Category Archives: culture/society

Our culture’s emotions around money

Money brings up strong emotions for most people.  Talk about money for any length of time raises feelings of fear, greed, envy, anxiety, and of lack or “not enough”.

boy goes to the cityAre these feelings just inevitable around money? Definitely not!

The emotions we commonly feel in relation to money are highly specific to our Western culture (and many other cultures too).  Some cultures simply do not feel these emotions around money.  For instance, this young man from rural Paraguay is indignant that money should be so closely associated with food:

“My family lives in the city, but I don’t want to go there. In the city you have to buy everything, even food. Here, whatever we grow is ours. We can eat whatever we want – but in the city, you can’t. If you don’t have money you have to search for food in garbage cans.”

Clearly, he lives in a culture which simply does not equate money with survival or with obtaining food.  His experience of the world is that food is just there – even if it’s in garbage cans.  He does not link lack of money with lack of food: if he lacks money then food is still always available – it’s just in very grubby or inconvenient places.  But in the West one of the most common emotions raised by money is a gut-level fear about survival: for most people money is a life-or-death issue.

The young Paraguayan man makes it clear that this gut-wrenching fear is not about money itself.  Rather, the fear is an emotion which we have learned to associate with money. We learn this as children, along with many other ‘basic’ things about life in Western society.  This linking of survival fears with money is a cultural attitude – it’s not only something we feel as individuals.  We share this feeling with millions of other people in our culture.

Gut-level fear around money ties in with where money comes from.  Privately owned banks are licensed by the government to simply create money by entering numbers into their accounting system when someone takes out a new loan.That wouldn’t be a problem if all the borrower had to do was repay the money. But banks charge interest, and this interest has to be paid from the existing pool of money – so that there is never enough money to go around.

In other words our society’s supply of money manufactures a situation in which those who have it are obligated to repay it with money which doesn’t exist. In this situation, like in the game of musical chairs, someone has to lose.

One thing to realise about our fractional reserve banking system is that, like a child’s game of musical chairs, as long as the music is playing, there are no losers. Andrew Gause, monetary historian

Understandably, then, a very widespread attitude throughout our culture is of “not enough” in relation to money. This attitude is very easy to attach to gut-level survival fears – giving rise to emotions like anxiety, panic, jealousy, competitiveness, hoarding compulsion, greed, and so on.

Alongside this vicious game of musical chairs, Western culture is pervaded by an astonishing schizophrenic split around money. On the one hand money is the worst thing in the world: “Money is the root of all evil.”  Get that: “all” evil!  And the Bible teaches us that money is inherently un-godly: “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24) – as though serving “Mammon” i.e. material existence, is diametrically opposed to serving God.

On the other hand our enculturation into the money-and-survival gut-level feelings tell us that money is central to existence. Our feelings here are supported by the news and by politicians: almost all high-profile public debate revolves about money. The common measures of a country’s condition are economic, while fluctuations in the stock market generate widespread emotions of optimism or gloom.

So we live in a culture which sees money as (a) immoral and not spiritual, (b) vital for existence, and (c) not enough to go around.  This is our Western culture – the emotional soup in which we live our daily lives. Is it any wonder that we have “stuff” about money!?

The good news is that there is no actual physical reality about money – it is purely a cultural creation, a mechanism legislated into existence, which our young Paraguayan speaker above clearly illustrates. This means that we can come into our own relationship with money.

Money certainly has a material presence in our culture, and so there is a level at which we have to practically engage with it, like following the road rules to avoid being run over, or using toilets to reduce disease and odour. But we don’t have to accept the significance of money which we were socialised into as children and which pervades the social world around us, in the media, and in the attitudes of people we commonly interact with.  We can recognise this material presence and weave it in to our lives via meanings we create ourselves and via emotions we choose to generate.

We can do this by coming into a conscious relationship with the money-related emotions we are familiar with – as with any personal growth process, a first step is to be able to recognise and name our internal patterns.  Through consciousness-raising – i.e. new perspectives like the content of this blog, more accurate information, and reviewing our own experiences in the light of this new data – we can come to recognise the extent to which we have learned our familiar money emotions, and that those emotions are culturally supported by those around us and are not actually giving us accurate information about money itself.

And we can intentionally open ourselves to many resources, both internal and external, to seed the creation of our own stories about money, our own relationship(s) with money, our own meanings and our own patterns of action and emotion around money.

There’s many possibilities as to what our new stories and new emotions might be. Some stories already circulating revolve around themes of “abundance” attitudes, prosperity consciousness, empowerment (my own favourite), the Occupy movement, and living without money. We can find our own relation with these – or make up more!

