Money: Symbol of the Easy Life
His hair is jet black, the exact same color and shade of his shiny new Ferrari sports coupe. He sits in an office high above the city where the clouds kiss the window panes and leave their breathy moisture. His chair sinks into the thick pile rug. Three lights on his phone unit blink incessantly as he negotiates with a secretary and an assistant beside him. He shouts orders through the opened double doors of his office which has been decorated with knickknacks from Tiffany’s. In his world, he’s king. This is his company, his furniture, his secretary, his assistant, his phone, his clients and his energy. In the hustle of wheeling and dealing, he has hardly had time for any other interests besides his financial endeavors. His children were born and literally grew old while he was on an extended business trip. They’re strangers now. His wife lost the youth in her figure years ago, but he hasn’t noticed … he never has time to look.
The house he lives in high on a hilltop is surrounded by twenty-two park-like waterfront acres of landscaped lawns and gardens … all of which forms its own peninsula jutting into a tranquil bay. A series of free-form patios create leveled areas in the hillside. They are made with pebbles from a coral island and shaded by trees imported from Japan. A knoll beside his home was converted into a man-made lake, edged in stone and stocked with fish. Sitting idle in the massive garage is the second car, an aging two-year-old Rolls Royce convertible. Ancient carvings from Kenya and Tanzania, a huge Miro, small pieces of sculpture by Rodin and an original Calder are elegantly placed amid his elite collection of Bauhaus furniture.
Rush hour. The traffic moves slowly as he finds himself trapped amid the cars in a vast slow-moving river. Years ago, he loved this time as a private period to contemplate his business, prepare for meetings or just review. Lately, these rides have been painful … as painful as his life. He watches an old beat-up powder-blue Chevy with a family of six people. Poverty glistens like sweat on their faces. A little girl in the back seat smiles at him. He doesn’t smile back … not because he doesn’t want to, but because he is distracted. He watches an old man trying to fix a flat tire on the side of the road, his face tight and strained with years of toll. These images scare him. He finds them difficult to comprehend. Old age would not be so troublesome if it were not for all those people he had seen grow old and poor. Loss of money is his question and his fear.
He’s gone over it a thousand times. The figures never change, but as he reviews them, he uses the opportunity to reassure himself. But the reassurance lasts only a few minutes. The comfort is fleeting. He has accumulated four million in investments and savings. Figured at seven percent interest, it would amount to two hundred and eighty thousand a year in interest. Based on his current rent needs and projected expenses, he could support himself on just that money. Now, he considers the additional two hundred and eighty thousand he manages to make from his business. He carefully reexamines potential investments. The market is shaky. He’s lost money on REIT’s and his city bonds are greatly depressed. He is concerned that the total equity of his portfolio will diminish if the recession continues.
As he deliberates, he can feel the knot tightening in his stomach. His level of anxiety rises. He knows that it might sound foolish to a stranger, but all he needs is two million more and he’ll be poverty-proof. Yes, he does remember what he said before he made his first million dollars. “All I need is a million and I’ll be untouchable.” But as he became more successful and his life-style became more opulent, he noted that one million dollars is really not a lot of money. So he decided he needed two and then three and now six million.
He pulls out a small whiskey flask from the glove compartment in his classic car and slugs down two huge gulps. Memory flashes — words of the doctor telling him he was an alcoholic. “Rubbish,” he assured himself. It was completely under his control. He just drank to calm his nerves. When that money-knot kept building, he could just wash it away with some spirits.
The panic kept increasing. He became diverted from driving and took out his midget electronic calculator. The number raced before him. He needed just two more million to make it. As he leaped through the figures again and again, he rammed his pretty jet black car into the rear of that beat-up powder-blue Chevy. Climbing out of his stalled automobile, he finally settled down to exchanging registration forms as waves of nausea washed over him.
Money can be a vehicle in which we sleigh-ride across the razor edge of our unhappy beliefs.
My ten dollars is another man’s hundred. Your twenty dollars is another man’s thousand. My apartment is another man’s villa by the sea. Money is the symbol of the easy life and it, like everything else, is not cemented in absolutes. It is relative. The millionaire, when he is attending to his fears, believes four million is not enough to insulate him from potential unhappiness. He uses his discomforts to motivate him to continue to amass more money. His anxiety about money was never solved by money, because his beliefs of unhappiness made money a problem … getting it, giving it, retaining it.
Some of us believe money is a sign of dignity and self-worth. Others envision it as man’s corrupter, cementing him to materialistic garbage. Some want money to buy food and shelter. Others want it to buy love, happiness and immortality. Money, like love, health, sex, is a multifaceted symbol to which we attach many fears and judgments.
No one is outside the circle of currency in a capitalistic economy unless he is a ward of the state confined to an institution or an infant whose association with the environment is very elemental.
Whether I am overt in my approach to gather the fundamental tool of our barter system with my own labor (the direct method) or whether I find others (husbands, wives, parents, uncles, estates, religious orders, etc.) who do it for me (the caretaker system), I am involved … deeply involved.
Most of us spend a substantial segment of our waking hours working for it. The education of our children is dedicated to it.
