There seems to be a fundamental misconception about the nature of money among many members of modern spiritual movements, as well as within many New Age and intentional communities. I say that because frequently I read books or hear very well meaning people make statements like, “money is neither good nor evil; it’s our attitude toward it that determines whether we live in abundance or in scarcity.”
While that’s an interesting notion, and on a very limited personal level there is a certain amount of truth to it, what that assertion fails to take into account is that money is more than an idea or a projection of our personal beliefs; it is a very real medium of exchange that our society has designed over time to represent the way we’ve chosen to interact with one another. As such it carries its own DNA, one that gives it a physical structure and shapes it independent of our beliefs about its nature. Based on its inherent nature, money – at least as we are presently manifesting it in our world – makes it impossible for us all to live in harmony and abundance, no matter what our attitude may be. Why? Because in its present incarnation, money – much like the popular game of Monopoly® – sets up a collective win/lose game. The fact is, if I acquire and hoard money in a sufficient enough quantity so I need never worry again, I am in a very real sense contributing to the scarcity experiences and physical suffering of many, many others. Perhaps that explains why our personal intuition, which inclines many of us to feel negatively disposed toward the energy of modern money, is more accurate than the beliefs we have about our need to magnetize more of it to ourselves.
But why is that so? And if it’s true, what does it mean for us, as spiritual beings, that we desire ever more money in its current incarnation? Equally importantly, how might our desire to accumulate enough money to guarantee our personal security impact our ability to be in right relationship with one another, and with life?
To understand these things in their deeper context, we need to first understand how money was – and continues to be – born into our world…and how, unlike all other natural life forms (and in direct violation of the natural law of impermanence) it does not ever die. Let’s begin with the birth of money in the form we know it today. (Should you be interested in understanding more about the history and various incarnations of money, I discuss them in depth in “Sacred Economics: The Currency of Life.”) In our modern world, money is born when our government – which represents the American people – borrows it into being from the National Federal Reserve Bank. The Federal Reserve then issues either digital credits or actual paper dollars and lends them out to its private member banks. That money then flows into general circulation through acts of additional borrowing. Banks lend their money (creating much more of it in the process) to private citizens and corporations. That transfers money out of the banking system and into the hands of the public. From there it can enter the economic flow and stimulate the exchange of goods and services.
When however, we dissect this process, we uncover a major problem. That is, the Federal Reserve only ever issues into circulation the amount of principle each loan conveys to the borrower, even though every single loan comes burdened with the need to pay back all that principle plus some additional interest. That means, on a societal level, it is structurally impossible for all of us to live our lives free of debt. The very nature of the equation means that in order for one person to pay off her debts in full, some number of other people will have to lose most or all of their borrowed principle so she can accumulate enough to pay back both the principle she borrowed plus all the interest that she owes. Because not all our debts come due at once, we fail to notice the insidiousness of that system, but that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. The fact is, for every modern loan ever made and for every business enterprise ever undertaken through an act of borrowing, our society as a whole must go deeper into debt to make it happen, which creates a higher collective obligation that can never fully be repaid.
What, you may be wondering, does any of that have to do with me? So long as I pay my debts successfully and accumulate money efficiently enough that I live in personal abundance, why is what happens to those who can’t pay their debts my problem? For an answer to those questions, we must draw upon the deeper spiritual and biological truths so many of us either intuit, or have gradually come to realize as our awareness of how our cosmos works has evolved.
The monetary system described above is grounded in a longstanding (albeit false) belief that we are each separate from one another, as well as separate from our larger living world. That belief arose from a fractured worldview that assumed “we” must protect ourselves from “life,” and that – at whatever cost – we must protect these fragile forms from physical harm. That assumption springs from separation consciousness, the belief that somehow we are other than life itself. And when drawn out to its logical conclusion, that assumption of separation has led to the presumption that we each have a life we can lose, and that it must somehow be protected and preserved as if it is a distinct and precious object we possess. But from what are we protecting this supposed life we “have,” if not from life itself? And who is this “we” who must protect this life we have come to believe we possess, and that we can lose? What is that, if not the very essence of life itself, which both creates and animates the world of form? To recognize that is to recognize the absurdity of the original assumption, the belief that “I” am separate from “life.” That belief, that fractured worldview which imagines that “I am one and everything else is other” obscures a more potent truth: that “we are all.”
