“Prepared with Love and Magic by House of Intuition” claimed the bottle of “Money Magic” bubble bath, half-empty and sitting on the edge of my almost-too-small-to-lie-in bathtub.
I had bought the bubble bath from a local Los Angeles boutique, House of Intuition (a self-described “metaphysical shop dedicated to helping people achieve healing, transformation, empowerment, and personal growth”), along with a space-cleansing powder called “Cascarilla” and a small, pretty bottle of calming Rose Water. At the register, I pushed my boyfriend’s voice out of my head (“Money Magic bubble bath? Please tell me you’re joking”) and handed over my debit card.
Part of me always feels weird about mixing faith and finances by flat-out asking the universe for money, but my latest salary review left me desperate for change. A week before, I went into a one-on-one meeting with my executive editor, Jen, clutching clean, white pages of statistics and charts quantifying my accomplishments of the past year, along with well-researched analytics of the median salary for my job title and experience level.
Jen didn’t even try to conceal her condescending smirk-turned-chuckle when I presented my research and asked for an increase to my just-above-minimum-wage salary. “I can tell you no one in the industry is making that much,” she said dismissively. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
PART OF ME ALWAYS FEELS WEIRD ABOUT MIXING FAITH AND FINANCES BY FLAT-OUT ASKING THE UNIVERSE FOR MONEY, BUT MY LATEST SALARY REVIEW LEFT ME DESPERATE FOR CHANGE.
I nearly cried. I debated going home sick. I just knew I was worth more. Worth more than canceling lunch plans because my bank account balance was dangerously low. Worth more than stealing my neighbors’ spotty Wi-Fi in the days between bills due and my paycheck clearing. Worth more than eating a company-provided banana every morning for breakfast because I couldn’t afford my own groceries.
In that state of mind, I was powerless to resist the lean, inch-high letters beckoning me from the bottle’s label: PROSPERITY | ABUNDANCE | SUCCESS. A smaller sticker instructed me to:
- Add water to a warm bath
- Contemplate intent
- Relax & enjoy
As I sank into the hot, green suds, the water level rose, sending emerald waves sloshing over the side of the tub and rushing between the floor tiles. In my mind, I focused on my drained bank account, as well as my hopes that I’d see a return on this saponaceous investment.
My last name is DeFino, or “The Finest,” if you asked my Italian grandfather. He taught my father this handy translation, which my father handed down to me: We are the finest, and we deserve the finest things life has to offer. I called bullshit on this when I was about five years old.
ALL IN ALL, MY UNDERSTANDING OF CLASS, MONEY, AND SELF-WORTH WAS PRETTY CONVOLUTED.
My father would spend a good chunk of change on a flashy family car—our family of six ate spaghetti for dinner every other night for years to compensate. My three siblings and I enjoyed a private, Catholic education from kindergarten to senior year, but our cable would get shut off while we watched TV after school. His version of “the finer things in life” included things that benefitted us—things that also made him appear wealthy and successful. It always seemed silly to me: what did it matter if the guy at the end of the block admired our car? If he peeked inside our windows, he’d see six people, four cats, and two dogs fighting for space in a three-bed, one-bath. All in all, my understanding of class, money, and self-worth was pretty convoluted.
I resented and rebelled against the idea of being “The Finest,” but sometimes it felt like something I couldn’t shake—something bone-deep and unavoidable. The two sides of myself constantly fought: I did believe I deserved everything I wanted out of life (including a full closet of designer clothes that countless issues of Vogue had helped me dream up, natch). But I didn’t want a life that only looked good. It was more important to me that my life felt good, too.
I moved to Los Angeles from my home in New Jersey after the double-whammy of the 2009 financial crisis and my college graduation. I was among the first graduating classes to enter the workforce post-crisis. While I tried to become a professional writer, I held a slew of low-paying (or no-paying) jobs and internships. It’s as if every hiring manager I encountered could smell my millennial desperation, luring me in with the promise of something better just beyond my reach, knowing I’d work harder to get it. The story was always the same: “There’s so much potential for you here—if you put your time in!”
I MADE FUN OF THEIR TALK OF “ENERGY FLOW” AND “TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION,” BUT LITTLE BY LITTLE, I WARMED UP TO THE IDEA OF EMBARKING ON MY OWN SPIRITUAL JOURNEY.
I waited for the elusive “potential” to kick in and dealt with the inevitable and daily anxiety of supporting myself on a minimum wage salary. Between rent, bills, groceries, and putting gas in the car, sometimes I had barely enough left over at the end of the month to buy a regular-sized tube of toothpaste. (When you need to stretch $20 over seven days, it helps to buy the travel-sized toothpaste from the dollar bin.)
In the midst of all of this—or maybe because of it—I became one of LA’s many hipster-turned-hippies. I’d always been skeptical of the lifestyle my California peers had chosen: yoga, hikes, juice cleanses, et al. I made fun of their talk of “energy flow” and “transcendental meditation,” but little by little, I warmed up to the idea of embarking on my own spiritual journey.