Even if I were “poor,” or “underprivileged,” and by my own declaration or by apparent “victimization” of circumstances had no means of self-support, I might still pursue my piece of the nickel-dime pie by applying for aid and assistance from welfare agencies and charities. The waiting on endless lines in soiled gray corridors, the completing of intricate forms in duplicate and triplicate, the negotiating with faceless bureaucrats infatuated with rules and regulations, and finally the endorsing of checks delivered by social service agencies, is a very active method of pursuing and working for funds. As a welfare recipient, I would be using the state agency as the “caretaker” to gather and distribute funds to me … but not without a price.
Even as a radicalized progressive, who proclaims non-participation, my detachment would be suspect. Eventually, I, too, for certain select items would participate in the system of money and merchandise traders by deciding to be involved when it suits my personal concepts of acceptable effort and value. Thus, even the utopian communes I might elect to join, structured on an egalitarian and socialistic foundation, go outside their border for such staples as automobiles, tractors, and other equipment they cannot manufacture. The funds generated for such purchases are usually from the overflow of products made within the community, an overflow generated by a well-defined internal economic structure of trades and bartering.
The preoccupation and focus on a monetary reality is merely an observation, not an indictment or criticism. Only when I complicate my fiscal activities with my fears or camouflage them with my discomforts do they become an expression of self-defeating beliefs and short circuits.
In unveiling any unhappiness that either fuels or infects my pursuits, I provide myself with an opportunity to clarify my financial concerns and employment endeavors so I may then gather money (as I choose and to the extent I choose) or not gather it, as a clear and comfortable response to my material wants rather than as a function of needing or fearing.
Money has its own vocabulary. Often wealth is equated with power, respect, and intelligence; middle income is envisioned as synonymous with steadiness, reliability, trustworthiness and honor; poverty is translated as deprivation or victimization.
Whether we advocate pride or embarrassment in wealth or poverty or in any economic level, we are attaching labels and making judgments about financial status. Such an activity is not without its disconcerting twists. For example, the respect and power money generates for us is usually based on fear or envy, both of which are hollow tributes.
And yet, the clichés abound, articulating the complex system of superstitions beneath the surface of our statements. “It’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as with a poor man.” “It’s difficult to hold onto a dollar.” “Money makes the world go round.” “Find the job that pays the most.” “Money makes you happy.” “Only the poor man suffers.” “Money is power.” “Money is evil.”
To the degree we view money through the fog of illusion and unhappiness, our clarity is inhibited and our discomforts take precedence.
Oftentimes, just the fear of poverty and the pressure of maintaining my job can create short circuits that go against my apparent goals. Lack of understanding instructions, mistakes and forgetfulness, arriving late to work, the pain of unexpressed anger, colds, headaches and more serious illnesses are just a small sampling of the backfires. I do the best I can in accordance to all the beliefs I currently subscribe to. Thus, if I become fearful or anxious, I do so in an effort to take care of myself. But do I have to be unhappy in order to want money and work for it — or in order to decide not to work for it? The answer is clear: I “have to” become unhappy only if I want to or believe I have to!
Ultimately, in discarding the beliefs which are self-defeating and sources of unhappiness, I not only increase my effectiveness in generating money, but become more cognizant of my own inclinations and more concentrated on my wants as the primary concern of my efforts.
On the surface, we each have our own money value system, manipulated by our own ingenuity, resources, efforts and time. But beneath those commitments, we are guided by a much more fundamental vision … the vision we develop as the result of our beliefs.
Pursuing money falls within two major motivational thrusts: to satisfy my material wants or as a function of fears and anxieties.
Material wants are those things I believe are worth pursuing as a trade for my talents. My time and energy are then converted into currency, which is, in turn, converted into merchandise. Whether I want food, housing, clothes, a radio, a tractor, satin sheets, jewelry, or medical services – these are all commodities to be purchased. But how do I know whether I am coming from my wants or attending to my fears? Again, I need only to return to the basic question: Am I moving toward or away?
Do I try to gather money to feed my children because I want them well-nourished or do I fear they will starve? Do I purchase an automobile for its utilitarian factors (whatever they may be) or do I use it to bolster my self-esteem? Do I work at my current job because I love the content and meaning of my labor or do I stay with it because I fear the repercussions and uncertainties of leaving?
In each case, although my labor may appear similar, the input or motivation is dramatically different. The crucial variables materialize in the vision, the attitudes and the tone of my pursuits … all of which are intimately connected to my underlying beliefs.
Although money can buy many “things,” can it buy a happy and loving life? There are those who BELIEVE it does. Unfortunately, it quite evidently does not. More often, it buys only the illusion of fantasies which tend to crumble under the pressure of fears and discomforts. The wealthy, the affluent, the modest and the poor all have their miseries, violence and suicides.
If I am unhappy about not making enough money or discontented with the manner in which I pursue it, the questions to ask are: What am I unhappy about? Why am I unhappy about it?