The vital step is coming to recognise our culture’s familiar emotions about money – and to realise they don’t have to be ours own personal emotions.

Money and the Spiritual Path: Being a bridge

Abandoned_Railway_Cutting_in_OtleyFor many people who are committed to spiritual growth, a major question is how to combine spiritual path with generating an income.  This is often a tricky area because many people who seek to integrate path and income also seek to bring something new into the world. So, almost by definition, what we seek to bring into the world is not widely recognised as valuable or useful – otherwise it would already be in existence!

It’s easy to go into despair about money and our spiritual path – or go into anger and resentment.  These two common emotional responses keep us focused on money as a stumbling block.  But what if our struggles around money are trying to tell us about something else?

I think of us ‘spiritual activists’ as being a bridge between social life as it is now, and another reality where beauty, love and similar non-material forces hold sway. Our work is to bridge those two worlds, and to bring more of love and beauty into current social life.

Bridges have the extraordinary quality of being anchored in two places at once.  Each end of the bridge rests solidly on the ground in each place – these resting points are called the abutments.  Without both abutments, the bridge is not actually useful – it doesn’t stand and gramlins.netdoesn’t do its job of being the passageway from one place to the other. It ends up looking like this bridge: well-anchored at one end, but it leads people straight into the water.

Both abutments have to be present. One abutment anchors the bridge in the spiritual world – the world-yet-to-be. This anchor emerges from our knowing that our gift is right and true – and for those of us active in our paths this anchor is usually very solid and vivid.

The other abutment anchors the bridge in the social here-and-now, in existing social arrangements and conventions: the language we use to communicate about our gift, and the structural and organisational things we have in place which allow people to come into relation with our gift.  When these concrete things are solidly in place then people’s energy can flow from the existing social world across towards the yet-to-be and help to bring it into being – including financially supporting us to be that bridge.

In this picture money is like a glue that sticks our bridge solidly onto the ‘society’ abutment.  Without money then the bridge just sits there by chance – it stays only so long as everything else is stable, only as long as our life circumstances allow us to give our gift for free.    Without the glue of money, life’s normal circumstances can disrupt the bridge: changes our relationships, our health, our community, our home.

This analogy suggests that money is a result of us being very grounded in society as it is.  So problems with money can prompt us to look at how we are engaging with existing society.  Even though we may believe we are doing our best around integrating money with our path, society is so various – so multi-faceted – that there are always other ways to engage with it.

If we are trying to run a business then there’s some good basic places to start looking at how we can do things differently:

  • language: how do we describe what we offer? The phrasing and terms we use may make sense to us, but how do we describe something we know about from our own experience to someone who has never experienced that? It’s obviously not possible.  But many people have a yearning for what we offer – and they can’t put that yearning into words.  So maybe we can put it into words for them… because we know what it’s like on the other side of that yearning…
  • where we are looking for the people? Because we’re offering something new, our potential clients are seldom clustered into established demographics or familiar marketing groupings.  It’s likely we’ll need to contact people through groups which have a different-but-related interest.  For instance a tantra practitioner has a profile in the nudist community and picks up people who want to go deeper than just physical nakedness. Part of my target market is healers and therapists – people who recognise and value presence and deep communication.
  • What form are we offering our gift in?  We might offer one-to-one sessions, or weekend workshops. Or we might deliver classroom programs. Or write a column.  Or consult to organisations.  We might do several of these things.  Often the form we offer is driven by our own ideas about our gift, what sort of lifestyle we want, what we believe our strengths and weaknesses are, and so.  All these are valid considerations.  And also we can ask: what form(s) might work well for those we want to reach? Maybe introductory talks are what’s needed. Maybe a book is important.

Doing things differently to how we’ve done them is very challenging. The areas I’ve discussed above are generally called “publicity”, “advertising” and “marketing” – for many people very confronting to get involved in.  Yet if our priority truly is our path and not protecting our ‘small’ self then when we engage with challenges amazing resources emerge to help us on our path.

We don’t have to frame these challenges as advertising or marketing – labels which keep us thinking in conventional social terms.  We can think of our activities in these areas as enhancing our capacity to be that bridge – by learning to reach across and anchor ourselves even more firmly in the social here-and-now.

Related Links

Money as a Spiritual Asset

Money and Spirituality

Money and the Tao

Practicing Spirituality with Money

The Pleasures of an Intimate Accountant

me in conversationAs your accountant I get to know the intimate details of your financial situation. But there’s also another type of intimate connection I enjoy even more with my clients.

One of the richest aspects of accounting for me is that being someone’s accountant brings me into a very intimate connection with that person.  In British (and Australian) culture, talking about personal finances is often uncomfortable – it’s not a topic of polite conversation.  Money is something we usually only discuss in detail with one’s spouse, or perhaps one’s parents or adult children.

