What is a banker, award-winning salesperson and corporate trainer with an MBA from Columbia (and a client list that includes Microsoft, Visa and Bank of America) doing as an ordained minister who creates things like an inspirational program for women called “Your Beautiful Spirit”? If you’re Karen Russo, you’re just being yourself—and proving that “wealthy and Godly” is not a contradiction in terms.

“Karen Russo,” says Bob Proctor, the elder statesman of abundance teaching, “is a powerful and intelligent teacher who weaves together an unusual blend of business education with timeless spiritual truths.” We couldn’t imagine anyone more perfectly fitted to feature in our issue on financial peace. — J.D.M.

How did you come to this particular path in relation to money?

I grew up in a classic middle-class environment, and my parents had a very functional attitude towards work, education and money. I never got any of that “money is bad” stuff. I’ve always seen money as ethical, useful and valuable.

I had an affinity for business, so went to work for a bank and for a consulting firm.

At the same time, I had some personal challenges in my teens and early twenties with substances and low self-esteem, and these led to a spiritual experience where I became aware of a power greater than myself.

That interest in spiritual connection became a parallel track: at the same time I was pursuing my business interests, I also became a prayer counselor and then an ordained minister.

After many years, I decided to bring together my love of money and my love of God, and go deeply into how spiritual principles apply to money. I now have a ministry that’s also a business, talking to people who are interested in having a spiritual connection and having financial success at the same time.

And who see that as no contradiction?

Absolutely. Not only is it possible to have both, but in many ways they really feed on each other. People who have a deep, spiritually-guided connection to vision and values often see money as a tool for doing their spiritual work. And most people who have a real capacity and affinity for money understand that it’s not really “their” money, they’re just its steward.

Does that also mean, looking at the profound money paroxysms going on in the world right now, that this is also happening on some deeper level?

I think the things we’re seeing are symptomatic of ways that people are not experiencing the fullness of their divine connection. But I don’t think that when people have or don’t have money, that it necessarily means they are or aren’t spiritual.

Money is a neutral substance. It is one way we measure and symbolize the exchange of value, but it is not in and of itself the truth of who we are.

Who are the people you refer to as “conscious wealth creators”?

These are people who are financially successful in their external results. Not that they necessarily have a certain net worth, but they can fund their lives. It’s a beautiful thing to see people who are able to fund their dreams, at whatever level they are.

You hear talk about “all those rich unhappy people out there”—well that’s not my experience. I’m interested in all the happy rich people!

I’ve studied these people to see what they have in common. It’s not so much that they don’t have any money issues, but they have the capacity to handle money well on three levels: in their spirituality, in their beliefs, and in their habits.

In other words, in their connection with the divine, in the mental and emotional realm, and in the realm of action.

There are common traps in each of these three areas—what I call “money traps”—and conscious wealth creators know how to avoid getting stuck in these money traps.

What exactly are those traps, and how do we avoid them or escape from them?

In the realm of our habits and actions, the trap is falling into survival mode.

Survival mode is like financial quicksand. It’s when everything about your money life—your financial transactions, your systems, your habits—everything is out of order, messy and overwhelming.

You know you’re in survival mode when everything having to do with money drains your energy. You feel like you’re really busy, but not productive.

For some people, that could mean they’ve started their network marketing business but they’re still commingling all their networking activities with their household stuff, treating the business like a hobby.

Or, when you’re spending your time and energy doing things you’d be better served having somebody else do. That doesn’t necessarily mean an entrepreneur shouldn’t be filling out the orders, updating their CRM or doing their QuickBooks. For some, it works for you to have your hands on that.

But you should be doing only those things that you should be doing. If you feel drained and things are a mess, the real issue is that your energy’s not being best utilized.

When you are flailing around in the financial quicksand, the key question to ask is not, “What’s wrong?” but, “How am I growing in my money life?”

Why that question, Karen?

Because it activates a spiritual principle I think of as the Law of Circulation. All of life is giving and receiving. The Law of Circulation says that when you give from generosity, clarity and order, you receive in kind. And when you consciously establish the Law of Circulation in your life, you start to establish a cycle of growth that allows you to handle more.

I don’t believe the universe withholds from us, but if you have a full closet, there’s nowhere for new clothes to go. If you’re casually dating six people, it’s hard for the beloved of your life to show up. And if your transactions and systems are messy and cluttered, it’s hard for those ideal new clients to enter your life.

When you speak about giving, I gather you don’t just mean writing a check to your favorite charity.

There’s spiritual giving, or tithing. People who are genuinely successful give thanks for what comes in—and leave some behind with their spiritual source.