Many of us have been taught we need money, that we must have money in order to be happy. Our parents and peer groups revered it. Television and Hollywood painted fantasy landscapes about it. And the classroom finally memorialized it … enshrining names like Rockefeller, Hearst, Getty and Hughes, celebrating their enormous, diverse and sometimes enigmatic impact on contemporary history.
By deifying money, we tagged unhappiness to it. In order to assure myself I would pursue money with the proper enthusiasm, I learned to assume my happiness depended on it. Otherwise, I once believed: “If I don’t need it, I might not want it and that would be a catastrophe.” The other axiomatic belief operating here was that I would always want more than I had. Thus, my quest for money immediately became pressurized. And since I must or have to go after it, I then felt pushed. The immediate inclination is to push against being pushed despite the fact I might really want money or not want it.
There are many of us who resent being “forced” to make a living, although we certainly want to enjoy the benefits of our labor – sometimes even the content of our labor. Difficulties are not created by money, in itself, but by our beliefs and attitudes about it.
One student noted quite emphatically that even before he began his working career, he was plagued by mixed emotions about money. He wanted it for what it could buy, yet hated it because he saw the quest for money as an endless treadmill onto which he felt forced to step. This initial ambivalence was later amplified by the fear he might become a “bum,” since he believed he genuinely did not want to work. Often, he would fantasize sitting alone on a beach, sunning himself and eating fresh strawberries as the world toiled through its work week. But then he would alter his vision as he realized those fresh strawberries would cost money. So he would resurrect his fear of poverty. He used his discomfort to give himself reasons to stay in touch with wanting to make more money. He believed if he did not push himself and remain constantly alert, he would do something bad for himself (like quit his job). He couldn’t trust himself. He had to give the desired activity strong enforcement, otherwise he might not pursue what he considered to be in his own best interest. Thus, he, in fact, became afraid to be happy … “to let himself go.”
The implications were dramatic. “There must be something wrong with me” was one of the global judgments at the base of his pyramid of unhappy beliefs. He envisioned himself without the innate propensity to take care of himself. His attention was therefore riveted on his discomforts – not his wants. The money issue had tapped his fears and their underlying beliefs. It was only after he disconnected the network of judgments giving life to his ambivalent feelings that he found himself altering his focus and finding new direction.
For many of us, money, like sex, has been a problematic pursuit because of the infiltration of superstitions, illusions and taboos which form a tightly woven web of self-defeating beliefs. The binds are innumerable. We say it is good to want money and in the same breath verbalize our beliefs (fears) that compulsion, obsessiveness, tension and anxiety are important factors in being a successful money-maker. Beneath such assessments are many common supporting beliefs: “If I am not unhappy, I won’t pursue money – I’d be indifferent.” “Tension and stress are needed for ingenuity and tenacity … happiness dulls the brain.” “If I don’t need it, I might not stay in touch with wanting it.” All these judgments are further grounded in other basic and global beliefs. “I don’t trust my wants.” “Unhappiness is necessary to motivate me.” And “there must be something wrong with me.”
As a support system in a society which cheers its financially affluent and builds monuments to its rich, these beliefs seem valid. But since they are generated from unhappiness and create fears and stress which divert our attention from the projects at hand and precipitate disabilities like premature heart attacks and strokes, then such beliefs can only be blockages in our path.
If we fear becoming competitively impotent or motivationless without those beliefs, perhaps it is a sign for us to address not only those beliefs underlying our desire for money, but also the network of more global concepts that support them.
There is no suggestion here that we should or should not desire money nor is there any suggestion of what amount is viewed as necessary, sufficient, or appropriate. We each decide that for ourselves.
Perhaps one of the most compelling associations some of us make is “Money is power.” On the face of it, the statement seems entirely accurate, if we translate power into ability to command goods and services. Certainly wealth has the power of purchase. But is that the question?
A lawyer, turned corporate entrepreneur, spent twenty-two years of his life building a construction and real estate firm. Yet, the submerged turmoil beneath the polished veneer of this obsessive power-money gatherer had taken its toll.
In his initial exploration of his beliefs, he often talked about his vision of the environment which was quite cryptic and fearful … “Either be the master of your segment of the world or be victimized by it.” Money, for him, equaled power against the persistent threat of vulnerability and victimization. It became a buttress against attack. His industriousness and productivity was his frantic way of developing power so as not to be powerless – as if he was.
Ironically, in his consuming anxiety and tension, he did not fall victim to some mysterious external force, but to his own beliefs and unhappiness. Although he had survived a massive heart attack, he was still distracted by abdominal pains caused by tension. His second marriage had become brittle, marred by mutual criticism and unstated anger.
Twenty-two years of business had actually been twenty-two years of undeclared warfare. He saw his daily existence as combat in a deadly serious power struggle in which he maintained apparent safety and security with the ever-increasing size of his bankroll. He had endured marvelously, considering the stress he had subjected himself to. In effect, he always moved emphatically away from his discomforts, never permitting himself to attend to or even consider his wants. He was always too busy pushing the antithesis of power (poverty) away from his door. But, unfortunately, the money only bought possessions and maneuverability, none of which soothed the pain, dispelled the unhappiness or altered the beliefs. It had been a hollow and painful journey.
