In April last year I had my identity stolenby my mortgage broker. Because he was my banker, the thief had access to all my personal and banking information and was therefore able to do even more damage than an “average” identity thief.
Long story short, the thief had opened and maxed out a relentless barrage of new credit cards, opened new accounts, and made new credit inquiriesall in my name. The thief was even so bold as to create fake checks and use them to withdraw money directly from my checking account.
My savings account was wiped out, I was over sixty thousand dollars in debt from the credit card charges, and my credit rating was obliterated. All the while the police, on multiple occasions, had told me that there was nothing they could dothat most people who are victims of identity theft simply declare bankruptcy, and that it was going to cost thousands in legal fees to have a chance of getting anything done.
I'm no stranger to adversity. I've had many serious health problems and have lost several loved ones before their time. However, with this constant theft and unwillingness of the authorities to intervene, I found I was in uncharted territory. The stress was me eating up. I went to a family member’s birthday party and found it almost impossible to stay in the moment. My mind was consumed by thoughts of retribution or vigilante justice. It then dawned on me that, although money was stolen from me, I was stealing time from myself. I realized that I needed to come up with some positive coping strategies, and fast.
I began to put the principles of Dr. Yang’s meditation program to practical application. One of them is not having expectations. The story of the farmer’s son comes to mind: through a series of the farmer’s losses and gains, the neighbor reacts with “How fortunate!”, or “What a shame!” The farmer’s consistent reply is “Who knows, we shall see.” And the story unfolds.
Maybe this identity theft won't be bad, maybe it will. If I tell myself that I am a perpetual victim, then I will be. If I tell myself that I don’t know what will happen, then I give myself the opportunity to live in the present.
I thought about non-judgment. When I'm an old man looking back on my life, I will look at the difficulties as things that shaped me, made me improve and made me who I am. What if I began to face the identity theft not as bad, heavy, and ugly, but as if I already knew it would make me stronger?
This way, it felt like strength training, as though I had been given a room with weights to use. What if I didn’t feel bad for myself for having the burden of these weights, but instead felt gratitude, because there are many people who have no weights to lift and won't learn as much about who they are and what their capacity is. What if this experience becomes something good?
The most valuable meditation practice for me was Dr. Yang's meditation that human beings are born with innate kindness. By far, the most consuming thoughts I had were those of revenge. The closed feeling in my heart as I imagined the deliciousness of enacted vengeance was seductive and addictive. To break this dark, downward spiral, I would remember Dr. Yang's teaching that the banker wasn't born evil. I would imagine him as a small child playing outside before whatever smashed him up so badly and created who he is today. I would feel my heart immediately open, the thoughts of revenge erased, and tears would well up. I felt compassion and peace.
It took losing enormous amounts of money for me to realize how little money meant to me. I've learned what's important to me: increasing love and reducing fear. And if I'm going to keep any treasures, to store them in my heart.
Thank you, Dr. Yang, for your invaluable life-lessons.
Story update: an investigator from the Attorney General’s office finally took interest and the broker was arrested. He is currently in jail awaiting sentencing.
- Chris Hoeflinger