Author Archives: Bill

About Bill

William Donaldson, CFP®, EA is partner and co-founder of Vista Investment Advisors LLC located in Westport, CT. He created Vista with partner Adam Westphalen in May of 2000. In addition to the Certified Financial PlannerTM and Enrolled Agent designations, Mr. Donaldson is also a Registered Investment Advisor and a divorce mediator. He is president of the Collaborative Divorce Team of CT, past president of the CT Council for Non-Adversarial Divorce and a board member of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners. He completed the Master’s of Taxation program at the University of New Haven in November of 2010 and he lectures both locally and nationally on the topic of divorce taxation. Mr. Donaldson lives in Newtown, Connecticut with his wife Kristen and son Robert.

Money: The Last Taboo

What would you prefer to talk about with your friends: money or sex? Anytime I’ve asked that question, without hesitation the response is sex. Why? Society has made money such a taboo subject we have a hard time discussing it even with our most intimate friends and partners. It’s no wonder so many people struggle with money issues – whether they have a lot or not enough.

To begin explaining why money creates such a challenge for us, we need to look no further than our childhood. Our money patterns, beliefs and behaviors are often set early in life before we are even capable of understanding the significance of them.  Neuroscience research tells us that we learn and are imprinted with this information primarily between the ages of 2 and 12, when the brain becomes 95% developed.

Who are we learning from? For most of us, it’s our parents. Unfortunately they aren’t always the best role models for us! These beliefs can become so ingrained that we don’t even realize they are there.  So when your partner says something that triggers a pattern that was set in childhood, you react automatically, often with emotions that you can’t explain. To your partner, it appears irrational and difficult to understand.

With all of these challenges around money, how do we have a healthy conversation about it? Here are a few tips:

  • Take a step back and evaluate your feelings
  • Using active listening often helps the situation
  • Avoid blaming and shaming language
  • Set up time and space to have a conversation (avoid first thing in the morning and right before bedtime)
  • Writing down your thoughts and feeling ahead of time often helps you avoid those inevitable arguments
  • Keep a money journal where you can write down the emotions you experience (positive and negative) around money.

If you find that these strategies just aren’t working for you.  Money coaching, Couples coaching or even Therapy may be in order.

Remember to be gentle with each other.

Be gentle with your partner when they are reacting.  More than likely their reaction is not about you or even the present situation.  Start to tune into your feelings at the time you are having the reaction.  If you can start to identify the emotion that is present you will also be able to start to separate it from the present situation.  This will help you to identify what is truly going on rather than blaming it on your current money situation and your partner.

Couples Money Coaching

Why would a couple need money coaching? Isn’t that the same as financial planning?

It couldn’t be more different. I would describe the two services like this: if you have a pain in your back, taking a pain killer is like financial planning. It just treats the surface issue or symptom, but does not get to the root cause of the problem. Alternatively, going to a reputable chiropractor who identifies the cause of the pain and treats it directly so it doesn’t return is like money coaching. Which one makes more sense?

For couples who find themselves dealing with financial challenges, whether it’s excessive debt, lack of savings, poor communication, using money to exert control, or any number of issues, creating a traditional financial plan will not solve the problem. That’s the pain killer approach. I recently spoke with a mortgage broker who helped a couple pay down their debts with a mortgage refinance, only to see them run it back up in a short period of time. But now, there is no equity left to bail them out. Did refinancing really help? Had this couple worked on the underlying cause of their overspending in addition to the practical solution of re-financing, the odds of debt relapse would have been greatly reduced, if not eliminated. That’s the benefit of utilizing money coaching in conjunction with sound planning strategies.

So what should a couple expect from the money coaching process? Here is a partial list of outcomes most commonly experienced by past clients:

  • A basic understanding of money and the brain – the neuroscience behind money behavior
  • Self-discovery and understanding of each other’s inherited money patterns
  • Learning about each other’s money archetypes and understanding the why behind existing money behaviors
  • Developing better communication skills around money
  • Creating strategies to transform challenging behaviors into empowering practices
  • Improved relationship with money and each other!

Of course there is no guarantee of success, and the couple has to want to improve their situation. But with so many relationships failing and citing money as a primary cause, the need for money coaching before or at least in conjunction with practical strategies is critical.

MONEY AND RELATIONSHIPS

Why is money such a challenge for so many couples? It’s well known that money issues are at the top of the charts for causes of divorce. In order to answer this question, we first need to go back in time to our childhood.

According to neuroscience research, our brains are 95% developed by about age 12, and begin that process at age 2. Think about your 2-year old brain as a brand-new computer with only the most basic programming to make it function. Over time, we install (or have installed for us) lots of additional programs based on the environment we live in. By the time we reach age 12, our hard drive is 95% full!

When it comes to learning about money, much of the programming we are taking in during childhood is creating subconscious patterns based on what we are seeing, hearing and feeling from our parents about their relationship with money. Unfortunately they are not always the best role models for us! If you constantly heard your mother, father or both complain about never having enough money, chances are very good this describes you as well.

As a money coach, it’s amazing to watch the “aha” moments when I delve into these childhood memories with a client and they realize they have taken on many of the same behaviors as their parents. And of course the parent got it from their parent and this can go back for generations. Once we understand how these money patterns are formed, and the fact that it mostly happens at a subconscious level, we can begin to forgive ourselves and our parents and transform any challenging patterns that are blocking us from a healthy money relationship.

