There’s a tendency among many of us who make a living doing something we love to not charge enough or at all for our goods and services. We think to ourselves, “Well, if I would do it for free, shouldn’t I?” It took me years to charge the premium price for my massage sessions that I do now, and I’ve had to break the habit of undercutting myself. One of my massage teachers made a point that receiving payment for our service is an energetic exchange.
A similar idea can be found in a book I read as an undergraduate: The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture. Underneath the theoretical framework of a proposed “religion of consumerism,” this book explains when we buy something, we are actually acting out a sacred ritual of acquisition and consumption that binds our society together. This idea has helped me to see that my spiritual and business values actually aren’t as disparate as I once thought.
When I first encountered this idea, I started to have a whole new understanding of shopping. Up until then, the urge to shop had become something that I had tried to squelch. The influence of studying Buddhism as a Religious Studies student had already made its dent on my psyche and I had started to deny the impulse to purchase something, striving to distinguish the difference between want and need. But once I embraced this perspective, seeing the process of acquisition as something I did as my duty to maintain connection to the larger society and participate in an energetic exchange, I couldn’t help but want to go out and make a purchase.
After reading this book one day, I went to a boutique just to experience purchasing something with this new awareness. Once I found a ring I liked (by no means anything I needed), I took it to the counter and watched as we began the ritual of acquisition. The process was the same as it had always been except I didn’t feel any guilt about my unneeded purchase. I actually felt like I was doing my part to keep this business alive; I started to see that economics didn’t have to be about one person getting more than another, but instead it could be this sacred dance in which we all have our part. That was my first lesson in being able to see a deeper meaning in accepting money for something in my own business.
I consider myself a spiritual person, but I also desire to own and operate a successful business; it’s hard to not see conflict between these two value systems. My spirituality leans more towards a release of materialistic views, but from a business perspective, working towards creating success and affluence is entirely appropriate and necessary. Yes, on one level my goal is selling products to recoup my cost and then some, and if I want my business to survive I need to pay attention to how those numbers are flowing and create an ever more efficient method of operation.
On another level, however, I am performing my sacred duty as a merchant. When I think of it like that, the need for making a certain set of numbers falls away. It’s like when Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita realizes that he must fight because this force larger than him has already killed the men he wants to save. It may sound strange, but once I hand over my concerns for profit margins, I’m able to act from that space of loving what I do, which makes the products I sell and my interactions with customers more authentic.
What’s really happening is that I am thinking of more than just me. Unlike the stereotypical salesperson, I’m trying to be conscious of the larger society and offer products that I believe will help people because when it all comes down to it, that’s what I want to do. I consider my work to be a service to the larger community, and there’s a part of me that desires a connection to something greater than myself. The ritual exchange that occurs when I provide someone with my products allows me to participate in the collective power of economics that helps to bind us all together.
Just this past weekend I had a man in a class who had purchased an aromatherapy blend of mine through a colleague. He had since lost the bottle and had been missing it. Even though it wasn’t calming down his neurological pain like we had hoped, smelling it just made him feel better. I was thrilled to tell him to just come visit me at our weekly market where I’m a vendor and that I’d have it for him there.
Sure, I’m happy to have found another happy customer who will probably come back and help support my business. I will make some profit from the bottle I sell him, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I want to contribute to my community in a positive way, and this is the way I’ve chosen to make a living. I’ve learned there is nothing wrong with making a profit selling my products; my customers want to give me money because they value what I do.
When we don’t charge for our work, it risks suggesting that we do not value it ourselves or believe anyone else will. Alternatively, we can understand this worth on a cosmic level, knowing that by accepting payment for work we are playing a crucial role in a sacred exchange, performing a ritual through which money turns into a desired object of acquisition.
Knowing that I play a part in this necessary ritual, and seeing my work as such, allows for greater meaning in my life. To me, having meaning is worth more than having money, but with this perspective I can have both in a way that supports my success in the material world and perhaps beyond.