Another aspect of giving is giving time and energy to educating yourself about money matters.

Interesting—I don’t know if I would have thought of that as “giving.”

And it absolutely is: you are giving yourself the gift of growth and education.

I’ve heard a lot of spiritually-oriented folks say, “I don’t really care about money,” or “I find all that money stuff kind of boring.”

But holding that point of view is just holding you back.

I know an entrepreneur who was in the quicksand. She would let the occasional coaching-client check slip to the bottom of her purse, and maybe get around to dropping by the bank to make a deposit—eventually—when she was picking up the kids. She saw the money part of her life as a chore, so she avoided it.

Finally she decided she needed to make handling her money activities a priority.

She brought in an assistant to help set up some systems and set up a separate account for her business. She designated one special day of the week for handling money stuff. When that day came, she would put on her favorite music CD’s and listen while doing her bills.

Her business picked up immediately, with more clients and more bookings. By making her business a priority rather than an afterthought, she activated it. She got out of the quicksand of survival mode, and that created more flow and possibility.

Emptying the closet, as you say.

That’s right. Taking action. I think of this like you’re moving from your feet.

The next area, beliefs, I think of as being in the area across the center of the body. Because our beliefs are not purely mental but also our emotional reactions and sense of identity, which is more in our gut than in our head.

What is the money trap in this area?

I call this trap superstition. This is like being in financial jail: you become imprisoned by the mistakes of your money past.

You know you’re in superstition mode if you find yourself dwelling on any kind of anger, unforgiveness, guilt, shame, conflict, or other sort of struggle about money things that happened in the past.

Would you include in this the sense of bills and debts hanging over our head, even though that’s in the present?

That’s a perfect way of saying it: it’s that feeling of debt, the unpaid burden of the past.

The past is only real insofar as it is living right now in our thoughts and emotions. People often carry into their present moment the hundreds or thousands of dollars they spent on products that didn’t sell, or a business that didn’t work out, or the person who stole someone from their downline, or their ex-spouse, or a bad investment decision.

How is that superstition, Karen?

It’s an inaccurate perception about yourself, about money, or about the world.

For example, “Oh, people like me [my age group, ethnicity, background, whatever] just can’t get ahead.” Or, “It’s impossible to make money in real estate in a market like this.” Or, “Nobody’s going to join my business, because everyone looks down on network marketing.” “I’m no good at selling so I can’t do this.” You could fill volumes with the kinds of things people make up, and then believe as the truth.

It’s so creatively stifling. I call this financial jail because it makes you feel your possibilities and choices are severely limited.

What’s the liberating question you ask here?

Again, instead of asking what’s wrong or who’s to blame, the key question here is, “What game am I playing in my money life?”

People who are fluid and successful with their money say things like, “I’m playing a game of addressing children’s literacy, and I happen to do commercial real estate.” Or, “I’m selling nutritional supplements, and every time someone buys I’m saving an acre of the rainforest.” “I’m building a network marketing team, and what I’m really doing is helping women with young kids find a way to be with their families.”

Like the two bricklayers: one says, “I’m laying bricks,” the other says, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Exactly. The spiritual principle here is the Law of Co-creation. When you say “I choose to play a game of collaboration and co-creation,” then that’s what you experience.

Here’s how this connects to financial peace: each of us is the meaning-maker about our money. We are the ones who say, “A million dollars means I’m safe.”

I’ve heard many people make their financial confession: “Last year I lost X amount in the family business,” and feel such a sense of shame. Yet I’ve heard the exact same story involving ten times that amount of money, and one-tenth that amount of money! The amounts of money don’t actually “mean” anything, other than the meaning we give them.

We’re writing our story, dreaming up our life and living that dream.

There you go. And you get out of that jail by asking, “Right now, what game am I playing?”

I’m playing a game of partnership and win-win. I am not playing a game of “it’s better to give than to receive,” I’m playing the game that says the giver and the receiver are one and the same.

I’m playing the game where when I enroll someone in my network marketing business, I am giving them a tremendous opportunity that is for their freedom and wellbeing, and that my product or service is uplifting their body, mind, soul and spirit.

The outcome you’re looking for is to be free. A practical example would be practicing financial forgiveness.

First, choose a vivid money memory that’s hanging over you. Then do an inventory: write out everything that happened and how it’s affecting you today.

Once you’ve done this, then find a prosperity partner, coach or counselor, someone who can confidentially hear the whole thing. Read your inventory out loud and have that person ask you, “Are you willing to release yourself from this debt?”