When it comes to couples, we have to realize that they are each operating with these subconscious patterns and most likely unaware of their origin. One of the partners may simply see a negative behavior in the other, and  become frustrated and resentful. He or she is most likely carrying their own challenges around money which may exacerbate the problem. Over time, if unaddressed, this often leads to a breakdown in the relationship and divorce.

With the right coaching, if the relationship isn’t too far gone, each partner has an opportunity to learn about the other’s childhood experiences with money and understand where the challenging patterns came from and why. It’s a true “aha” for both parties. Once the awareness and understanding is there, they work on forgiveness and compassion as well as practical exercises to begin the process of healing their relationship – not just with money, but with each other. In most cases, couples have never had a serious conversation about money with each other, so this can be a real breakthrough in their relationship.

The challenge, of course, is reaching a couple before it’s too late. But even if the divorce process has begun, money coaching can still be extremely effective in facilitating healthy negotiations around the financial issues. With understanding in place of resentment, the outcome is a huge win for everyone involved!

What Can Nature Teach Us About Money?

 

Last month I did something a bit out of the ordinary. I spent four days sitting in the woods alone with no food or water. I know, it sounds strange and maybe even a little crazy. But I promise I haven’t lost my mind! For the past year or so I have felt a growing pull toward Native American tradition and specifically the Vision Quest. If you want to know more about that journey, I have written about it in three separate blog posts that you can find HERE.

On August 15th I answered that calling when I walked into the woods to begin a Vision Quest. I came back with a lot of insights and lessons from a great teacher – nature. But one thing I didn’t think of while I was out there is money. It wasn’t until I sat down to consider a newsletter topic that this insight occurred. If nature had a lesson to teach about money, what would it be? The answer came to me as clear as day. The lesson would be about abundance.

When you spend four days fully immersed in nature, sitting in one spot, with nothing at all to do but just BE with it, you really notice everything. What I observed on my first day is that nature is constantly growing and constantly dying. It’s a great circle of life that never stops (unless we get involved of course). Do the trees worry when their leaves begin to fall off? Of course not. They are completely non-resistant to change, fully aware that their leaves will be back soon in even greater quantity!

Nature lives in a constant state of abundance. Even when something is dying, it rests easily knowing its merely changing form. From rotten tree, to soil, to growing something new again. Nature also understands that everything is energy, and energy must flow. If it’s restricted or stopped, challenges in the outer world manifest in various ways – none of them good. Eastern medicine embraces this concept of energy flow with the practice of acupuncture and acupressure. By restoring proper energy flow in the body with these techniques, many physical ailments are naturally healed. So what does this have to do with money? Well, if everything is energy, that means money is energy and it must flow too. That’s why we call it currency!

What is the number one block or resistance to the flow of money? It’s FEAR. We fear that we don’t have enough. We fear that we don’t deserve it. We fear that we’ll lose it. We fear that we won’t fit in with our community unless we have obscene amounts of it – or at least appear that we do!

Where does this fear come from? It primarily comes from our subconscious mind. According to neuroscience research, our behaviors and patterns about money (and everything else) are formed in childhood between the ages of 2 and 12 when our brains have developed to about 95% capacity. By identifying and understanding patterns that are not serving us and creating blockages around money, we can ultimately release them. Then the energy around money can begin to once again flow more freely – which is our natural state.

How this is accomplished is, of course, a process. It begins with the willingness to change and to seek help. A Certified Money Coach is trained specifically to deal with these issues and would be an excellent professional to start with. To learn more about the money coaching process, you can visit the money coaching section of this web site HERE.

Four Days in the Woods – Part III

Lessons from a Vision Quest

Day 2 – The South

The South is the color red, water is its element, and it symbolizes summer, passion, love and moving toward maturity. Day two began before daybreak and before any birds began singing. It was as still as it could be in the forest, as if it was still asleep. I was thinking how nice it would be to have a glass of water.

Suddenly, about thirty yards in front of me due south, a deer’s white tail flashed and it bounded off to the west. It was too dark to see it other than the white tail. Just to be sure I was aware of her, she bleated a warning call. If you’ve ever heard a deer make this sound it is quite eerie.

So right out of the blocks on the South day, I have a deer out there with me. What is her message? The symbolism of the deer is gentleness and the energy of the heart. It represents grace, determination and compassion both to one’s self and to others. If you look into the eyes of a deer, especially a doe, you can almost feel the love emanating through them. They are gentle, beautiful creatures. This seems like a rather appropriate message on the South day with love as the theme!

Lesson 6 – Love Thyself

There is something even more significant about the deer for me personally. When I found out that my Vermont vision quest had been cancelled, I was struggling with what to do. Part of me wanted to just go to Vermont by myself and sit in the woods. I had been so determined to make it happen. I drove home from my office that day with all of these thoughts of what to do next bouncing around in my head. I turned into my driveway, pulled into my garage, got out of my car and looked out. Standing on the edge of my driveway looking straight at me in broad daylight was a beautiful doe. I have seen deer in my yard but never at that time of day and never in that area. It was a clear message to me to be gentle with myself. I decided in that moment to surrender to the situation as I described in the first lesson.

I believe deer wants to teach us how to be compassionate, gentle and loving to ourselves as much as we possibly can. By filling our own tank with love, we have that much more to give back to the world. It’s hard to give when your own tank is empty!