The beguiling aspect of his personality was his single-minded direction and dedication, even as he maintained his constant vigil peering over his shoulder trying to avert potential disaster. Loss of money meant loss of power. Although there were many interconnecting and supporting beliefs, a global judgment of himself as impotent and imperfect (something must be wrong with me) was a major factor in his lifelong thrust. For him, his focus had never been directed toward being happy as much as toward keeping the lid on his unhappiness.
Becoming aware of his beliefs was an amazing process for him, like a little boy juggling with all he had previously accepted or fantasized as gospel. What he viewed as self-defeating, he discarded. What he continued to believe was pragmatic, he retained. Recreating himself as the result of discarding old beliefs and creating new ones was the first joyful involvement he had ever allowed himself.
At the opposite pole from the compulsive money-maker (the power seeker, the insatiable millionaire and other overachievers) is the apparent non-pursuer. Yet, the same beliefs of unhappiness can operate in this arena as easily as in any other.
A woman, the wife of an unemployed electronics engineer and mother of two children, has lived for four years on welfare with her family. After working for eighteen years for one company, her husband lost his job as the result of his division’s failure to win renewal of a government contract. Finding himself on the street at forty years of age and confronted with a business community that viewed him as an ancient “relic,” he had extreme difficulty relocating. The opportunities available were meager, and required him to take substantial cuts in salary, position and responsibility. His self-image quickly deflated. He pounded the pavement, barely containing his unexpressed rage.
Rather than seek counseling, which both his wife and his friends had suggested, he decided literally to “drop out” and discard most of the values of his current social and economic system. His stated goal was to protest the inequities of the system by bleeding it in the same way he had been bled of his youth and talents for eighteen years. He would go from unemployment to welfare.
As he settled into this dependent, inactive life-style with the apparent dedication of a crusader, he became more phobic than ever about seeking employment. The resentment and anger grew. Meanwhile, his wife had grown weary of his negative attitudes. Four years had been quite enough. She considered maintaining involvement with welfare as difficult and even more humiliating than the endless interviews necessary to obtain other means of support. On numerous occasions, she suggested economic alternatives to her husband, who refused even to consider them.
For several weeks, she enthusiastically expressed her own desire to return to work, but suddenly became frightened. She believed her reentry into the mainstream would turn her growing ambivalence toward her husband into a concrete desire for separation … and then divorce. Rather than confront and explore her beliefs, she decided to suppress her inclination to seek financial independence. For dramatically different reasons, she too had created her own myths about money and what the production of it might do. In effect, both she and her husband were polarized by their own fears. Money was now intricately tied to their beliefs about victimization, self-worth and separation. In remaining poor, they were both achieving something quite specific … they were both choosing what they envisioned was the least threatening situation.
It was only after she laid bare and discarded her self-defeating beliefs about money, lack of self-worth, fear of separation, loneliness and her supposed power to create unhappiness in others, that she decided to alter her given environment and take the initiative in her marriage. After engaging in active employment while maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude toward her husband, she found her relationship did not disintegrate as she had once so emphatically predicted. In fact, her taking care of her wants precipitated her husband’s rebirth. Feeling more comfortable about himself in light of his wife’s loving perspective, he decided to follow her example by confronting his own fears and beliefs. Ultimately, he decided he wanted to rejoin the working community. After persistent applications and more than thirty interviews, he regained employment equal to the status and financial reward of his former position.
During those intervening years, he had allowed himself to be traumatized by his fears and his discomfort. His beliefs of unhappiness had been the guideposts for all his feelings and behavior. Money had been a function of fearing, not a tool in service to his wanting.
Why we do what we choose to do (the beliefs behind our actions) is the key to understanding the tone and texture of our commitments and our aversions.
There are many organizations and religious societies whose interest in money is minimal or nonexistent since their focus and pursuits lie in other directions. Their casual indifference to money comes as a natural result of their wanting … which, perhaps, has turned their attention toward spiritual or missionary ends. They are not reacting against fears or needs, not responding to any explicit or implicit taboos; they are just moving with themselves.
By contrast, there are other groups and religious cults, dedicated to lofty ideals, who focus obsessively on money as a negative fixation: “Money is the root of all evil.” Here we have the intrusion of unhappiness. Fearing evil and its unknown complications, symbolized in this instance by money, might motivate some people to be financially celibate. But when we are driven by such judgments, even if we live the asceticism of a cloistered life, we are, in part, attending to our unhappiness and fears.
If money is labeled evil, then the person pointing his finger in an attempt to flee its mythological grasp trusts neither himself nor others. “There must be something wrong with me” is a basic belief of someone who thinks having money could “make” him do evil or terrible acts.
Evil is a belief based on the judgment that something is inherently “bad.” Evidence in support of that premise is the product of other judgments made with the same prejudice as the original judgment.
There are no good and evil properties to money. Like fire, which can be used to heat our homes or as a deliberate weapon to destroy them, money is simply a tool in the hands of each individual. The person who sees it as “bad” or the genesis of hostile deeds, is acting out of the terror of his own distrust and fearful beliefs. Perhaps, rather than patronize or condemn such an attitude, we can see it as a cry for help from another who is plagued by his own unhappiness and fears.
