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.

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 http://www.visionarylead.org/articles/money_asset.htm

Money and Spirituality http://www.powerattunements.com/article153.html

Money and the Tao http://taoism.net/tao/money-and-spirituality/

Practicing Spirituality with Money http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/ecourses.php?id=79

Seasons of the Accountant

fourseasonsIn the Accountant’s Cycle of the Seasons, there’s four distinct seasons.

The hottest is the long 4 months from October til 31 January – the Tax Season, when many people not fortunate enough to have a loving relationship with their accountant become gibbering wrecks, haunted by the ghastly spectre of the Tax Man. The Tax Season can be capricious: an apparently comfortable situation can suddenly be devastated by a looming tax bill. Or the gloom of a huge tax burden can suddenly evaporate when the error in the spreadsheet is located.

The Tax deadline of 31 January passes.  And then … suddenly … on 1 February comes Winter. For 2 whole months all accounting dies a death while the polite world heaves a sigh of relief and catches its breath, in preparation for…

The End of Year season – that slightly sweaty period of a month either side of the 5th of April, the end of the Financial Year. This has 2 halves: the first half is all about “OMG have we done what we needed to before the end of year?” While the second half is all about “ah – a fresh start; let’s make good resolutions!”

And last in the Cycle of the Seasons comes Summer – not only does accounting stop but most commercial activity stops too. My clients find their turnover reduces to a trickle, our attention is taken up with festivals, our bodies cry out for sun. Greenery triumphs, and we gambol and carouse for weeks…

… until about now, when once again the Tax Season is upon us, and the cycle starts all again.

Money is a litmus test of spiritual alignment

It’s very common among people with a spiritual bent that money, commercialism and profit are seen as a negative. As Bob Dylan once said, “Money doesn’t talk; it swears obscenities.”  Even more comprehensive is the old aphorism “Money is the root of all evil.”

I think these quotes don’t actually talk about money itself. Rather, they reflect one aspect of the very schizophrenic attitude that the West has towards money. On the one hand money is inherently bad and as far away from ‘spiritual’ as you can get.  On the other hand money is the main measure of social success and progress (think GDP and economic ‘growth’), the issue discussed most often in the news, the top issue in every election, and something we need even before we can have food.

In other words our Western attitude to money is that it is at once centrally important and morally unacceptable.  A sure recipe for psychosis and neurosis of all sorts.  No wonder people associate money with ‘obscenities’ and ‘evil’!  But those qualities are not in money itself – they are just in our attitudes towards it.

Many of us on the spiritual path seek to generate our income by doing work which is fully aligned with our values.  Some go out on our own as freelancers or set up a business that offers what we feel is our unique gift to the world, or gives expression to our reason for being.  Through my own path around this, and working with clients who are on a similar path, I’m starting to see that, in addition to the mundane material aspect of paying the bills, there’s another deeper dimension to our relationship with money.

As spiritual beings who want to bring spirit to our ‘work’, the implicit belief here is that we are each here for a reason, that we each bring a unique gift into the world, and our ‘work’, our job, is to make that gift manifest – to bring it into concrete reality and offer it to the world.

The old way to do this assumed a split.  Either you do your spiritual work for nothing i.e. you offer your services voluntarily (“if I’m doing it for love, how can I charge for it?”) and you struggle (the artist in the garret).  Or you disconnect work and spirit, live a venal life during the week (pursue profit), and confine your spirit to church on Sundays.

Our challenge these days is to resolve that split.  Our challenge is to meet the world as it is now – as it ACTUALLY is in all its material reality, with all its problems and faults and foibles and cruelty and destruction. Indeed it is often the existence of all these horrible things which calls forth our unique gift. Many people feel called to address difficult issues, to repair or heal things, to open up new spaces, to lead new freedoms.

It is here that money can be a very concrete litmus test of our spiritual alignment.  When we are deeply in alignment with our ‘purpose’ or our calling, when we are offering our unique gift with all our heart, when we are truly in the flow, then there is the experience that everything flows – love, pleasure, creativity, friends, the right contacts, and so on.  Since money is actually a part of the world, part of this flow will take the form of money.  In other words when we are in the flow, money flows easily, like everything else flows easily.

This is not to say, as in “The Secret”‘s Law of Attraction, that money is the only thing that flows, nor that it is the most important thing that flows.  When money is flowing easily this is a sure sign that we are beneficially aligned with our society at a very material level.  But this is only the material level – it is possible to be immensely wealthy without having a single spiritual bone in one’s body, so to speak.

But when at the same time we also feel carried by the flow of spirit then the easy flow of money denotes something really special:  that we are artfully dancing the balance between spirit and the material – that we are for the moment finding a way to manifest our unique gift, our contribution to the world, in all aspects at once.

So the aspiration to have a profitable business and to have plenty of money can be a profoundly spiritual goal. In itself the goal of money is flat – only material.  But when harnessed with spirit, a strong flow of money is a sure sign that we are not only in alignment with our path but also that we are making our gift available in a very tangible practical form that is recognised by others and accessible to them. Not only are we being true to ourselves, but also others recognise and value our gift – and express that value through giving us money.  Which means we are making that gift manifest in the world beyond merely our own fulfillment.

In this way, then, money can be seen as a litmus test of a really thorough and grounded spiritual alignment.

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.