Deer also wants us to look at life through eyes of love and compassion. This is much easier to do if you understand the connectedness of all of life. Loving your brothers and sisters is loving yourself. Hating your brothers and sisters is hating yourself. This is the very message taught by some of the world’s most revered sages and saints. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and Buddha taught compassion to all beings. You can find this message in the lives of so many great teachers like Gandhi, MLK, Mandela, and on and on. So the next time you see a deer, please remember this urgent message that will one day help bring peace to the world.


Having a lot of time on my hands to observe my surroundings, I often looked down to see what was happening at the micro level of the forest (and often to flick off an ant crawling up my leg). On this day I noticed two tiny ants trying to move something under the leaves. It was a dead fly about 10 times the size of these ants! They tried and tried, but it was just too awkward for them to deal with.

Then along came a large black ant. It went straight for the fly and began its attempt to pick it up. This ant was about the same size as the fly, but apparently flies are super awkward things for an ant to carry. It tried one way, then another, then another. It seemed like the same fate would befall this guy as did its much smaller relatives. But finally it managed to start walking away with the fly! I watched this ant, carrying a huge, awkward load, maneuver through a crazy obstacle course of leaves, twigs and other little things that on a human scale would be impossible to get through. It made its way to the edge of my circle, climbed over my prayer ties, and kept going. I decided to follow. I figured it was heading to a nearby nest with its prize. About 10 feet away, the ant arrived at a huge oak tree and started to climb straight up. It was amazing to watch. It actually stopped about six feet up as if it needed to rest. Then it continued up the tree. It stopped again for a few seconds, then continued until it was out of sight. I have to assume its colony was up there somewhere and it was bringing back a huge treat for all of them to enjoy.

Lesson 7 – Be Persistent

My lesson from the ant is that nothing happens in life without effort. And with consistent effort, you get positive results! Visioning is a critical first step in creating your life a certain way, but until you actually get out there and make something happen, it will just stay a vision waiting to be born into reality. Obstacles always come along, and often to the point of failure. But if you keep trying another way and hold onto your vision, success is just down the road. I’m sure there have been many people that gave up on an idea just short of success. Some of the best examples of “ant-like” humans are Thomas Edison, who failed 1,000 times in his quest to perfect the light bulb, and Walt Disney who went bankrupt with his first business, and nearly went bankrupt again even after hitting it big with Mickey Mouse.

The ant provides not only a great example of persistence and never giving up, but also one of service for the greater good. I don’t believe the ant I observed was taking that prized meal off to hoard and enjoy by itself. Ants function within a community and everything they do is for the benefit of the whole. There is no such thing as a selfish ant. If there were, it would not survive for long!

Day 3 – The West

As the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky, I heard a crow calling from the west. Normally I wouldn’t think much of it, but normal doesn’t apply to my current situation! It just so happens that when the sun sets on the South day, the West day begins as it ushers in the darkness. The West is represented by the color black. Crows are black, and this crow called out from the West. Coincidence? I decided to simply pay extra attention to the new day (night actually) that was about to unfold.

The West also represents autumn, maturity, experience, expertise and a time of strength and balance. It’s a time to share your wisdom with the world, and a time to become aware of your own mortality (uh oh – don’t crows symbolize death sometimes?). West brought darkness to my circle and a major drop in temperature. I guess it really wanted me to feel its autumn nature! I retrieved my sleeping bag from my tent, wrapped it around me, and sat with my candle for several hours into the cold night. I reflected on the past two days and realized I had gone with no food or water since walking out here. I was actually amazed at how good I felt. My friends and family must have really been praying for me. But I had two more days to go. Maybe tomorrow will be the big challenge?

When I woke up the next morning, the air was thick and the temperature had risen significantly. I stepped out and could sense that the sky was heavily overcast although it was pre-dawn. It was a really different feeling. As daylight crept in, I observed that the forest remained quiet. It was like someone forgot to set nature’s alarm and everything was still asleep. No squirrels, fewer birds, no butterflies, just a damp quietness. I knew I would have an interesting day of weather!

Lesson 8 – Enjoy Life’s Simple Things

With the forest activity nearly absent, I decided it would be a good time for some simple contemplation. It felt like this is what the West wanted me to do today. That was my first simple thing to enjoy – quiet! With our lives so constantly busy between work, kids, family etc. we rarely get moments to just be with ourselves with no distractions. It was a great lesson to feel such gratitude for something so simple. And I received clarity on a lot of stuff that I had brought out there with me to boot!

Then another simple joy was brought to me by the West. RAIN! I had been given a stainless steel bowl in the event this happened. It’s the only way to have water on a vision quest without breaking your fast, as long as you pray over it before drinking. Well I was praying alright – for every drop that hit my bowl! I can say without a doubt even though the water was a little dirty and metallic tasting, it was the best water I ever had. I vowed to never take water for granted again.

Toward the end of the day, the best gift of all came. My wonderful guide Cynthia arrived carrying a bowl of “medicine” for me. This medicine was in the form of hot chicken soup! It was to begin preparing my body for re-entry the next day when I would be taking in larger amounts of food. This was my first meal in three days, and I can’t even begin to describe the joy of every mouthful. I was actually giddy! Of course I first prayed over the soup and poured out more gratitude than I had ever given before. Thank God for chicken soup!

