Money Meditations from a Motorcycle Trip

My husband and I recently finished a 2,200 mile motorcycle ride from Seattle, WA to Santa Fe, NM. Our journey was part vacation and part intervention for my ongoing struggle with workaholism. On the back of the bike, all I could do was be in the moment.
Without the constant stimulation of modern digital life bombarding me with offers and information, my point of comparison for personal happiness shifted to the present. Without the protection a train, plane, or automobile to shield me from contact with nature, I experienced all kinds of interactions.
To my surprise, the result was… joy. This led me to wonder:

Could a large part of our current financial angst be caused by false comparisons and a lack of true human connection?

As we road down the coastline in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California we spent a great deal of time in sparsely inhabited terrain. For long stretches there was nothing to look at but the stunning beauty of the rocky coastline. When we would enter a town, the billboards, shops, and activity felt jarring next to the peace and quiet of the open road. After repeating this cycle several times, I noticed a pattern.  I felt much more content in nature. The more posh or commercial the town we road through, the more thoughts of wants, unmet desires, and surprising needs would bubble up. By around the tenth time this happened I could see how complete I felt in nature – and how unknown material hungers arose in civilization.
In modern life, we so often compare ourselves not just to the Joneses next door, but to the lives of the Catherine Zeta-Joneses…the rich and famous. When see the discrepancy, we feel lack. Yet as the data in this wonderful article by veteran journalist Scott Burns shows, 50% of households earn less than $33,000 a year and 75% of households earn less than $66,000 a year. By contrast, the “average” lifestyles portrayed in mainstream media would require incomes well into the six-digits to replicate. Yet you have to get to the top 5% of households before you start seeing regular incomes of $150,000 plus.
Modern digital life has flooded us with images of “average” lifestyles that are far beyond reach for the majority of people. So, we end up judging our success or happiness against images that are false comparisons.
As we turned inland and traversed through Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, I noticed another phenomenon. At virtually every gas station we stopped at people came up to talk to us about the bike, our trip, or just to say hello. I can’t remember the last time I just started talking to a random person when I pull my car up to my local gas station! There’s something about being out in the open on a bike that inspires people to come over and chat the way a friendly dog in a park might encourage you to come over and pet him. We had some delightful conversations. Invariably after a pleasant exchange, I felt a sense of calm connection washing over me that is sorely lacking in my normal workdays.
We spend so much of our time enclosed in various modes of transportation and attached to digital devices that raw, spontaneous human connection has become a rarity. Lacking that emotional nourishment, we fill ourselves up in other ways: shopping, consuming, striving, and achieving. Stagnating happiness levels may well be the result.
Have you noticed places in your own life where you’d like to let go of making comparisons and cultivate deeper connections with others? If so, would your spending patterns change at all?

20 Replies to “Money Meditations from a Motorcycle Trip”

  1. I wish our society had a “do-over” button!  I agree completely with your article. 
    It’s so obvious when I look at the expectations of my teenage children compared to what mine were at that age.  What they see everyday in the media is so unrealistic in relation to what they earn at this point, if ever.
    And you’re definitely right about being in a digital bubble, isolated from human interaction…no wonder we’re all so stressed out and anxious!

  2. This is one reason I started distance running.  Being alone with your own mind for hours on end, you have no choice but to detach yourself from the world of technology and reach deep inside of you and have conversations with your soul. 
    Also, I’ve found the running community is a tight knit one.  It doesn’t matter if you make $20k a year or $200k a year, are 18 or 78, a marathon is a marathon is a marathon.  Just completing a 26.2 mile trek is an accomplishment on its own and everyone stands on equal ground. 

  3. My wife and I moved to Maine in 1975 from the Philadelphia area.
    We took salary cuts of ~ 50% from which we never recovered financially.  But,
    The people here are more pleasant, open, polite.  We dress in used clothing/LL Bean sale clothing. We do have conversations.
    We have a wonderful college nearby (Bowdoin) and life is all around us – wildlife.  When I sit on the deck  reading I will see/hear Bald Eagles, Osprey, waterfowl, shore birds, warblers, Pileated woodpeckers, marshland.  Deer, Red Fox and the like.
    Good for you. Hope you are more relaxed and more into our “real world”.

  4. Manisha,
    I am in total agreement with you.  When I ride motorcycle with my companion across country the feeling  cannot be totally expressed unless you experience it.  I too, when riding on the back become “in the moment.”  It is at that time that I can reflect on how my personal and professional life back into the hub of digital society becomes emotionally draining to the point that you become robotic like.  You become disconnected from yourself. 