If my feelings and behavior are a function of my personal set of beliefs, why is poverty and the fear of poverty such a universal concern? The answer is neither complex nor mysterious. As I share a common environment, I share common beliefs.
And since it is you and I who give beliefs their force, we might ask ourselves: Is poverty a cause of unhappiness? Being poor can never create anger or depression … it is only our beliefs about it which can cement us to pain and despair.
Even if we just consider our words, we can extract judgments which underlie our vision of poverty. A sampling of common dictionary definitions for poor and poverty reads like a catalog of judgments rather than descriptions. Poor is classified as “lacking in material possession or in some quality.” It is defined as “barren,” “sterile,” “insignificant,” “inferior” and “inadequate.” These beliefs about poverty spotlight how “bad” it is to be poor … how undesirable and, in essence, how humiliating. Beyond even the material and cultural questions, poverty becomes a celebrated and culturally accepted reason to be unhappy and miserable by our linguistic connotations alone.
Rather than describing poor in terms of having (no matter how small the quantity or quality), we create the “have-not” …deficient in what we need to be happy.
Moving one step further, we compound the judgment by using the expression “poverty-stricken.” Like the plague, poverty now becomes an affliction, similar to a communicable disease (malaria-stricken). Poverty begins to sound like a condition beyond our control. We have colored our vision and loaded our judgmental assessments … all of which serve to polarize, to paralyze.
If I buy all the beliefs my culture assigns to being poor (and don’t I do just that every time I use the word?), then I would have to see myself as bad, inadequate and inferior if I had little or no material wealth. My own beliefs would result in my being not only unhappily poor, but infuriated or humiliated by a society which labels me as such and attempts to limit my potential for wealth by seeing me as unequal. My response to my dilemma is either anger (in reaction to the judgment) or depression and hopelessness (seeing my inferiority or inadequacy as forever limiting my possibilities) … all of which does NOT reflect my reality or future, but speaks to the impact of my beliefs and those of my neighbors in molding both my current reality and my future.
In responding to my situation with unhappiness, I can hate you (the system) for judging me inferior (which I too believe) and strike out against you by acting the role of a poor person (victimized, out of control and incapable). Or, I can decide to “suck” the culture that “damns” me by using it as caretaker of my wants (welfare, charity, etc.).
There are many who are bitterly unhappy about living below subsistence levels (another judgment?). We can deduce from their discontent and anger that poverty taps many fearful and anxiety-producing beliefs. This does not mean if we were happy we would choose an impoverished condition for ourselves or want it for others … or that we would not want to see such situations remedied. But wanting something is quite different from being unhappy about not having it. There are those on welfare who are disenchanted and depressed, while others manage to create purpose and meaning in their lives.
Although we might want to buy a bigger home, drive a fancier car or wear more expensive clothes, how can we tolerate not having enough food or heat or living in unsanitary conditions? No one would suggest we should tolerate the continuance of such circumstances; but maybe in our misery and anger, we sap our energy and inhibit our ability to alter such conditions.
The question for each of us is distinctly personal: Why would I be unhappy if I couldn’t buy what I want, even though I viewed those things as elemental? The underlying beliefs might not only include fears of sickness and death, but also be married to the frustration and inertia caused by our judgments about self-worth, peer respect, victimization, impotency, loss of love and freedom.
The fear of poverty (fear of not having money) is oftentimes utilized as a tool of unhappiness to help motivate me to work harder and more conscientiously. “If I didn’t fear it, I might not do anything to avert it.” And then, “If I were ‘poverty-stricken,’ I might just stay there.” But is that so … couldn’t I want to live comfortably even if I did not fear being poor? Isn’t it just another way I use unhappiness and discomfort to insure my staying in touch with taking care of myself. The implicit statement here is again one of distrust.
Even if I personally live above sustenance levels, what about the poverty of others? “Should” I be “cold” and “callous” about their problems? Since such a question is filled with judgments and prejudices, I might simply ask, “do I want to be concerned about others who have a limited quantity of funds for their support?” If I do, can I want to be responsive without first being unhappy? My unhappiness (empathy, guilt, depression) about their situation is used as a reinforcer for myself and others. More than just a motivator, it suggests I am a caring and concerned human being.
Yet, I could come from my comfort and my loving and still be just as concerned and committed. “But if I am not unhappy for them, maybe, in the end, I really won’t do anything.” Well, we can ask ourselves: isn’t it possible to be happy and still want to help and be involved? How many of us have shared the outrage of the poor and yet still have not been activated enough or clear enough to offer concrete assistance.
Even the benevolent hand, at times, has a reprimanding backlash. “Here, take the welfare checks, the food stamps and go away … your presence makes me uncomfortable and guilty about what I have. I’m not responsible!” Thus, our assistance is often clouded by the fears we too have of the very situation we are trying to remedy. We move away from our discomforts rather than toward our wants. The results can easily be self-defeating when neither the “giver” nor the “receiver” (can we really differentiate between them?) is attending to his desires. Ironically, while we are riveted to fears about money and its meaning, we are not reviewing our beliefs and creating an opportunity to change them. The input remains stifled and we perpetuate the circle of poverty.