We live in a country where food is so plentiful we don’t think twice about throwing it away. When was the last time you offered sincere gratitude before a meal? I would like to suggest that you think of all of those in the world (who we are all connected to) that routinely go days without food – and not voluntarily like I did. I am blessed for this experience to show me how important it is to be grateful for everything we have in our lives, especially the simple things!

Lesson 9 – Love like the Rain

As I sat under my umbrella late in the afternoon of day three, with rain gushing down over me (and into my bowl!), I thought about the deer again and the South day of love and compassion. Love and rain. Then I thought about how nature pours its nourishing rain over everything without discrimination. There isn’t a creature or a plant that the rain goes around so that it can’t be nourished. The nasty weeds get the same water as the beautiful flowers. The same can be said for sunshine.

What about us? Do we love everyone the same, or do we pour it over some and withhold it from others? That just isn’t natural! Our egos have taken us out of our natural state of love which we come into this world full of. Do we not all come from the same creative Source? I like to think of humanity like waves in an ocean – connected and inseparable from the whole, yet each with its own unique characteristics.  If that were the case, how can you withhold love from your fellow “wave” without withholding it from yourself?  If we thought of others this way, maybe we would be more inclined to pour our love over everyone and everything with no restriction. Perhaps someday we will find our way back to our natural loving selves. I believe our survival depends on it.

Day Four – The North

Like the West day, North begins at sunset. But the clouds were still so thick I had no idea what time it was! I had no watch or phone so I had been using the sun to gauge time the last two days. It was a strange feeling to have no idea of the time – but there was something liberating about it as well. So I did my best to estimate sunset, and I bid farewell to the West and thanked it for providing a wonderful day of nourishment and contemplation. My guidance came from within on this day. The only lesson from my animal friends was to stay in if the weather is bad!

The North is the final day. The color is white and the season is winter. It’s a time of darkness, quiet, slowing down, and going within. It’s also a time to reminisce and to share our wisdom and experiences. Like a crocus bulb, it’s new life lying dormant, waiting for the right conditions to sprout forth. My interpretation of the North day was to get some rest, reflect on the past three days, and decide what to do with the many gifts I had been blessed to receive.

The feeling and smell in the air as I settled into my tent that evening meant to me that the rain wasn’t finished with me just yet. A rumble of thunder in the distance confirmed it. My thoughts of a peaceful night of rest were soon shattered by a crash of thunder and a flash of lightning seemingly right on top of me. The rain poured down so hard I thought my tent just might collapse. Thank God I thought ahead to secure a tarp over my tent just in case this happened. I love thunderstorms but they are better observed from a safe, dry shelter then from inside a little tent! The thought of my water bowl and my empty chicken soup bowl filling with water made it totally worth it though. I listened to the rain well into the night. I think it was pounding in the lesson that I had just been given!

When I finally emerged from my tent in the morning and stood up to greet a beautiful, clear sky, I thought I was going to pass out. The lack of food, water and rest for 3 ½ days had finally caught up to me. My fuel tank was barely on reserve and all I could do was to go sit in my chair. Today was my final day. In a matter of hours, Cynthia would be coming up the hill to bring me down to the sweat lodge where a small community would be waiting to welcome me back and hear about my experience.

Then I looked down at my water bowl and the soup bowl. They were full! The storm that kept me awake last night left a beautiful gift for me. It was well worth the lack of sleep. I prayed and gave deep gratitude for that simple rain and gulped down the water.  Considering I would be heading into a sweat lodge later in the day, I needed every drop.

Feeling slightly rejuvenated, I thought about the rest of the day. The North is about sharing wisdom that has been lying dormant. It was at that moment that I decided that I would share what I had learned in the last few days – not just with the handful of people waiting for me at the sweat lodge, but with as many people as I possibly could. I needed to write my story. For the remainder of the morning, I broke out my pen and some paper and prepared my teachings.

The Sweat Lodge

Around mid-day, Cynthia arrived wearing a long, flowing red dress and carrying a ceremonial drum. It was time to go. We walked out together and when we got close to the sweat lodge she began to pound on her drum and sing a beautiful Native American song. I wish I knew the words. I covered my head with a towel before entering, as I was still in solo mode and was not allowed to see anyone yet. I found my spot in the lodge and waited for the ceremony to begin.

Soon there were 10 glowing hot rocks in the center pit. After a blessing to the four directions, mother earth and father sky, Cynthia doused the rocks with water four times. The hot steam seemed to go right through my body. It was pretty intense in my condition. After a song devoted to the East and the passing of the sacred pipe, she asked me to share my lessons from my first day.

At the conclusion of the East round, the door was opened and most people went outside for fresh air and water before the next round started. I didn’t realize that one of the guys had stayed outside during the first round. He later told me that while I was sharing my lesson of the butterfly inside the lodge, two butterflies, one black and one yellow, fluttered down the hill from the woods heading straight for the lodge. He said they flew to the fire, which he had never seen a butterfly do before, and upon reaching it rode the heat wave straight up without flapping their wings. Once the heat carried them as far as it could, they flew off back toward the woods. Another random coincidence from nature? Or was it a confirmation of my lesson for the group? I know what I believe, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.