3000 miles away, my mother was feeling the same spiritual pull. It broke her heart that she couldn’t help me financially, and she became obsessed with the idea of helping me spiritually. She placed me “in a white bubble of light” in her thoughts whenever I was going through a particularly rough time. She told me to write down the number 8 on a piece of paper, fold it, and leave it in my wallet; apparently, this would bring me money. She sent me books in the mail about manifestation. I figured I could give it a shot. I mean, why not? So, thanks to the combined influence of Los Angeles’ enlightened vibe and my mother’s guidance, I spent a couple of years studying how to channel the energy of the universe.
I flipped my father’s idea that, as a DeFino, I deserved the best, and I let myself indulge—but instead of splurging on material things that looked rich from the outside, I invested in enriching my soul. Different priorities, same pattern: I had no problem spending $40 on a psychic reading knowing I’d have to eat Cup Noodles all week. I’d buy books on tapping into the power of the universe and call in sick to work because I couldn’t afford the gas to get there. I’d pay $5 a pop for magazines that escaped the newsstand only to be cut up and collaged on a vision board. When I focused on the spiritual, the corporeal seemed to follow naturally; I fully believe I manifested my beautiful-but-cheap-as-hell Los Angeles apartment and my loving, handsome boyfriend. When it worked, well... it worked.
Lights off. Eyes closed. Candles lit. YouTube mediation music on repeat. The sound of gongs and marimbas and ambient strings flooded my ears as the water flooded over my body. I repeated a mantra in my head:
“I am worth never having to worry. I am worth never having to worry.”
I breathed in through my nose—inhale in the positive—out through my mouth in a whoosh of air—exhale the negative. In—the vaguely watermelon-scented air thick and hot—out. In—droplets of sweat and steam rolling down my face—out. Words, breath, and hot water lulled me into a dream world, neon colors moving against the back of my eyelids and bursting into balls of bright white light that shrunk and expanded with every inhale and exhale.
I COULDN’T HELP LAUGHING OUT LOUD. 15 MINUTES IN A FINANCIALLY-CHARGED BATHTUB HAD PROMPTED AN “UPDATE” THAT I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WAS COMING.
Ding! The sound of an incoming e-mail pulled me out of my trance, disoriented and panicked. My job requires 24/7 availability, making it nearly impossible to achieve full, total relaxation. Anticipating something that needed immediate attention, I snapped up, dried my hands on the closest towel, and grabbed my cell to slide open the message.
Message: Wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten about you and that raise we discussed. Mike will have final approval for us next week. So will have an update for you then.
I couldn’t help laughing out loud. 15 minutes in a financially-charged bathtub had prompted an “update” that I didn’t even know was coming. Something had changed Jen’s mind about giving me a raise, and, while I fully believe in the law of attraction, part of me knew that attributing a potential raise to a bubble bath was slightly ridiculous.
The label on the bottle included a warning: “This product is only meant to treat the spiritual causes of suffering.” Had I been suffering financially because my boss was a cheap asshole? Maybe. But maybe I was only suffering financially because I needed to unblock my root chakra and open my spirit to the possibility of financial success.
Of course, the bubble bath could just as well be a placebo—somewhere for me to place my faith, an object that I could assign power to. I mean, isn’t it easier to believe in the power of something outside of ourselves than to admit that the human mind might be capable of creating its own change?
SHE EXPLAINED THAT JUST THE ACT OF DOING SOMETHING TO BETTER MY ENVIRONMENT—LIKE CLEANSING MY WORKSPACE WITH “BLESSED” POWDER—LED TO A BETTER ENVIRONMENT.
The former Catholic schoolgirl in me likes this idea. It’s basically the new-age answer to transubstantiation—the portion of the Catholic mass when the priest prays over wafers and wine to “transform” them into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In actuality, the congregation is eating stale wafers and gulping cheap wine—yet they believe it’s been transformed, and that’s really all that matters.
Like that faith-filled congregation, I believed in the transformative power of my financial bubble bath—as long as I was alone with my thoughts. When I bring this, or anything else spiritual, up in conversation, though, the doubt creeps in: I hear my voice through the ears of others, and it’s harder to stand by my belief in something so intangible, so debatable... something that could be chalked up to plain old coincidence.
I brought this up to my therapist, Sharon, during our first post-Money Magic bubble bath session. I mentioned how taking the bath, along with sprinkling the Cascarilla powder around my work area and washing my desk with Rose Water, had led to my calmest, most productive, and most lucrative work week ever... and that I questioned my sanity.
Sharon actually approved of my little metaphysical adventure. She explained that just the act of doing something to better my environment—like cleansing my workspace with “blessed” powder—led to a better environment. If things like potions and powders and crystals worked for me, then they worked, period. No questions. Hearing Sharon validate my beliefs aloud gave me the go-ahead to accept them myself.
When she suggested that I create a Monday morning ritual—cleanse my desk, sprinkle my powder, bring in a crystal and set my intention for the week—I jumped at the chance to stock up on supplies for my new Monday routine. Crystals, potions, and powders, just as Sharon suggested; but also candles, teas, oils, palo santo bundles, and sage, depending on what my spirit needed that week.
Yes, my income bracket doesn’t really allow for these little luxuries, these symbols of my spirituality (or therapy, for that matter)—but I chalk it up to self-care. I wouldn’t hesitate to spend $15 to fill a prescription from an MD; to me, this is no different. I am worthy of a life that feels good, even if my Netflix subscription is suspended from time to time.