Because the tool of money was originally conceived during humanity’s long and painful experiment with separation consciousness (which seems to be mercifully coming to an end in modern times) our monetary system fails to take into consideration – because when we created money we ourselves failed to understand – that we are in fact all inextricably interconnected, and that life is a process of cooperative interbeing; not, as we often imagine, a random collection of separate beings all “doing” life for themselves. As a fundamental tool of separation consciousness, money therefore demands that we each serve the needs of the personal me ahead of the needs of the we, rather than viewing the two as entwined and of equal importance. Through serving the self as supreme, individuals in our society gain economic privilege and social power by capitalizing on others’ bad luck, missteps and misfortunes. Money pushes us, by its very nature, to figure out new ways to commoditize, package and sell our natural world. We unthinkingly convert life itself into raw materials to be killed or exploited, manipulated, dominated and eagerly consumed for the sake of economic productivity and monetary profits. Because our collective focus is on serving the temporary form that is the individual by depreciating the infinite, eternal flow of creation that is the underlying life process, it fosters within us a constant fear of lack – not because we are spiritually unaware and thus failing to hold an appropriate attitude of abundance – but because we are devaluing what we are to serve what we believe ourselves to be, which is considerably less than the truth of what we are! Worst of all, this belief system desensitizes us to our own inner joy and overwhelms our innate desire to serve a higher purpose than our temporary self – to serve life, which we are – because it demands that we satisfy our personal debt obligations before we pursue joyful life service by fulfilling life’s deeper purpose for taking this form. And then we wonder, when we look around, why so many of us are living isolated, fear-based lives of quiet desperation that require Prozac, alcohol, frantic overeating and mind numbing television programs to help us temporarily alleviate, though not dispel, that sense of despair!
If that were all there was to it, we’d certainly have plenty of work to do as a species to redress that foundational misunderstanding of separation consciousness. But that’s not all. I mentioned earlier that money violates natural law, because (at least the way we’ve designed it) it does not die. Let’s now examine how that negatively impacts our lives, and life itself.
As temporary life forms, we know that our body comes into being through the vehicle of conception and childbirth. Our body then matures, puts forth the fruit of its physical, emotional and creative capacities, and eventually decays. Death then, becomes the vehicle whereby our physical forms are broken down, fully consumed and then recycled by life itself, so life can use all of itself again to recreate itself anew. Once we embrace that truth, we come to understand that each of us is, in a very real sense, fully embedded in life’s infinitely creative and eternal cosmic dance of self-expression. We are not separate or excluded from that process, nor are we disconnected from its boundless creative flow; we are the eternal dancer, infinitely dancing the dancer’s eternal dream. All that ever changes is the shape the dancer takes, and the ability the dancer gains (through a good deal of dedication and patient practice) to challenge itself to perform higher and ever more beautiful acts of amazing self-expression. Death then, is not our enemy, or something to be avoided at any cost. It is merely the vehicle by which life transports itself to a new and higher level of creative self-expression through the continuous process of destruction and rebirth.
In our earliest social exchanges, shortly before separation consciousness rooted, the things we exchanged all decayed and eventually died. Grains rotted, and domesticated animals aged and died as well. Even the energy we offered to others in the form of our personal labor disappeared forever, unrecoverable even if our offering of time went unused. The creative fruits of our endeavors – be they pottery, textiles, woodwork, construction or art – also broke down or dissolved. No matter how hard we’ve tried through the ages, we’ve found we’re unable to preserve these temporary forms or prevent their natural decay. In the past that meant we were continually inspired to exchange what we had to offer, because if we didn’t either use or exchange our abundance we would lose it.