After three more rounds in the sweat lodge (and drinking lots of water), I finished sharing my lessons and had finally completed the Vision Quest! Little did I know there was still one more lesson to come.  With what tiny bit of energy I still had, I went inside and took the greatest shower in history, followed by a plate of the best food that I ever ate.  Then Cynthia told me that she had a gift for me. She disappeared briefly then reappeared carrying what she called deer medicine. It was a mounted deer head! . I couldn’t believe another deer had come to me – this time to be with me forever.

“Deer Medicine” – My Gift from Cynthia

The most interesting thing about this deer was that it had small, forked antlers. Who mounts a fork horn buck? Usually the expense of mounting an animal is reserved for a bit more of a trophy. Then it hit me. I had hunted for many years in my youth, and the first deer I ever shot was a fork horn buck! I told this to Cynthia and she said, “It’s a full circle now – he has come back to you.” I felt that I had made peace with the deer spirit and could now fully embody this beautiful spirit and share its wonderful lessons. I think deer’s lesson of love and compassion is the most important one of all, and to me this was certainly confirmation of that!

 

Four Days in the Woods – Part II

Lessons From a Vision Quest

Day One – The East

Each day of the vision quest is devoted to a specific direction, and each direction represents specific qualities. It starts with the east, represented by the color yellow, which symbolizes the rising sun, spring, new beginnings, and new birth. But before I could “officially” start my first day, I had one more task to accomplish: to create the circle in which I would spend the majority of my time over the next four days.

In preparation for the first vision quest in VT (that had been cancelled), I was instructed to create 405 prayer ties. There are one hundred yellow ties for the east, one hundred red ties for the south, one hundred black ties for the west, one hundred white ties for the north, and five ties of any color of my choosing. I chose green for the earth, blue for the sky, orange for the spiritual path, indigo for oneness, and purple for wisdom and enlightenment.

A prayer tie is a small, square cotton cloth  with a pinch of tobacco in the middle and tied off on a continuous cotton string. A prayer is offered as each tie is made (yes, that’s a lot of prayers!). Why tobacco? It’s one of the most sacred plants in Native American culture and is used in various ways in most ceremonies.

With my prayer ties in hand, which I had wrapped around a stick to prevent tangling, I spread them out on the ground to form about a twelve foot diameter circle. I then found a flat, rounded stone about eight inches thick to place in the middle of the circle, and four smaller stones to place on the perimeter to represent the four directions. On the center stone I placed my candle, some feathers, stones, and crystals that I had brought with me. I placed my compact camp chair just behind the center stone facing the east. Now I was ready to begin the vision quest!

As I sat in my sacred circle, I began to focus on my surroundings. All around me was life – creatures crawling, flying and scurrying about, plants sprouting up everywhere, trees towering over me, and sounds of all kinds echoing through the forest. But at the same time I saw death. Within my circle was a rotten old tree stump, there were dead trees and branches around me, dead leaves blanketing the ground, and even a few dead mosquitos at my feet (sorry mosquitos!). I saw it all as a great circle of life. The true beauty is that nature doesn’t resist any of it. The trees aren’t trying to stop their leaves from turning color or from falling off! Nature is perfectly content to just go with the flow with no concern whatsoever of past or future – and hence no worries! In fact, I don’t believe past or future even exists in nature. Can you imagine asking a chipmunk what time it is? I think its response would be, “What do you mean? The time is now!”

For brief periods of time I was able to exist fully in the present moment with my surroundings. It was an amazing state to tap into and experience – complete freedom and peace. If I could figure out how to bottle that up I would be a gazillionaire! Most of our problems would vanish in an instant.

Lesson 2 – Be Present

How many of us spend most of our time thinking about what we should have done in the past or worry about what might happen in the future? Living in the past or future creates all kinds of problems for us – most notably anxiety, depression and stress. What if you focused completely on the present moment? How many problems do you really have RIGHT NOW? It’s amazing how we create problems in our mind just so we can worry about them. Most of the time what we worry about never even comes to pass!

There is no greater teacher about living in the present moment than nature. In nature, there is no other reality but the present moment. Plants & animals don’t toil about what should have been or what might happen next. They seem quite content to just BE. Humans forget that we are called beings, not doings! So the next time you start to worry about something that’s already happened (you can’t do anything about it anyway), or about something that hasn’t happened yet (it’s just your imagination at work), sit with a tree or plant for a while and learn what it’s like to exist purely in the moment. It’s bliss.

Lesson 3 – Have More Fun!

Have you ever seen two squirrels romping through the trees together? Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they are fighting or playing, but the two squirrels in a nearby tree that I was watching sure seemed to be having fun to me! I enjoyed their antics for a few minutes then they separated and disappeared into the trees.

A little while later, some movement on the ground not far in front of me caught my attention. It was another squirrel (or perhaps one of the two) and he was hopping right toward me. He kept getting closer, and soon he was actually making his way up the path I had created into my space! He finally stopped just outside my circle just a few feet away, stared directly at me for a few seconds (probably wondering what in the world I was) then continued around the edge of the circle and into the forest behind me. It was as if he came to say, “Hey you, did you get the message?” Sometimes nature needs to hit you over the head a little!

So what were the squirrels telling me? Suddenly it became obvious. “You need to have more fun in your life, Bill!” Wow, does that message hit home! I’m sure it applies to a lot of us. Are we working too much and missing out on life? For what? To accumulate more stuff? Buy a nicer car? Get that dream home? Does any of that really matter at the end of the day?

