Category Archives: spirituality

Greece vs. the EU: recreating democracy and openness

Last week’s shocking interview with Yanis Varoufakis about the reality of the Eurozone’s core management structures has awoken me to the fragility inherent in democracy.  Varoufakis reports that the meeting of Eurozone finance ministers absolutely refused to discuss finance or economics. The main power-brokers centring on Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble did not need to discuss anything of substance or engage in order to find common ground.  Instead they went ahead and bulldozed the Greek team.

To have very powerful figures look at you in the eye and say “You’re right in what you’re saying, but we’re going to crunch you anyway.” … there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. …

As an Australian brought up on the anglophone view that political deliberation means adversarial competition between two simplistically opposing views, the Europe project has long fascinated me with its admirable struggle to find ways of living together on the basis of accepting difference.

The continent’s terrible history has awoken Europeans to the obvious fact that we are all here together, and we have to find ways of living co-operatively with each other.  We might not like our neighbours; indeed, we might hate their guts, and that might have been mutual for generations. But if we start fighting, we all know where that leads – and definitely none of us want to go there. So we’ve got to find a way to do it without fighting. Which, over the last 60 years has meant engagement and discussion and, above all, respect for differing views and the differences in situations.

Sure, the current EU as it currently stands is incredibly messy.  Sure, many people do still feel excluded. Obviously the project is not finished.  It took Europe several hundred years to start a democratic process – and it is not quite there yet.

Indeed Varoufakis reports that one of the EU’s core governance functions – management of the Euro – has no connection with democratic values or democratic processes at all. Varoufakis found that the Eurogroup, the Euro currency’s governing body, is

… a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within. … These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.

It often happens in new situations that new processes and governance systems simply emerge. At one level this is legitimate since newness is, by definition, unknown and so it’s not possible to plan every little detail of something that is not yet fully in existence.  A new system created on the fly can work out well when it stays close to the project’s original values, remains transparent, and is soon formalised once its shape becomes clear.

Clearly this has not occurred with Eurogroup governance. What was a democratic space has become closed out and replaced by a static and opaque power structure.

Varoufakis’ revelations alert me to a core quality of democracy, and in fact of any spaces in which respect, openness, transparency and acceptance are core values:  democracy and openness must be actively created and, once created, must be actively recreated against attempts to silence, to obscure, and to close down the space.

Doing nothing allows the forces of closure, injustice and domination to fill up and choke our communal space, our relating-space.  As Edmund Burke said in 1795:  “All it takes for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

So we must do something – but what might that be?  It is common to claim that democracy must be fought for.  This perhaps has been true – maybe.  But I am increasingly of the mind that, as they said in the 70s, fighting for democracy (or peace, or openness) is like fucking for virginity. Indeed, I would argue that fighting is precisely the thing which Europe has collectively learned actually doesn’t work.

What’s the difference between fighting and active recreation? Fighting is driven by anger, which is a reaction to forces of closure.  It’s a very natural, sensible and at one level wholly rational reaction to closure.  It’s a necessary reaction too, since anger is an energizing emotion which moves us to break free of restraints.

But when we engage by bringing anger we are also bound to the source of our anger, since without that source our energy evaporates. So we are reliant on the closure or tyranny continuing.  This is why so many protest movements eventually evaporate:  their driving energy actually comes from the existence of a specific situation. Once that situation changes the protest movement has no cohering focus. So protest movements do not continue for long enough to shape new realities or bring new forms into being.

Anger in response to tyranny or closure is natural and inevitable. But rather than use our anger as our driving force, we can use it as a very reliable telltale that something else needs to happen. We can rely on our anger to alert us to the need for affirmations of values, affirmations of goals, affirmations that democracy, openness, transparency are possible and are more important to us than the present forces of closure.  In this way we actively recreate what is of value to us, and actively recreate the future we want in the present.

It is very sad that Varoufakis resigned.  He has a richly elaborated vision of what is possible and a considerable skillset to enact that vision.  Despite the support of millions of people both in Greece and in many other countries, he was undermined by the large group of people who are cowed by the forces of closure and who would rather accommodate the pain of tyranny than affirm the possibilities of openness and democracy.