Buddha once said … Give a man a fish and you feed him for a meal; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. But teaching and wanting to learn is extremely difficult in relationships couched in fear and embedded in judgments of sterility and inferiority.
If I come from my good feelings without all the judgments and expectations, I would certainly be as much a humanitarian as those coming from their fury and frustration. The ultimate wants might appear to be the same, but the beliefs about how to get there are very different. The comfortable person moves toward his wants with directed energy, while the angry person moves from his anger (fears and judgments) and away from his not-wants. In many ways, the happy person, who is not diverted by attending to his anger or outrage (and consuming energies in that direction) will be more focused and probably more effective in helping others help themselves. Here again … it is not simply a question of money or our response to the lack of money. Ultimately, it is a question of our beliefs.
Change the beliefs and you change the situation. If I had barely enough food, but did not believe my situation to be degrading and did not see myself as victimized, deprived or inadequate, then I would not act like a poor person (as if I was victimized, deprived or inadequate). I would not be responsive to my misery since there would be none. I would just function in accord with my wants and harness my power to help me get what I want.
This leads us back to an essential concern: Can we do what we want and trust that money (enough to fulfill our requirements) will come as the natural result of our activities? Do we have to worry about or even focus on money in order to get it?
Many of us graduated from academic wombs without ever considering what we truly wanted. Instead, we immediately searched for “realistic” money-making endeavors as we were supposed to (“you have to think ahead”). Many of us believed earning money would not be fun, but would instead probably be displeasing and difficult work (“you can’t have your cake and eat it”). It was as if sweat and tears were necessary in order to live the decent, productive life. Think about all the beliefs we harbor which imply we could not earn a living at what we enjoy … perhaps such concepts resulted in our never even trying. “You can’t look at life through rose-colored glasses,” we were told.
Perhaps, instead of staying in touch with wanting money (a belief which we were taught was a necessary ingredient to achieve the “good” life), we could move beyond such preoccupations and concentrate on what we want to do and on the content and tone of the life-style we want to lead.
In trusting our inclination and pursuing our wants, we might find the money would come. “Well, that’s absurd … suppose I decided to sit on the balcony of my apartment and contemplate the horizon – it would be silly to assume the money would just roll in.” Perhaps, that’s true. But would we want to sit all week or all year in one spot while contemplating the horizon? Remember, the consideration here is not to follow our fantasy or fear, but to go with our wants.
What we can consider is making our wants the primary concern and money the adjunct to that concern rather than the focus of our direction.
Perhaps, this very simple and mellow story of one “trusting” Option student would demonstrate the perspective. He was in his mid-thirties, a very successful stock analyst in a time when his associates in the market were having extreme difficulties just maintaining themselves. An honor graduate with a Ph.D. in economics and the owner of a massive colonial home on the outskirts of a major city, he was, nevertheless, unhappy with the nature of his job, the cool and impersonal tone of his working environment and the unenthusiastic quality of his ,own input.
By contrast, he would sit alone in his basement, thoroughly absorbed and elated when involved with his love: carpentry and the design of hand-crafted wooden toys. But this interest had always been systematically dismissed by parents and friends as cute and frivolous, lacking in dignity and social relevance. Yet, from time to time, to his utter delight, someone would buy one of his wooden toys with great excitement or plead with him to hand-carve a chair or cabinet. The money generated was minimal, but the personal joy of combining his creative impulses with the use of his hands for just several hours each week was more than sufficient reward.
For several years, he quietly explored other professional endeavors, trying to find another application for his skills and credentials. Never once did he consider his “love,” his “hobby,” worthy of such a grand elevation as full-time involvement. In addition, he believed the amount of money he would make in hand-crafted carpentry would be ridiculously limited compared to the lucrative aspects of his present occupation.
Finally, as his discomfort and resentment increased, he decided to explore his unhappiness and the beliefs which supported it. Like stripping away layers of an old shell, he began to shed his armor of old, but current, beliefs which were little more than a straitjacket of self-defeating concepts. After he unearthed and dispensed with his own fears about not being good for himself and his own confusions about his self-worth, he decided no longer to define his life by the judgments of others which he had so readily adopted and internalized. His choice of occupation had not caused his unhappiness, but his unhappiness had been influential in guiding him to choose his current occupation.
After several months of self-exploration, he began to shift his focus and seriously consider carpentry as a viable alternative. Several round-table discussions with his wife produced a quick and firm decision. He was dramatically to change his life-style. Without any foreknowledge of the future and without any guarantees, he defied thirty-five years of “drummed in” heritage and chose to follow his wants … now no longer encumbered by the fears and the beliefs which had glued him to an endeavor inconsistent with his developing interests and values.