I think squirrels are great teachers for us because they are one of the few animals that take time out of their busy schedule of gathering food to enjoy the moment and have fun. They really seem to have balanced lives. How many of us can say that? So listen to the squirrels and go out and do something fun today!

 

Lesson 4 – Transformation Comes From Within

Later that morning I noticed a black butterfly flying nearby. Maybe that’s another message? Soon after there was another, then another, then another. Ok, I better pay attention. They seemed to be on some sort of migration from south to north, flying directly across my view as I faced the east. Hmm – what do butterflies do? They transform from a caterpillar, to a chrysalis, to a beautiful butterfly. And what does the east represent? Rebirth, new beginnings, growth, transformation. Aha!

Then another aspect of a butterfly’s transformation came to me. It happens from within. They don’t go around trying to change the external world to accommodate their desire to change. The butterfly’s lesson to me is that if you want to see change – go within! Nature does this instinctively, but we typically try to change everyone and everything on the outside world to create a better life. How well does that work? How long does the new car, new house, new jewelry etc. bring happiness for? How successful are we at changing other people into who we want them to be?

If instead we listen to the butterfly and focus on our internal state of being, the outside will naturally take care of itself. “As within, so without” is an ancient teaching, stemming back to  Socrates, Confucius, and many other wise teachers throughout history, that exemplifies this important life lesson. Thank you, wise butterflies!

Lesson 5 – Change Your Perspective

The animal associated with the east is the eagle. What makes the eagle such a powerful symbol is that no other bird can fly as high. In many Native American traditions, eagle is believed to carry messages directly to the Creator. So I thought about the eagle, wondering what it would want to teach me today.

I imagined flying on a giant eagle, just letting it take me wherever it wanted to. As we got higher and higher, I wondered what I was supposed to be looking for. Then suddenly we flew so high up I could no longer pick out anything specific to look at even if I wanted to. Then it hit me. I wasn’t supposed to see anything individually at all. Eagle was showing me that from this perspective, everything is just one. I was looking down at the planet and seeing that there is no separateness from here. Not from each other, and not from nature. Everything depends on harmony to survive.

Just think what our world would be like if everyone felt connected to everyone and everything on the planet? Our false belief that we are separate from nature and our brother and sister humans, in my opinion, is the fundamental challenge for the survival of our race and the planet.

With the eagle as our national symbol, perhaps we should start seeing things more from its perspective!

(To be continued…)

Four Days in the Woods – Part 1

Lessons From a Vision Quest 

On August 15th, 2017, at about 7:30 PM, I walked into the woods alone after just finishing a delicious, over-filling pasta dinner. It will be about 72 hours before another morsel of food or a drop of water passes my lips, and over 90 hours until my next meal. I was about to begin a vision quest.

Many people find it hard to understand why someone would voluntarily abstain from food or water for so long, and spend that much time alone out in the woods with virtually nothing to do but sit in one place. Within many indigenous cultures, especially Native American, the vision quest (or more correctly translated to “crying for a vision”) is a regular part of life. It typically marks a significant event in an individual’s life, such as a boy transitioning to manhood. The boy, upon his request, would be sent out on a vision quest by an elder of the tribe (often the spiritual leader) to seek his purpose and mission in life. He will usually take nothing with him but a blanket or animal hide to keep warm. Upon his return to the community, he brings valuable lessons to share, perhaps a vision to be translated by the elder, and a new direction in life as an adult.  Fasting is an important aspect of the journey. It’s a sacrifice to both the land and to spirit, which shows that one is willing to first give before receiving their valuable teachings.

Today, the vision quest is accessible to many Westerners as an opportunity for deep reflection, discovering purpose and direction in life, to work out specific challenges, for healing, and for many other personal reasons. For me, it floated onto my radar about two years ago after becoming the host for a boys’ rite of passage event on my family’s land in Vermont. I am truly fortunate for the opportunity to participate in this amazing ceremony in which a community of about forty men and older teens send thirteen-year-old boys out into the woods for a solo overnight experience.  The lessons they share with us upon their return the next day are often profound teachings for all of us – and they are just kids!

Having observed the powerful impact of the rite of passage ceremony, I was inspired to run an adult version of it (a vision quest) on the same property and to participate with the group. Over the next year or so pieces began to come together and I had a vision quest planned and ready to go with a few people planning to join me. But the Universe had a different plan for me. At first it was just the group idea that didn’t work out, when one by one people backed out for various reasons. I was still committed though, even if I would be doing it on my own (with an experienced guide assisting me through it). Then two days before the event, the whole thing had to be cancelled.

Lesson 1 – Surrender to the Outcome

The first lesson from this experience happened when my initial plans fell through. I learned about surrender. I was initially frustrated and disappointed that the vision quest wasn’t going to happen my way. But I had a sense that there was a bigger reason for this apparently bad situation. I decided to have faith and be patient. In the end, my vision quest still happened, and I met an amazing community of supportive, caring people that I would never have met had I proceeded on my own in VT!

I learned that once the big picture is set, the details of how it will happen are not necessarily in your control. By surrendering to the outcome, knowing that the Universe is always looking out for your highest and best good, when one plan falls through you can rest easy knowing something better is on the way. Just be patient. Looking back, it’s clear that the way this unfolded for me was absolutely for the best, even though it was far from what I initially imagined!