    1. I loved the phrase Alexis used in her comment, she called it a “Moving Meditation” – perfect description. As is your point about the “hub of digital society” becoming “emotionally draining to the point that you become robotic like.” I’m waiting at the gate in an airport as I write this, surrounded by 7 people. Every single one of us is staring down at a digital screen of some type. No human connections at all 🙁
      It would be interesting to ask people how much money (or what “things”) they feel they need before a long motorcycle ride through nature and then repeat the question afterwards. I have a hunch the numbers might be very different as the richness of authentic life, so to speak, bubbles up away from the non-stop hum of digital life.

    1. “Moving meditation” – what a perfect description of this delicious experience. Makes me wonder what the opposite would be – “Stagnant Spinning” perhaps? – for the times when we are so caught up in the CrazyBusyness of work/life that we are swirling around but not making any progress. The thought of “Moving Mediation” just puts such a smile on my face… it feels warm and freeing. Thanks, Alexis (and hope you are well!!)

  5. Manisha, great insights!  My wife and I also ride, and we share your experience.  Life becomes sweeter; people become friendlier.  And we relax and enjoy ourselves and our relationship.  As a fellow financial planner, this is one of the challenges that I am MOST looking forward to–how to help people get off the material treadmill, pause, take a deep breath, and learn to enjoy the beauty of nature and the free gifts of life.  And not worry about whether they will have enough “goodies” to be happy.  And, wasn’t there a study that showed that $70k is all you need to earn to maximize your happiness?  Making more doesn’t buy more happiness.   

    1. Aw – thank you :). As I try to find this overarching “concept or tool” that can help ALL of us have increased financial peace of mind, it’s incredibly helpful for me to hear what concepts in these blog posts are resonating most strongly with people or what feelings are being evoked by these pieces (so I know which direction to head in next in a way that will be truly useful to readers!). If you feel comfortable doing so, would you be up for sharing what felt most powerful to you in this piece? No pressure – only if it brings you joy to share.

  6. Manisha, I’m smiling as I envision you and Randy taking this trek on motorcycle…hats off to you!  (You are a much braver woman than I.)  We recently experienced natural disaster here in Western Massachussetts.  We’re all fine, but another multi-day power loss left us wondering “why” we waste so much of our time worrying about connecting with people with our various devices.  The best communication is ALWAYS in person.  Looking forward to phoning into MONEY PEACE tomorrow…my daughter Steph and her friend Jenn will be joining me! 

    1. Mary – Oh my heavens, what is going on with the storms in Western MA. Am so sorry to hear you had another brutal encounter with Mother Nature… but sounds like in in odd sort of way it may have been a blessing. The best part of this motorcycle trip for me was NOT being able to check my electronic gizmos on the back of the bike. And it sounds like you experienced that same “Forced Freedom” during the power outage. Feel like should be CALLING you to say this rather than emailing :). Very excited you, Steph, and Jenn will be listening in to Money Peace!!

      1. MONEY PEACE was a very interesting format!  We listened to it while scrapbooking and talked about the different approaches to conquering fear of money…interesting panel.  I loved your comments (as usual).  Interesting to see the very diverse opinions on the topic of money and happiness.  So true.  I particularly loved the interaction on personal happiness and NOT measuring and comparing ourselves to others expecting happiness.  Money is only one piece of the pie…personal happiness means so much more.  More stuff doesn’t = happiness.  Great message to walk away with…take care.  -M

        1. So glad you were able to join the call, Mary! As I write this to you I’m out in Los Angeles… a place that is a VERY stark reminder of the potential happiness pitfalls that come from “measuring and comparing ourselves to others.” My cab driver from the airport to the hotel was half German & half Armenian. He was telling me what a shock to the cultural senses it was when he first came to this country and saw how relentless focused our culture can be on money and consumption… and how he could see in the back of his cab how more often than not such a focus was not resulting in life joy. Now scrap-booking, that sound joyous – all those memories 🙂

    2. Mary – Oh my heavens, what is going on with the storms in Western MA. Am so sorry to hear you had another brutal encounter with Mother Nature… but sounds like in in odd sort of way it may have been a blessing. The best part of this motorcycle trip for me was NOT being able to check my electronic gizmos on the back of the bike. And it sounds like you experienced that same “Forced Freedom” during the power outage. Feel like should be CALLING you to say this rather than emailing :). Very excited you, Steph, and Jenn will be listening in to Money Peace!!

  7. I could not agree more. In todays ever connected world is so easy to lose sight of the importance of remaining present and decompressing by reconnecting to nature. I find taking the time away from my digital connections truly informs my thinking and gives me a renewed energy. connecting to nature thru a long walk on the beach a hike in the mountains provides nourishment for the soul and a respite for the mind. Years ago I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance it was a really nice read and it has always stayed with me.

  8. Thank you so much for this – what a beautiful way of thinking about money and the race to work more, earn more, always have more more more… I feel so at peace in nature – all desire to be a workaholic disappears when I’m amongst the trees or standing in the presence of the power of the ocean. Thank you for your words and the inspiration – this was particularly perfect for me in my life right now.

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