He sold his home and purchased a combination workshop/barn/house. Using his minimal savings for immediate support, be worked at constructing more toys and designing individually hand-carved pieces of furniture. Little by little, with no specific sales effort of his own, a substantial audience became exposed to the masterful quality and unpredictable ingenuity of his creations (miniature steam engines, prehistoric animals with moving limbs, antique automobiles with faces, elongated characters from the old Flash Gordon series, rocking chairs with people-like arms and legs, and a vast array of cartoon commentaries on familiar items found in most households). He did what he loved to do and found people loved what he did. Old men, little girls, hard-nosed intellects and very conservative working people were mesmerized by this twentieth-century craftsman who translated his insight and humor into wooden mirrors of his mind.
By the end of the first year, he had literally sold every piece he had crafted and developed an endless crowd of admirers and potential buyers. Money had become the natural by-product of his labors, rather than its goal. Although he had not equaled his income as a financial analyst, he noted with surprise and infectious delight that he had generated a very handsome income doing what he loved, an income far exceeding the necessities of his newly acquired life-style.
The lesson is a beautiful one. Here is a man, who had once lived attending to fears and beliefs he never questioned, now deciding to pursue his wants … to come from his good feelings and trust that they would generate their own fruitful results. From attending to his own inclinations, the money did come. Once he cleared himself of unhappiness, he KNEW what to do. The irony for him was the realization he had always KNOWN what to do, but had consistently chosen to ignore the voice within.
When I am unhappy about my economic circumstances, I inevitably divert my attention away from wanting, making and enjoying money. It even inhibits me from deciding to move in other directions. Tension and anxiety become more than just souring agents; they cloud my vision and veer me away from my wanting. Acting out of fear of losing or fear of not having is pushing against my not-wants (poverty, rejection and loneliness).
If I allowed myself, trusted myself, I could know anything I decided to do would be okay. Therefore, in permitting myself my wants, I might determine money is really a clear and important priority or decide to give it minimal significance.
Often, there are many more possibilities than we allow ourselves to perceive … for our vision of the world is taken in through the prejudices of our beliefs. We create our own limits. But in having that power, we can also expand and change them as we want. We can also dispense with them.
Then we would be free to move with our wants rather than away from our not-wants …a movement in harmony with the flow of our nature.
Perhaps, like the stock analyst turned toymaker-lover, if we decided to allow ourselves to follow our natural propensities, we too might be witness to money becoming the natural and easy by-product of our efforts and energy. Or, perhaps, like the spiritualist or mystic or original thinker, in heeding the voice within, we might turn our eyes toward visions as yet unseen.
The Think Page
Questions to ask yourself
- Are you afraid of not having enough money? If so, why?
- Are you comfortable having the money you do have?
- Do you want more money? If you don’t get it, will you be unhappy?
- Do you believe money buys happiness? Or freedom?
- Are you comfortable doing what you do to earn money? If not, why not? Do you see yourself as having alternatives?
- Is it hard for you to give money away? Why?
- Do you envy those with more financial resources than you? If so, why?
Option concepts to consider
- What we feel about money has everything to do with our wants and our beliefs.
- Everyone (with few exceptions) either directly pursues money or finds a caretaker to do it for them.
- Money is gathered either to satisfy wants or as a function of fear and needing.
- Money can be useful in buying a materially easier life, but not a happy or loving life.
- There are no ground rules except the ones we choose to live by.
- We create our own limits.
Beliefs to consider discarding
- Money buys happiness.
- Money is evil.
- The best job is the job that pays the most.
- Only the poor man suffers.
- Money makes the world go round.
- If I don’t NEED money, I might not stay in touch with wanting it.
Dialogue … money
Q. What are you unhappy about?
A. Not having enough money.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I have two children to support. My husband and i split three years ago and he decided to live in spain. He was an illustrator and i don’t think it mattered where he lived. His last gracious gesture was to give me the house, both cars and all the furniture. Initially, i thought it was fair … After all, he had his life to lead. But, you know, after awhile, the money i received from the sale of the house and car finally ran out. At one time, it seemed like so much money, but now it’s completely exhausted and here i am.
Q. Which is where?
A. Out of it … Not enough to live on. I do free-lance work, writing and designing educational materials for secondary school children. But the jobs aren’t frequent enough or well-paying enough to really support us. Oh, not that i’m not grateful. The work is super; it keeps my head alive and i’m glad for the money … But i don’t know what to do (begins to cry). I’m sorry, i didn’t mean to do that.
Q. What are you unhappy about?
A. I feel like such an ass. I mean there are so many people with more dramatic problems and here i am complaining. With jackie and tommy, two wonderful kids and a really decent place to live, who am i to complain?
Q. Why are you uncomfortable about complaining?
A. I guess because i feel like a money-grubber.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Like all i want is more money. But, it’s true … That’s all i want. I don’t mean to sound simplistic or dense, but if i had just a bit more each month, it would make all the difference.
Q. In what way?
A. I have just about enough for the kids and the house … The food, bills, all those kinds of things. Let’s say i can just about cover all the so-called necessities. But then i don’t have a nickel left over for me and that’s really a drag.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Well, it’s the whole bit. Not to have enough money to buy clothes once in a while or go out for dinner or even go to a movie. That’s all okay … Until it becomes the scene month after month and finally, it’s year after year. I can’t stand being so trapped.