As I walked up the hill into the dense forest, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d fasted before, but never for this long. I had never gone without liquids for more than a few hours, and I had definitely never sat alone in one place for 4 days with nothing to do!

The first night was uneventful. I set up my tent with the little bit of daylight I had left, then cleaned up the debris around my space using a headlamp to see what I was doing. I stayed up for a little while with my “campfire” (a large candle) set in the middle of my clearing thinking about the long days ahead. I was definitely a little worried about what my condition might be by day 3. Then it was time to get some rest.

To be continued…

My spot in the woods before clearing out the debris and setting up the circle. I decided against any photographs of the finshed site as it’s sacred space better left alone.

Money and the Three Little Brains

Once upon a time there were three little brains. One day, they decided to each build a home to provide protection from the big bad money wolf who always seemed to be out to get them.

The first little brain built a primitive shelter out of instinctive reactions like fight, flight and freeze. The second little brain built a slightly larger shelter using emotions, where he stored his memories and experiences. The highly motivated third little brain built a strong, sturdy home out of logic, thinking, reflection and reasoning.

By and by, after the three little brains had spent some time enjoying their new homes, the big, bad money wolf came sneaking along, having heard about these little brains hiding from him in their new homes. He knew that they couldn’t keep him away!

First he approached the primitive, reactive home. “This will be a piece of cake,” he declared. With a booming, scary voice, the big, bad money wolf shouted, “Little brain, little brain, let me in!” Shocked, frightened and unable to move, the first little brain timidly replied, “not by the cells of my brainy, brain stem.” Angered by this response, the money wolf replied, “Then I will huff, and I will puff, and I will blow your house down!” The little brain just froze inside his primitive shelter, shaking with sheer fright. The money wolf took a deep breath and blew out a devastating, hurricane-like wind. The primitive house blew apart instantly, and the frozen, fearful little brain suddenly screamed and took off running as fast as he could go.

The money wolf gave chase but the first little brain arrived safely in the second little brains house of emotion, memories and experiences. This house was a little bigger than the primitive shelter and presented a bit more of a challenge to the money wolf. But once again he demanded in a frightening tone, “Little brains, little brains, let me in!” The second little brain was feeling quite upset and was worried about his house. “Did I make it strong enough? What if I made a mistake? What will we do if he gets inside?” The first little brain was once again frozen in panic and was unable to help. Courageously, the second little brain answered, “Not by the veins of my limby, limbic brain!”

The furious money wolf once again shouted back, “Then I will huff, and I will puff, and I will blow your house down!” The two little brains prayed the house of emotion would stand, but soon they heard a thunderous wind bellowing all around them. The house began to shake and shimmy – then suddenly everything came crashing down around the little brains. They both ran away as fast as any brain has ever run, and just in the nick of time shot through the door of the third brain’s house into safety, slamming the door on the money wolf’s nose.

The third little brain, curious as to what had just happened, questioned his two friends and learned of their horrifying experience. “Not to worry.” The third brain said. “I have built this house from the strongest materials, I have thought of every possible disaster and I am certain that we will be safe.” From outside the house, they heard the money wolf once again, this time even more angry than ever before. “Little brains, little brains, you better let me in now!” The third brain, confident of his strong home, replied, “Not by the neurons of my frontal lobe lobe, you silly money wolf!”

The first little brain suddenly shifted to fight mode, screaming with rage at the money wolf through the door to leave them alone. The second little brain was crying hysterically, blaming the entire situation on his poorly constructed house. The third little brain calmly surveyed the scene and waited…

Once again, the money wolf took a deep breath and blew with all of his might. But the house did not move. Again, he took the deepest breath he could muster, blowing with all the strength he had, but nothing happened. He tried one last desperate attempt, but failing to cause even the slightest shutter of this intellectual fortress, he slumped off in defeat.

“The money wolf is gone!” exclaimed the third brain. “I told you we had nothing to fear.” From that day on, the three little brains decided that they would all live in one home where they could work together to create a better life – each with a specific job.

The first brain will keep the basic systems of the house running, and if there is an emergency he will react quickly and help get the others out of trouble. The second brain will keep track of their memories and experiences, and when they need a good laugh or cry, he will be there to lead the way. The third brain will be the mastermind and make sure everything is running smoothly together. As any challenges arise, he will think them through and be the problem solver. They agreed to let third brain be in charge of any future dealings with the money wolf.

How do you deal with the money wolf? Which brain are you operating from?

If you feel like the first or second brain, you are certainly not alone.  Most of us still primarily react from our primitive brains when dealing with stress (which money causes a lot of!). As a money coach, my goal is to help individuals operate from their thinking brain when it comes to issues around money, resulting in a more abundant and joyful life. With a little time and effort, you can build that third brain fortress and keep the money wolf at bay!

The Eagle and the Condor

Looking at the world today, I see two very distinct versions of it. On one hand I see a technologically advanced, ever-expanding world of scarcity and competition. On the other, a natural, harmonious world of abundance. Then, sadly, I see a pretty intense conflict between the two. Will one side win over the other? Will we ultimately find balance between them? I recently came across an ancient story that explains the origin of these two paths the human race has taken and offers a prophecy that, true or not, gives me some hope for the future.

