On some subliminal level, I’ve convinced myself that if I surround myself with financially successful people (like my friends in New York City who work at hedge funds or for large corporations or who are successful entrepreneurs), I will become rich through osmosis. Therefore, this artist chasing her dream of becoming a bestselling author has spent years practicing the art of “feeling abundant” à la Napoleon Hill’s classic text “Think and Grow Rich,” or what the self-help industry has coined “the law of attraction.”
The idea: By feeling and acting rich, I will become rich (or something like that).
Unfortunately, this can be a big drain on cash in the meantime. Surrounding myself with people who are richer than me means I’ve sometimes found myself in scenarios where I’m splitting, say, a $100 brunch bill at the Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza Hotel. (Did I really need lobster mac n’ cheese and two organic Bloody Marys when there is already a bottle of Grey Goose in my freezer, not to mention an entirely untouched six-pack of V8 gathering dust in my pantry?)
I know, that seems ridiculous, but it’s not hard to spend a lot on a meal in Manhattan if you’re not careful. Temptation cities like New York are a debt minefield for impulsive — shall we say “carpe diem”? — ladies like me who have erratic cycles of income. I am to cocktail infusions, Dr. Hauschka facials and Anthropologie as Rebecca Bloomwood is to luxury apparel in the film “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Yet, as we all know, the instant gratification one feels after a new purchase is often short-lived (and financially draining).
I’m all about “self-compassion” these days, since I learned about the movement at a conference last year. So when it comes to my shopping indiscretions, I’m quick to argue: It’s not my fault! We live in a consumerist, materialistic society and are constantly being marketed and pitched to. It’s hard to resist without incredible willpower and restraint. And it’s particularly challenging to distance oneself from compulsive consumerism while living in the epicenter of it all.
But I have wondered: Is it my surroundings or is it me? What would happen if I put myself in a completely different environment where asceticism was valued and consumerism discouraged? I found out last fall when a series of serendipitous events led me to an ashram in upstate New York — far from any shops, restaurants or bars.
Truth be told, I’d been searching for a quiet place to work on my book, away from the distractions and dalliances of city life. A friend recommended the ashram, and after perusing the website, I applied to the work-study program, which meant I would earn my stay by working for the ashram three hours a day. What I liked about the setup was that I wouldn’t be spending money on anything, except for the bus ride out there.