As separation consciousness took hold however, and with the advent of money to facilitate human exchange, we suddenly discovered we had the capacity to store value for a very, very long time. While our many goods and services (for which we were using money as the medium of exchange) passed away with time, the money itself did not. At first in the form of metal coins, then later in the form of paper and now in modern times as digital records, we found we could store value in perpetuity through the act of hoarding money to meet future needs. The unforeseen consequence of money’s eternal nature is that money – which was initially intended to be the primary tool we used to exchange human goods and services – took on a dual function. It also became our primary means to store value, so we might pay off our debts someday and set ourselves free from the need to do work in exchange for the means to survive.
Unfortunately, by combining those two functions – the primary means of exchange and the primary means of value storage – we designed a tool of duality that is highly problematic. If, for example, I need to use the money I’ve accumulated to store value so I have something in reserve to meet tomorrow’s needs, how can I use it as a means of exchange today? Yet the moment I remove my money from today’s flow of creative exchange and tuck it away in reserve to meet tomorrow’s potential needs, I’m hindering everyone else’s ability to exchange their creativity here and now, because I’ve reduced the means that makes such exchanges possible. The more money that gets hoarded, and that eventually stagnates in large pools of wealth – dammed up as a store of value held by the wealthiest few among us – the less means the rest of us have to fuel our creative flow and thrive together.
Each of us must constantly decide which of these two functions our money will serve, which creates stress within our psyches. If I use my hard earned money as a means of exchange today, I must remove it from storage and surrender its potential to meet my needs tomorrow. Likewise, if I store it away for a rainy day, my ability to share in life’s creative exchanges in the here and now gets reduced. If the value of money declined over time so we knew it would be worth less tomorrow than it’s worth today – the way our own mental capacity diminishes and our own physical forms deteriorate – it would be easier for us to strike a balance between these dual functions. What throws it out of whack, however, is the fact that we must pay interest on all borrowed money. Interest means lenders are rewarded for hoarding money to a point of excess, and then parsing it out to the needy so they can grow their own wealth at the expense of others.
If I lend you ten dollars and demand that you return twenty to me next week, that twenty means I’ll have more buying power next week than I’d have if I’d spent the ten I have today. You, in turn, will need to spend that borrowed ten dollars in a way that you’re able to use it to earn at least twenty more dollars within the next week. If you’re unable, for whatever reason, to use the money I loaned you to earn more than twenty dollars by next week, you’re still obligated to pay me the twenty we agreed to, which leaves you worse off for having accepted my “help.” And what if you borrowed that money to put food on your table, care for your sick child, or to cover your electric bill so your family doesn’t freeze to death in winter? While those things are fundamental for your survival, they don’t go far in aiding you to be able to earn twenty dollars in the future, beyond the fact they allow you to live and strive for another day.
Clearly then, consumerism (spending money on end goods that we use instead of investing it in creative enterprises) robs us of our capacity to pay off our accumulating debts. Meanwhile, the very nature of money rewards hoarding far more than it rewards us for engaging in supporting the flow of creative human energy. That explains why today we live in a society where the pressure in on us all to consume more end goods, which render us deeper in debt and less able to effectively create, while at the same time we feel a countervailing pressure to save as much as we possibly can so we can use what we save to exploit the needs of others and grow our own wealth. Is it any wonder then that, even with seven billion of us on planet Earth today, we witness so much pent-up creativity – so much wasted human capacity – because most of us don’t have enough means to fully self-express and give our gifts in this world?
When we look around us (if we’re honest, and not imagining all is perfect so we don’t have to respond to what is) we can’t help but notice the suffering on our planet. We see her soils being raped, her bowels being gutted to access her natural resources, her air being fouled by all our toxic emissions, her waters being denuded of life and severely polluted. We see ancient forests, fragile tundra and unique ecosystems being slashed and burned for short-term monetary profits; we see the extinction of untold species who have “gotten in the way” of our own economic growth. These are but symptoms, byproducts of the way we’ve constructed our relationships with life, which in turn is rooted in the false belief that we are separate from life, as well as from the larger living world that birthed and contains us. Money, as a symbolic artifact of that longstanding belief system, is not neutral. It is, in truth, ignorant of our newly emerging higher realization. It’s a reflection of an outmoded level of human consciousness, a byproduct of our experiment with the idea of separation. As such, we cannot shift our personal inner awareness and evolve our consciousness to a higher state of being while still binding ourselves to the energies and beliefs our existing systems continue to represent. The assumption that we are entirely separate from life, and the assumption that we are inextricably entwined with life as life, are fundamentally incompatible! Therefore, as we collectively awaken to the realization that the long social experiment we’ve been conducting to discover if we are indeed separate from life has proved false, we’ll have no choice but to rebuild our systems upon a new foundation – the understanding that all is entwined, all is alive, and all deserves to be treated in sacred manner.
