Tales of a Yogi on the Trading Floor
They say that all good things in life always come to an end… It is no so usual though that one associates such saying with having to move office or desk locations.. So it is with much nostalgia that I reflect on my time being located on the equities trading floor at one of the biggest investment banks in the world. Soon I will be banished to another location far away from the Bloomberg TVs, 1000s of terminal screens and all the other willing participants that contribute to the buzz and atmosphere of it all. Quite frankly – I’m heartbroken…
It was almost two years ago when we were asked to move to the trading floor. I was a somewhat reluctant mover at first, questioning whether this was the right place for my team. On a floor of hundreds people, there is certainly no place to hide. Exposed to the constant chatter and movement of people and the markets buzzing around you, it’s a place not for the faint hearted.
Slowly but surely though I became enthralled. I remember sometime in 2015 when the price of oil started its momentous slide bringing world financial markets with it, one particular trader with a broad grin on his face stood up to marshall his troops yelling “think hotels, think airlines…”. Here was one in his element, sensing a big opportunity that the markets had suddenly presented and now was the time to act – with haste. From that point on I knew that I had arrived on ‘Wall Street’.
I quickly learnt to appreciate other customs and traditions. At times, the floor would break out in a commotion of clapping, whistling, and the sound of horns being blown as if it were at a cricket match in the Caribbean in the calypso spirit of things. People popped up from their desks, inquisitive at the cause of the latest round of banter. Suddenly, a person scurrying away towards the lifts could be seen. I have never quite worked out what this tradition relates to, except to say that such sightings have not been seen since the emergence of the ‘bear’ and the extreme turmoil that the markets have experienced this year.
Of course, having decided to invest most of my savings in the financial markets last year after years of inertia and frustration at receiving next to no rates of interest has certainly added to the tension and excitement – exactly the time that the rug was pulled under the feet of the China miracle resulting in my portfolio suffering significant losses. Great, I thought. Now I fully experienced why Buddha said in one of the four noble truths that ‘attachment is the cause of suffering’.
Nevertheless, despite my yogic “maternal instincts”, my emotions continue to be linked to the beast that is the market. At times when the markets are rallying and screens are filled with ‘green’, I am certainly in a wonderful mood as I stroll around the floor. I would fetch a coffee and stare at one of the many screens dotted around the floor in jubilation that my path to financial salvation was unfolding before me. Other days, a sea of red prevails as the markets react to the slightest bit of financial news that makes investors worried or fearful. I have this distinct image of looking up one day at a screen filled with red and observing with much anxiety that ‘STOCK MARKET FUTURES PLUNGE!’ – the next day, it was ‘RISK ON’ again as some piece of economic good news brought elation to the markets and the previous day’s nightmare scenario had quickly been erased from the markets’ memory. Making and losing money can certainly be electrifying.
Despite this roller coaster of emotions, I can only reflect that this experience has made my job more exciting. Having said that, it is also the complete antithesis of the yogic principle of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses). Being surrounded by an environment with constant stimuli certainly makes this principle even harder to attain. Without these experiences though, one cannot fully practice and develop a deeper state of mind. Ironically then, the trading floor of an investment bank is the perfect place for a yogi to fine tune and perfect his training on the yogic path.
I also like to think that, as a yogi, watching the financial markets implode around you is an insightful affair. Observing forces around you that are so powerful that the world starts to spin out of control at an incredible rate of velocity wiping billions of dollars from the balance sheets of individuals and corporations all around the world is confronting. As the Big Short showed, we are very capable of creating the conditions for such karma to ripen. Sometimes one has to marvel at the awesome machine we have created.
Soon then, the next chapter in my working life begins – back to the reality of a normal office environment, like the vast majority of the working population. I have been extremely fortunate to experience this, and I will remember my working days on the trading floor at the bank with much fondness. Life is an experience, no matter what you think of bankers or the industry as a whole. It has enriched my experience as a person (and yogi) in this world (although not my bank account) beyond what I could have ever dreamed of and for that I am grateful.