If you ask me what should be your top priority in life, I certainly won’t say enlightenment or praying to God. I won’t even say that it’s to serve others. The first thing I will say is that to take care of your physical health should be your top priority. This is merely my view. By using “should” I’m not suggesting that you “should”.

Eating well, exercising and being in top physical shape is the foundation of happiness. If your health is good, you can serve others and you can meditate, you can pray and you can do so many other things you fancy. But, of course, there are a lot of people who are in great shape, yet they are not happy. This leads me to the topic at hand — the most important task.

Once again, I don’t have any philosophical angle for you today. Nor am I recommending that you go on a world mission to save humanity (unless you want to). I have something very practical for you to think about. I’ve been meaning to write on this subject for long. Let me tell you a little joke first.

The police were coming down heavily on the mafia. So the don hired a new recruit, Aberto, who could neither speak nor hear. If Aberto ever got caught, he wouldn’t be able to reveal anything to the police, he thought.

Aberto became the new debt collector and was sent for the weekly collections. After working honestly for a few weeks, he started taking a cut from the collections. And before long, Aberto had amassed $100,000. The don found out that he was stashing cash somewhere.

The trouble was the mafia couldn’t speak to or understand Aberto. So, they got an interpreter who could communicate with him. The hood traced him down and he was presented before the don.
“Where’s the money?” the don yelled.
The interpreter turned to Aberto and expressed the question using sign language.

“I don’t know,” signaled Aberto.
The interpreter conveyed the same.
The don put a gun to Aberto’s head and asked the interpreter to repeat his question.
Fearing for his life, he told the truth and said that the money was hidden in a certain tree stump in the Central Park.

“What did Aberto say?” the don asked the interpreter.
“He said he doesn’t know where the money is and, you don’t have the guts to pull the trigger,” replied the interpreter.

What happened next? I leave it to your imagination.

Anyone who is in debt is like Aberto in some way. There is always a psychological gun to your head. You may have found a compromise to live with debt, but I doubt that there is any peaceful way at all. In our present world of reckless consumerism, most of us are constantly buying things that have little use and no significance in our lives. Anyway, I don’t mean to preach, so, let me get to the most important task at hand.

In my view, to become debt-free is the most important and most urgent task for anyone who owes even a penny to anyone else at all. A life free of debt is the most royal life. Such a life may not give you much to show off, but you will always have a smile on your face and bliss in your heart. A debt free person sleeps in peace and wakes up happy. I don’t deny that buying a house is tempting, and therefore, a mortgage is almost a necessity. Fine. There is, however, a difference between buying a white cow and a white elephant. You decide.

If you look around you will discover that most of our purchases result from emotional, if not impulsive, decisions. We keep buying items and we keep creating clutter. With more storage, we cleverly hide it, but it continues to add up, pile up. Everything we buy, no matter how big or small, we have to pay for it. And anything you buy on borrowed money will eventually cost you many times more.

Debt arises from ambition and desire. You cannot take care of debt by taking on more debt. This is a vicious cycle. There is only one way I know to get rid of your debt. It’s called decluttering. Get rid of everything that you don’t need in your life. Look at everything you own, from the smallest item of any material value to the most expensive, and ask yourself, “Do I really need it?” Sell everything that you don’t need. Do it all in one go.

You can’t declutter over a time. Either you bring the milk to a boil or you don’t. You can’t say that you will do a little bit every day. It’s all or nothing. Simplify your lifestyle and your life becomes simple on its own. Once you start to experience the joy of simple living, you will realize how little is actually needed to lead a fulfilling life. And with diminishing needs, you gain more freedom — personal and financial freedom.

As it is, we have plenty of moral, social and emotional debt. What sense is there in accruing financial debt on top? Do you need that expensive phone, that big car, big house, those gadgets, these many clothes, that club membership? Do you really?

The more clutter you have in the physical world, the more junk you’ll have in your inner world. Look around and find me even one exception. If you want to experience peace without worrying about meditation, if you wish to feel what it is like when one attains enlightenment then I suggest you begin by decluttering.

If there’s a nirvana, it is to lead a simple life sans ostentatiousness. If there’s a financial nirvana, it’s to be debt-free. This is Zen in a nutshell. My two cents’ worth — interest free.

Peace.
Swami

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