So what does all this mean for those of us who have awakened to the truth of our interconnectivity, yet find ourselves still embedded in outmoded social systems that don’t reflect that awareness, but contribute to the energy of separation consciousness? How do we navigate the reality of those social systems without strengthening them? How might we hospice them out of existence without rendering our newly awakened and interconnected selves helpless (and broke!) in the meantime?
I wish I could offer an answer, or wave a magic wand and make things fine. Unfortunately, all I can do is offer a pointer based on my own experience. The truly profound shift in my life occurred when I quit my job as a stockbroker in late 2007. I woke up one day and realized – down to the very depths of my being – that I’d rather surrender every material possession I’d accumulated in this world and live like a homeless bag lady (which, while not desirable, was doable) instead of continuing to feed the insatiable beast of separation consciousness through my fears and anxieties about the future. That for me was the pivot point, because surrendering my need to control the future empowered me to live as if I have abundance in every moment. The fact is, I do have abundance in the only moment there is: this sacred Now. Nothing, I finally realized, could truly harm the infinite/eternal essence that is life, because that aspect has no oppositional force. While birth (creation) and death (destruction) are oppositional aspects of the process life uses to dances its way through an infinite number of temporary forms, life itself has no opposite. We are that, and will be always, in whatever forms or shapes life chooses to take.
To come to know myself as life, to surrender my sense of self’s desire for immortality through my acceptance that this limited human form is impermanent and will die along with my sense of this form, which is but a brief reflection of all that life is, was to step into full alignment with nature’s flow. In that moment I ceased worrying about money as a store of value that could determine how much I could get for myself to protect myself from the future, and instead began to focus on how very much I had to give to this precious all of life that is here and NOW. In doing so, I set myself free from the shackles of fear that demanded I continually hoard more money for my physical protection. That, in turn, freed me to begin to consciously direct the flow of whatever money came my way toward those creative endeavors and spiritual ideals that honored life’s interconnectivity, instead of toward things I once believed protected me from life! Once I realized I was life, and did not need to be protected from what I am, my fears subsided.
This is not to say my fears have vanished, or that I am always and ever in full alignment with the wondrous flow that is life. The momentum of human history is powerful, and the deeply conditioned belief in separation takes time to unwind. What it does mean is that whenever my fears arise, as they inevitably do, I take a moment to look at the thoughts that are triggering those fears. Always I find they are “me” thoughts, questions my sense of self is asking about what will happen to it, should such-and-such occur. To gently observe those fear-based thoughts and recognize them for what they are, and then to release them without judgment, shame or guilt, is an ongoing part of my daily spiritual practice.
Will I run out of money before enough people wake up to the truth for us to change the nature of this sacred life experience? I don’t know. Will I lose my house in this current mortgage debacle, as seems to be a possibility now? I don’t know. Will I find myself, in my old age, penniless and homeless and unable to acquire the things I need to survive? I just don’t know.
What I do know is I’m no longer content to live in a world where I’m not doing everything in my power, using every means available through this temporary expression that I am, to assist in humanity’s quickening to the realization of our magnificent and harmonious interconnectivity as life. It’s why I give away money (or spend it) almost as quickly as it enters my physical realm, and why I look for places to help and serve and give. For me, life is no longer about personal affirmations, or personal abundance, or even personal enlightenment. It’s about love – that boundless energy that always feels as good to give away as it does to receive. These days, and by life’s grace, I’m choosing to express from a state of love instead of a place of fear, and I do my best to affirm that choice each moment. Over time, I’m coming to appreciate the remarkable difference between dying rich…and dying, having richly lived.
I hope you are too.