In this way an accountant is in a similar position to a doctor: the professional examination involves revealing “warts and all”.  Obviously the accountant can’t do their job without all the relevant information – but I always feel a little frisson at the moment when the client starts to tell me the detail.  It is, in a psychic sense, very much a moment of “undressing”.

I deeply value my clients revealing themselves to me in this way. I feel it is a very vivid demonstration of trust.  Even though I know most people routinely interact with professionals of many sorts who require us to share our “secrets”, each time a client does this with me I feel it is special, and deserves acknowledgement, and respect.  It really is a relationship of vulnerability: my client is vulnerable to the extent to which I caringly respect what they have confided.

But in my approach to my work this intimacy and vulnerability is not just one way.  All my clients are people for whom their work or their business is a creative expression of their soul – just as my own business is for me.  Thus although there is a client-practitioner relationship, there is also another level of deep mutuality:  we share values around authenticity and creativity, and around the challenges involved in being true to ourselves and earning a living.

Sometimes this comes out in snippets of conversation where we discover a shared passion around some element of business operations.  Sometimes it comes out in drawing on personal growth principles to help us address an issue in the business. Sometimes I need to tell them I am triggered by aspects of their profession or their business.  Sometimes it will come out in what appears to be a rambling natter about something else – which then suddenly and unexpectedly crystallises for the client a vital aspect of their business focus.

I share with my clients a vigorous belief in disclosing all this personal stuff, in allowing the emotional and the seemingly-unrelated.  Often the wisdom of our lives comes out to affirm the other, to support the other and to validate the path we are already on. Together we hold a trust that the connection between us is right, that it is powerful, and that our connection generates what is of mutual value to us no matter what it’s content looks like.

This is what Kimaya Kroller-Younger calls Radical Intimacy. The attempt to accept all of what is there in oneself enables us to be more deeply with ourselves.  This in turn enables us to be deeply with others.  Of course we get scared, of course the acceptance is never complete.  But the edges where we stop are also moments to honour the courage it takes to go right up to the edge.  And often that edge can shift simply when it is accepted – by ourselves or by another.

Having created an intimate openness, our work together can then proceed as a collaborative project. They need their tax done, or their admin dealt with, or to know how their profit is going – whatever it is.  I ask if they want to get skilled up themselves, or whether they just want it taken care of.  The project can be anything, and of any duration.  Then we discuss what needs to be done to complete the project, what our skills and respective time constraints are, and then decide who does what and when.

The work proceeds well because we have created an intimate connection.   We have each brought ourselves present – not necessarily in our entirety but very much authentically in the moment.  Our beings resonate intimately with each other – and this enables a smooth working-together.

Last week I had several days which seemed to be a continuous dance of wonderful encounters with clients interspersed with work on collaborative projects.  By the end of the week I felt so full, so blessed to be in connection with such rich beings, and blessed that I have the opportunity to use my abilities in our mutual service.

Truly – the pleasures of an intimate accountant.

Relationship wisdom we can learn from Accounting

Accounting systems make the very sensible assumption that we are human – which means that mistakes are inevitable.  No real human ever does things perfectly. Entry errors, mis-readings, absent-mindedness, distraction all actually happen – not because anybody intends to make mistakes but just because Life is Life and shit happens.

So one of the most powerful steps in the accounting cycle is to check for errors.  The process of “reconciling the accounts” or “doing a reconciliation” involves using a third party’s record of transactions to cross-check your own records.  Most commonly the third party’s records is a bank statement, but accountants will also use the records of customers, staff and suppliers – any party which has dealings with the business and which has a separate or ‘third party’ accounting system.

The reconciling process allows us to locate mistakes, identify how they arose and then fix them.  Because accounting systems get reconciled there is no penalty for mistakes. People don’t get blamed.  Mistakes just get located, identified and fixed.

The same pattern is relevant in relationships as well.  Relationships involve humans, and so inevitably mistakes will be made.  I will hurt you, you will invade me, I will disregard you, you will insult me. Very seldom are these things intended. Mostly we intend to do the best by the other person.  So when I make a mistake it’s not because I’m stupid, or I intended to hurt you, or I don’t really care about you, or any one of the million reasons you can make up.  I made a mistake because I’m a human.

What Accounting teaches us is it’s not important that the mistake has been made.  That’s just inevitable.  What’s important is that there is a system in place to catch the mistakes and fix them.  In other words what’s important is doing the reconciliation.