When you say yes, you have the choice in that moment to affirm a different future.

So this could be a debt that I owe, or a debt that I feel someone owes me.

Absolutely. Because whether it is something we wish we’d done differently or something that we think they should have done differently, typically what is most painful is what we think about ourselves. People will say, “I should have known. I knew I shouldn’t have gotten involved in that deal,” or “I wish I’d spoken up when I didn’t.”

So now we move to the third area?

The spiritual area, which I picture as being above our heads. This is the way we relate to transcendent reality. This could be God, or higher power, or the universe, or truth. Throughout the world’s religions there is this common idea that there is something more to us than our physical being.

The money trap we get into here is scarcity.

Scarcity is simply fear. All worry, fear, doubt and concern about money is rooted in the idea of lack or separation. It’s as if a financial tsunami has washed us up onto a deserted island, where we’re all alone and there’s not enough. Not enough capital, not enough clients, not enough opportunity, not enough people to enroll.

Ultimately, our money worries are more a faith issue than a financial one.

There was a piece of research done recently, where a group of millionaires were asked, “How much does it take to be financially secure?” and they all said, “Two million.” Another group who each had about $2 million in net worth were asked the same question, and they said it would take $5 to $10 million.

Financial peace is not a dollar amount. The key question here is, “What reality am I serving in my money life?” And I mean Reality, with a capital R: what is my relationship to the higher power, spiritual source, truth?

The principle here is the Law of Unity, which says that all of life is an interconnected whole. It’s not so much that I should be generous in order to get something from someone else. It’s that whenever I give, I am giving not only to the other but also to the self.

We are interconnected. There really can’t be a deal where we don’t both win.

Whether we see that or not.

Absolutely. That spiritual source is the infinite universal, eternal realm of invisible ideas and supply. It’s God, it’s truth, it’s the Brahma, the Atman, the Buddhic field. And out of that, life manifests.

People, jobs, great portfolios, hit records and best-selling books, a fantastic downline—all these are material channels, and even if they are fabulous, wonderful, they all have a beginning, middle and end.

We put our faith in the material channel—but there is some part of us that knows something is amiss. That knows someday that material channel will be gone. So we feel afraid.

Which is why $1 million isn’t enough, and then $2 million isn’t enough, and so on. We sense the finiteness of the condition we’re in.

So instead, why not just make our faith, our worship, our service and our connection with that which does not come and go?

I can see why you say it’s a faith issue. It’s trust in the unseen.

Exactly. What is my supply? God is my supply. God is my source. And knowing that can keep you peaceful no matter what the circumstances are.

And people need that deep spiritual connection and conviction. You’ve got to be unafraid before you can be inspired and follow a big vision.

So in the realm of building a network, you’re saying you can’t step out in fear and be effective.

No. And there’s something about one person filled with faith and calm that is deeply attractive and powerful. Who do you want to buy from, who do you want to follow, the worried person or the one who’s peaceful and confident? Calm people are trustworthy.

So a leader not only holds the vision, but also sometimes holds the faith.

The source of my income is my relationship with the divine, not me and my hard work. I think this nuance is important. If I put my financial wellbeing in the hands of another person, there’s something inherently risky about that—because people come and go, even the most wonderful, trustworthy people. Everything comes and goes.

I think this is part of why people are so upset right now: things they thought would not come and go are coming and going.

Things they thought had an air of permanence suddenly fade away.

And what if we extend that to realize that our own personalities, talents, skills, our network, our reputation, even those things we have dominion and choice over, are all temporary?

Ultimately we are more than that stuff.

Sometimes in network marketing we think, “If I don’t do it, it will never get done,” and it wears people out.

We need to spend time every day building and anchoring that connection with the higher power, so that we feel calm, peaceful, inspired and sourced from within. Then we’ll move into our activity from a place of calmness rather than desperation.

I have been to wealth-building workshops where so many people are frozen that it’s necessary to just get them into action. So you have a lot of teachers out there saying, “Start now! A year from now, you’ll wish you had.”

People have that in networking sometimes, too: “I’ve got to get moving quickly.”

There’s some value to that sense of urgency, because it doesn’t help to wait until we have it all perfect before doing anything. But if we try to act purely out of our own personalities and force of action, if we don’t have that sense of divine partnership, it’s really easy to burn out.

So there we are:

We’ve gotten out of the quicksand, we’re orderly and in the flow.

We’ve gotten out of jail, we are free and creative.

We’ve gotten off the desert island of scarcity, we feel a sense of peace and connection—which can lead us to a sense of vision and inspiration.

And now we too are conscious wealth creators!