of the muscles protecting my compressed disk. In less than a second, a nerve is irritated, the muscles rush back to protect, and a spasm confuses everything in the vicinity. My back hurt, not because of a sock, but because I wasn’t relaxed, was asking too much of myself, and not trusting that everything is going to be alright.
The idea that cause and effect goes deep has been reinforced by every healer I know, even my Western doctors. Got a sore throat? Maybe it is a cold, but maybe I had something to say but felt like I wasn’t allowed to say it. Got a sore neck? Maybe it is bad ergonomics, but maybe it is because I’ve been working hard at keeping my head held high.
Deeper causes are being explored in healthcare, but not in personal finance. Finance is just about money, right? Personal finance questions go as deep as those in healthcare.
Rote retirement plans, proscribed saving rates, dictated ratios of income to expenses may be good guidelines for a start; but they are superficial. What do you mean by retirement? What are you saving for? Do your incomes and expenses make your whole life better? One of the reasons I enjoy working for New Road Map Foundation
is that they espouse the same tenets described by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez in the Nine Step Program and Your Money or Your Life. Personal finance is personal, and therefore is based on personal values; which means everyone’s answer is different.
(This is also what I enjoy about consulting, finding that questions a layer or two lower that resolve more than a simple effect.)
As a society, we carry a lot of stress about money, finance, and economies. Our simple answer is to make more money, cut spending, and grow our economies. Yet, it is difficult if not impossible for everyone to make more money. Cutting spending can save a few pennies and eventually cost thousands. And growing our economy might work if we could also grow the planet, which we can’t (unless we colonize space, but I don’t see that happening fast enough.)
I believe that a lot of the problems we are facing have little to do with the solutions we are applying, as a society and as individuals. Instead of erecting defenses against nature, maybe it makes more sense to relinquish contested territory, or maybe find a new way to build homes for flood plains and coastal areas. Instead of attacking disease, we spend more effort on its opposite which doesn’t even have a name – proease. Are you working towards someone else’s idea of retirement or yours? Are you spending your money and your time the ways you want?
My back is feeling better, now that I’ve been typing this post. It might be that the ibuprofen finally took hold. It might be that sitting for a while is therapeutic, and that I’ll notice pain when I stand up. It might be that expressing myself is relaxing. I suspect it is a combination; a bit of conventional pharmaceuticals, some conventional Asian philosophy, and tapping into the source of my worries, hopes, and my Self.