Paying the Bills

"The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."

C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands

"Happiness doesn't depend on how much you have to enjoy . . . But how much you enjoy what you have."


Paying bills can be a great challenge to one's equanimity. It is relatively easy to be calm and tranquil while sitting in meditation or while in prayer. It is harder to maintain relaxed composure while engaging in mental activity that may bring up numerous emotional issues. Wouldn't it be nice to face bill paying with peace of mind?

For many of us, paying bills is an onerous task. We've bought things and consumed services, which may have given us pleasure, but oddly, paying the price afterwards doesn't factor into the pleasure part. We may be a little greedy. We like having our money and we don't like seeing it flow away. We may have fears of not having enough. We may be reacting to previous experiences of poverty or our parents' experiences. These fears may have little to do with the reality of our financial situation, but as unfinished emotional business they make handling finances tense and unpleasant.

Sometimes tension around paying bills can be about trust and control. We may not trust ourselves or our life partner to control spending urges or to share fully in earning money. If someone in the household is spending more than we think they should, we can easily focus our anxieties on their habits in the form of anger.

Sitting down with the checkbook and a pile of bills can also bring up feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps we aren't living up to our expectations or someone else's expectations of what we should be earning. When we don't live up to our role as a provider, we can feel weak and impotent.

For some of us, just doing the math and trying to understand the terms of financial agreements may be a problem. The prospect of dealing with anonymous large corporations who want our money, or worse yet, harassing bill collectors, can heighten anxiety and make us feel very small.

Ideally, we would experience peace and joy in all of our daily activities. Feeling good doing some things can be easy. Other times we may need to work at it. Here are some suggestions for transforming bill paying to a more joyful exercise.


Create a ritual: Instead of a chore, make paying the bills into a spiritual exercise. Clean up the clutter in the place where the task will be done. Make it a sacred space. Perhaps burn some incense. Light a candle. Place a holy image where you can see it. If it won't distract you, put on some calming background music.

Create an intention: Set your mind on completing your financial task without the usual strain. Affirm in your mind that you will pay your debts with gratitude for what you have and faith that what you need will be provided. Further affirm that you will surmount any emotional obstacles you find arising.

Breathe: Take a few slow, calming, cleansing breaths to help clear your mind. Allow your body to become relaxed and centered.

Be mindful: As you handle your bills and write your checks, keep some awareness of your emotional processes. Notice when emotions arise. Notice what emotions they are and label them. You may feel anxiety, frustration, anger, inadequacy, self doubt. Acknowledge the feeling. See if you have a mental image that goes with it. How is the emotion connected with the image? Is the image connected with some fantasy of disaster that might arise for lack of money? Examine how realistic this fantasy is. Remind yourself to experience what is real now. You don't need to indulge in disaster scenarios. Bring your mind back to your breathing and the feelings in your body.

Deal with unfinished emotional business later: After you are finished paying your bills, spend some time examining the feelings and thoughts that came up for you while you were doing the job. See if you can understand where they came from. Did you inherit a parent's belief system? Are you responding to past hardship? Are the beliefs you hold about finances still valid? Do they serve you?

Give thanks: Be thankful for the income you have, even if it is not as large as you would like it to be. Appreciate the extent that the flow of currency does support you. Remember that, compared to many in this world, you live in affluence.

Don't forget to share: Make yourself a part of something bigger than yourself by giving to a charity you believe in.

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© 1998-2002 Tom Barrett