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Money: some other possibilities

It’s very clear that money is entirely a cultural construct – it’s something that is created by society, it has no material reality in itself, and no natural or external force caused its existence.

There is an incredible freedom in this. It means we don’t have to be run by our culture’s familiar emotions of fear, greed, shame and anxiety – these are just emotions attached to cultural stories, which don’t give us useful or accurate information about money itself.

money-yin-yang-300x240Instead, we can create our own relationship with money.  Rather than simply be constrained in the tight space generated by those familiar cultural emotions, we can come to find meanings of money which resonate with us at a deep level and which help us become more and more aligned with our authenticity and our spiritual path.

The range of possible meanings is endless. All meanings are valid – though the most useful are those which bring us into a constructive and enlivening relationship with money.  As a start to this process of creative refreshment, here’s some images or archetypes that I am working with and find stimulating.

Being a bridge

A previous post talks about this in more detail, but the essence is this: Many people who bring a gift to the world are bringing something new – something which the world is calling for because it does not yet exist.  Because our gift does not yet exist it is often hard to tell people what we offer.  In such a situation it is helpful to see ourselves as a bridge – between what we know is good but is not yet manifest, and the current reality of social life.

A bridge has the extraordinary property of being anchored in 2 places at once. In our case our strong connection with our gift usually means one end of the bridge is firmly anchored in what we know is possible.  It is often very challenging, though, to get the other end of the bridge as solidly anchored in current social life – it’s hard to clearly say what our gift is and to connect with the people who want it.

But when we are able to make that solid connection to current social reality then people can easily hear and see what we offer, and they can readily feel whether it is for them or not.  And as a result energy can flow both ways: we get to offer our gift regularly and often. It is well received.  And money can flow easily.

In this scenario, then, money is a litmus test of how good a job we are doing of being that bridge – how solidly we are anchored both in the current world and in what is possible.

Standing on one’s own feet

Our fears about money tempt us to look outside ourselves for solutions: need to get a job, generate more clients, find a patron, work more hours, win that contract, be more focused.  All are action-oriented. So what if we turn that around and ask about not-doing?  What if I grabbed the emotional energy motivating those actions and brought it inwards?  What would that look like?

It might look like standing very still but very solid.  Solidly anchored in one’s own space, one’s body. Feeling the connection through feet to the ground, and from the ground up one’s legs and suffusing throughout one’s body.  Feeling the move and sway of Earth energy, like the sinuous movement of a giant beanstalk, or the elastic wind-swept movements of the branches of the trees.  Feeling one’s energy coalescing absolutely at one’s centre, deep in the belly, allowing firm rootedness to the Earth below and at the same time fluid adaptive movements in my pelvis and all my limbs as I respond to Life’s events.

In this image money flows along energy pathways from the ground, like a force field that keeps our feet glued solid to the Earth and then flows up our energy meridians and across our whole being.  This solidness then enables almost a complete opposite…

Debt as an act of faith

Debt mostly gets a bad rap in our society : being in debt is seen as bad, as a burden, being ‘trapped’ by debt, a constant source of anxiety. Credit cards are frequently seen as actively dangerous and credit providers as malevolent. Government deficits are seen as irresponsible.

At one level all these things can be true. But we don’t have to relate to debt in that way. Especially if we are borrowing money to fund a business which expresses our life path, we can see that act of borrowing as an expression of faith in our gift and in our path.  If we did not believe that our gift is needed and that we have the capacity to give it, then what are we doing in business?  Come to that, what are we doing at all?

This doesn’t mean we should just gaily launch out into debt willy-nilly.  We are a bridge between what we know is possible and what is currently happening in our society.  So it’s crucial that we are wise and sure-footed about bringing our gift to the world as-it-is: we need plans grounded in the realities of the world and in what our own capacities are and what they are not.