The reconciliation process involves a third party to me – which in the case of our relationship is you.  You, or your actions, alert me to a mistake having happened. Something’s off in our interacting, and that’s a signal that stuff needs to be attended to.  So we need to identify what the mistake is, and then fix it.  We can do this without blame for the mistake happening in the first place.  Removing blame is a hugely freeing step, which allows us to have much more clarity, and to work together to identify the mistake and to work out ways to fix it.

There’s another possibility here, though: it might not be my mistake.  I’ll use Accounting again to clarify.  Those third parties whose records we rely on to reconcile our own accounts also have their own accounting systems, and so they also make mistakes.  Most banks put a little notice somewhere on your bank statement saying something like “please check all these transactions to make sure you agree with them.”  This is not just marketing fluff – it’s a core part of their own accounting system.

So when I’m doing my bank reconciliation I’ll find a mistake. I check and re-check my own system, using the bank’s records, and after a few iterations I find that the mistake is not mine but the bank’s.  Bingo – I have to tell the bank.

The same possibility occurs in a relationship.  I may feel you’ve done something terrible: I feel really hurt, and so on.  But the only thing we can say with certainty at first is that a mistake has been made.  If I’m reconciling my accounts I tend to assume that the mistake is made by me.  When I’m feeling hurt in a relationship I tend to assume the mistake has been made by you.  But this may not be so.  It takes the first step of a reconciliation process – a back-and-forwards of active listening without blame – to identify exactly what the mistake is.  Only then is it possible to agree on how to fix it and carry out the fix.

Not only does Accounting show us that mistakes are inevitable.  It also shows us that reconciliation is normal.  It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong in a relationship. Reconciliation is just a normal, routine and standard part of any good relationship.

I love it that there is such similarity between accounting systems and human relationships.  It affirms to me that The World is a fractal pattern, which occurs everywhere.  We are inside the pattern, the pattern is inside us, and the pattern occurs in its entirety in every single aspect of what exists.  Everything is intimately connected.

Identifying our cultural attitudes to money allows us to be empowered

It’s common that people with left wing or progressive values, people in the helping professions, and people involved in personal/spiritual development feel suspicious about money.  At one level this makes sense:  Capitalism is damaging the world in such horrific ways and generates huge inequalities.  And many of our internal obstacles to growth and fulfillment come from pressures to “fit in” to a soulless commercial culture.

But is this really a problem with money? William Bloom, a Fellow of the Findhorn Foundation, points out that money is just a thing in the world. It doesn’t have a morality in itself.  It’s neither good nor bad – it simply exists.  What connects money with “evil” is what we do with it, and especially our attitudes to money.

Western culture contains a profound split in attitudes to money. On the one hand, money is morally dangerous: “the root of all evil”. The biblical question “do you serve God or Mammon?” clearly implies that it is impossible to serve both – it’s impossible to be spiritual and be financial.  On the other hand money is a primary theme in the news, government, and politics, and is often the main measure of how we are going as a society or a nation.  And for many people money is so important that they feel they must compromise their values in order to get it.

William Bloom contends that this is nothing to do with money itself.  Rather, what we are looking at here are the cultural attitudes we bring to money.  We believe that money is dangerous or sinful.  At the same time we believe money is more important than anything else.  Is it any wonder, then, that most of us have “stuff” around money!

Increasingly in progressive circles, however, this split is no longer passively accepted.  More and more of us are refusing to go along with the either/or attitude to spirituality and money.  There’s increasing recognition that it’s crucially important to link money and one’s income to one’s passions, values and path.  This is often a tough call, as it’s common that what one is passionate about is something which doesn’t yet exist – and so it’s inherently difficult to ‘monetize’ it.

Widespread negative attitudes about money mean that many people have not learnt the skills of handling money or finance, doing the accounts or reading financial reports.  But strip away the negative attitudes, and money and finance are just skills – a combination of knowledge and practices that are learnable and teachable.

Of course not everyone wants to learn these things – not everyone has the interest or the time.  Luckily, there are accountants.  But even when you use an accountant it’s incredibly helpful to understand the difference between money itself, the cultural attitudes in which we live, and the attitudes you personally carry and operate within.  In fact it’s more than incredibly helpful; it’s empowering.

Money isn’t dangerous or scary. It’s not inherently anti-spiritual.  Money isn’t vital to our wellbeing.  It just feels that way because of how we are culturally supported to approach it. Making the distinction between money itself and our feelings about it means that when we have these feelings or perceptions about money we can make internal shifts within ourselves, rather than simply acting out in relation to money itself – avoiding money, grasping for it, worrying about it, and so on.

We might still have the same feelings, but being empowered means we also have space alongside those feelings to take new and positive life-affirming actions.  And then everything feels alright!