The story of the Eagle and the Condor dates back about 2000 years. It probably originated from the Amazon region, but it’s been found in many indigenous cultures in various forms throughout the world. According to this legend, at some point deep in our history, human societies decided to take two different routes and become two distinct people: the Eagle people and the Condor people.

The Eagle people identify with the mind, are industrial, revere science and technology and are consummate explorers – colonizing as they go. Predominantly of masculine energy, they would be seen as aggressors and masters of their world.

The Condor people are intuitive, creative and primarily of feminine energy. Indigenous people living in harmony with nature identify with this path. They prioritize the heart over the brain and mysticism over rationalism. They believe that they belong to the Earth and are its caretakers – not the masters over it.

The prophecy says that for much of history the two paths would not cross, but at a certain point beginning in the late 1400’s they finally meet. The Eagle will have become so strong that the Condor is nearly driven to extinction. We know that, since Columbus, this has certainly proven true in many cultures. Think of our Native Americans, the Mayans, the Aborigines and so forth.

Now for the good news. The story says that the Condor people will survive and the next period of history beginning in the late 20th century will usher in an opportunity for the Eagle and Condor to fly together in one sky and to co-create a higher human consciousness. Evidence that this period has begun is all around us: from a huge surge in socially responsible investing, alternative energy use, conservation projects, recycling, spiritual awakening, alternative medicine, the practice of meditation and yoga – the list goes on and on.

Yes, we still have plenty of challenges and the majority of society is still very much aligned with the Eagle. But with perseverance and hope we will get there and fulfill this beautiful prophecy by creating a New Earth of peace and harmony with nature.

So where does that leave you? Can you feel this duality within yourself? Is there part of you that is  doing your best to make a living, support a family, accumulate enough money to retire, buy bigger and bigger houses, nicer and nicer cars, more and more stuff? At the same time is there part of you that wonders what this is all about? What’s my purpose on this planet? Isn’t the way we are treating the Earth going to wipe us out? What’s the point of it all?

I believe the Eagle and Condor are within us all. Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. In some the Eagle is dominant and must succeed at all costs, never having enough and constantly striving for more and more. In others, the Condor rules the roost and feels lost in this material world, longing for a more simple life in harmony with nature and all beings.

We must find a balance to be truly happy. We can bring the Eagle and Condor together within ourselves and let them soar as one, creating a higher consciousness. We can provide for ourselves and for others while at the same time respecting each other and our planet. Being good and doing well can coexist. In fact our very survival as a species depends on it.

Working as a Certified Money Coach is my way of bringing these two worlds together. We need money to survive, but too many of us let it take over our lives. We may become the Eagle, creating a fear of scarcity, competition and the never ending need for more. Or we may be the Condor, where we run from the material world and push money away as “bad,” creating long-term financial struggle. Most of us are somewhere in between, but still out of balance.

The money coaching process identifies these Eagle and Condor behaviors and creates strategies that allow them to soar together as one within us – raising our consciousness and transcending the weight of the material world. As a result we can effortlessly attract what we need into our lives and live a much more harmonious life with everything around us.

If you are ready to begin this journey, the time is now and has never been more important. Don’t put it off another day!

 

Why Money Coaching?

Money Coaching exists for a simple reason – a lot of people have challenges with money! Money is a major cause of marital problems, creates significant stress and anxiety in individuals, promotes a false sense of happiness and security, is used to control and manipulate others, and so on. Why is this so?

I believe that a major contributing factor to our money problems is that money has become a survival tool in modern society. It is very difficult to exist in the material world without it. When we need something to survive, and we perceive that we do not have enough (perpetuated by scarcity based economic principles), certain brain functions kick in to help us in our fight for survival – better known as the fight or flight response.

These functions served us well in primitive times when we literally had to fight or flee to survive in a hunter/gatherer existence. Today, however, we have advanced to the point where life-threatening situations rarely, if ever, occur in our lives. But the same primitive response to stress still exists in our brain. We have evolved in the external world tremendously, but unfortunately our hunter/gatherer brains are still very much unchanged. All we’ve done is change where we hunt and gather – from forests, prairies and jungles to office buildings and shopping malls!

Not only do we have these primitive survival instincts creating tension in our relationship with money, but other forces are acting against us as well. Most of what we learn about money comes from our parents. Neuroscience tells us that by the time we reach the age of 12, our learned patterns of emotion, language and thought are hard-wired into our brain. What we learned as a child about money, both intellectually and emotionally, follows us into adulthood and affects our lives in a significant way. Unfortunately our parents weren’t always the best role models!

Money coaching integrates neuroscience, neuro-economics, behavioral finance, psychology, and spiritual principles to address the core money challenges an individual is dealing with. It recognizes that our negative behaviors around money are not easily changed. A lifetime of beliefs and patterns will not be altered by prescribing a better budgeting plan or investment strategy. It requires recognition of what the patterns and behaviors are, where they came from, and why they are there. Only then will specific strategies to transform negative money behaviors be effective.

Beginning with a core process of four, one-hour sessions, a money coach follows this strategy of first  identifying a client’s challenging patterns, beliefs and behaviors around money, then helps create small but significant steps to transform these patterns into those that will serve the client in a much more positive way going forward. On-going support to help facilitate this transformation is often provided as well. The amount of coaching one needs is completely up to them.

To learn more about the Money Coaching process, please click here to visit the Money Coaching page.