But such plans do not have to be gloomy or restrictive.  Nor does borrowing have to be a constant and unrelieved burden.  Rather, we can see borrowing money as a very tangible expression of our faith in our gift:  that our gift is true, that the time is right for it, that we can offer it well, and that we are willing to serve our gift in whatever way it needs, including taking risks.


These three suggestions are just a start – a stimulus for creativity around our relationship with money.  What works for you?

Photo credit – http://inspiringsuccess.com/blog/2013/09/balance-with-your-archetypes-creates-financial-ease/ Thanks Rosemary Cunningham  http://www.rosemarycunningham.co.uk/

Money: tales of disruption

bankruptcy-1Most of us in the West are socialised into a permanently conflict-ridden relationship with money, in which we often feel trapped by our conflicting emotions.

But beyond that narrow space limited by our habitual emotions is a whole world where other things happen.

Here’s just three examples.

Not paying your debts

The fear of not being able to pay our debts looms large in the Western psyche.  The English-speaking world has its legacy of slums, debtors prisons and workhouses horrifyingly described by Dickens and others.  But late nineteenth century liberal responses to these horrors changed bankruptcy from a very public shaming for moral turpitude to a benign legal and administrative device to forgive debts and allow the debtor a fresh start.

Like no-fault divorce, the attitude behind bankruptcy legislation is that things don’t always work out well despite people’s best intentions, and the wisest attitude is simply to set people free with no blame to start again.

Certainly most people who go bankrupt feel a great deal of shame, guilt, remorse and fear.  And credit agencies, friends, colleagues and family often subtly reinforce these feelings in subsequent years. Bankruptcy is not a small step.  But the point is that there is life beyond “going bankrupt”. It’s not the end of the world.  It’s simply the end of one phase of life and the start of another phase of life, another type of life, another style of life.

Two friends who have been through bankruptcy, both men, say that going through the process forced them to confront and dismantle their unconscious attachment to being a breadwinner, a ‘successful businessman’ and indeed their attachment to a narrow form of masculinity.  At the emotional/psychic level, for each of them their bankruptcy was an ordeal by fire – as we would expect given our tortuously conflicting emotions about money.  But each is now more free, with a richer and more autonomous sense of self. And – they are free of debt.

Being Homeless

Nichole Gracely became homeless after she left her shockingly bad job in an Amazon warehouse and was not able to find another one.  She started begging on the streets: “I did not simply perish when I lost all sources of income and could no longer afford to pay the bills. A survival instinct that I didn’t even know I possessed manifested itself. I learned to live without money and without a home.”

It isn’t easy: she’s “…learned that it’s best to keep moving. It’s not easy to start up anywhere with absolutely nothing. … It takes tremendous strength to get through a day.” But “There’s more respect for a homeless woman out on the streets than there is in a warehouse for Amazon workers.”

Gracely shows us that beyond what most of us consider to be a total catastrophe, the end of “life as we know it”, is a whole world – certainly a very different life, but still a life.

Being homeless is not necessarily a desirable goal, or necessarily an easy way of life. But the point is that there is life beyond our fear or shame about not having a home.  And especially that there can be more dignity in being homeless than staying in an immoral or soul-destroying situation.

 Throwing money around

The above two stories of disruption seem to support the cultural story that there is not enough money to go around – that we have to battle to make ends meet .

But despite our culture of fear and tightness around money (or because of it?), there is a very well-established pattern of people having money – huge amounts of money – thrown at them.

The apocryphal example is JK Rowling. Here is a single mum telling bedtime stories to her kids, and people start throwing hundreds of millions of pounds at her – all for telling stories that apparently hit the spot for millions of people.

The phenomenon of celebrity is based in this:  people can become famous, with the associated wealth, simply because they hold something on behalf of millions of people – often something quite ephemeral like a personality trait or a story line.

JK Rowling’s experience disrupts the story there is not enough money, or that it’s hard to come by. This makes it clear “not enough and work hard” is just a story – actually, one of our culture’s foundational stories about money.

Believe any of our culture’s money stories are true and you can find support for them everywhere.  This is how culture works.

And also, like all our stories about money, there is a whole world beyond it.

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.