Q. What do you mean “trapped”?
A. Having no choices. If i just want a breather from the kids, i can’t take one. Not that i don’t love being with them. My children are really my joy. Yet, sometimes i just want a change of scenery, if only for a few hours. I don’t even have enough money to spare for a babysitter. I feel condemned to some vague confinement. And what’s really ironic is my prison has no bars … Its walls are invisible. It’s just so damn frustrating.
Q. What about it is so frustrating?
A. I guess it’s the feeling there is no way out.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. (Long pause) well, not quite like i said it. There’s always a way out of everything, i guess. But what i would have to do, i don’t want to do … I don’t even think i can do it.
Q. Could you clarify that?
A. Sure. I could apply for full-time work, but then i’d be away from the kids the entire day, leaving them in a day care center for working mothers. Not that it would be so bad for them, but it would be a disaster for me. I’d work all day and then get home every night to cook and handle all the other chores. It would be a worse grind than what i have now. You see, it’s a bind … No matter which way i move, i don’t get the problem solved.
Q. What do you want?
A. Just a hundred dollars more each month … That’s all. It’s not a lot of money, except when you don’t have it. (loud sigh)
Q. Why did you sigh?
A. If i had the money … Believe me, if i could take a break just once a week, i’d be a better person, a better mother. I know i would! It’s no picnic, i can tell you. It’s like having a low grade infection … Not visible or obvious, but always there, always draining you.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about your situation?
A. How can i not be unhappy about it?
Q. I’m not suggesting you should be. I’m only asking, what are you afraid would happen if you weren’t?
A. I don’t know. Maybe, if i weren’t unhappy, i’d just wallow in it, not knowing any better.
Q. Are you saying by being unhappy you stay in touch with wanting more?
A. Yes, i guess so. (long pause) you mean i stay unhappy about not having enough money so i will remember that i want more?
Q. What do you think?
A. Well, if that were true, then i would be purposely making myself unhappy about my money difficulties. (smiles) stupid, really dumb. But as i talk about it, it sounds right. That’s sad.
Q. Why “sad”?
A. Because i’d have to be a real idiot if i made money that important in my life.
Q. Why would that make you an idiot?
A. Listen, jackie and tommy and me, we’re all fine. I’m not poor, just very, very tight. Who am i to complain?
Q. What are you saying?
A. I’m saying maybe i don’t have the right to want more … And yet i do.
Q. What do you mean by “right”?
A. Like i’m not sure i’m deserving. I know this will sound silly, but sometimes i think if i get more money, maybe one of the kids will get sick.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. Yes and no.
Q. Why don’t we take the “yes” part of your answer. Why do you believe one of your children might become ill?
A. (Long sigh) the first thing that pops into my head is … Retribution for my selfishness. Maybe i want the wrong things, maybe in some weird way, i don’t appreciate what i have. As if money is all important … More important than health. But, it isn’t. I want my children to be healthy and i also want more money. It doesn’t make much sense; the whole thing is just a superstition.
Q. What do you mean?
A. It’s like an old wives’ tale. You kind of hear a lot of people say it and somewhere underneath you buy it without ever really talking about it or looking at it. But when you really unearth what you’re afraid of, it dissolves like right now.
Q. Are you saying you no longer believe it?
A. Yes, that’s over. I guess it was one of the thoughts i had that kept me going back and forth like a scared rabbit.
Q. In what way?
A. Every time i think of one of my babies getting sick, i would immediately stop thinking about money. It was a braking system. Like penance, i see myself as being deprived, feel terrible … All this as a trade for healthy children.
Q. And now?
A. (Chuckling) well, now that my superstition has lost its gravity, i think i can want money any time or more of the time … But then i’ll just be aware of being unhappy more of the time.
Q. Why would you be unhappy wanting more money?
A. It’s not wanting it that makes me unhappy; it is not getting it.
Q. Okay. Why would you be unhappy if you don’t get it?
A. Then my situation will remain the same.
Q. And why would that be so disturbing?
A. Because i don’t want it to be the same, but what can i do?
Q. What do you want to do?
A. (Looks away and smiles) i can write you a list as long as my arm.
Q. Of your wants or your fantasies?
A. Oh, those would be my fantasies … And yet, one day, i might really begin to want them.
Q. What do you want now?
A. Well, feeling freer to want more money, i’d like to maybe solicit for more freelance work. I love the involvement, the research … It gets my juices going.
Q. Can you do it if you want to?
A. Sure, at least i can certainly solicit. I could try. (face cringes) hey, i don’t want to get up from all this and find i can’t get more work. I’m just setting myself up for disaster.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Just what i said. I’m starting to feel much better, but for what? Suppose i can’t get any more work. That would really be a downer.
Q. In what way?
A. Then i’d really be miserable.
A. It’s like having your heart set on something and then being disappointed.
Q. Why would you be disappointed if you didn’t get the jobs or the money?
A. Wouldn’t anybody?
Q. Perhaps, but each person would have his own reasons. What are yours?
A. I guess when i really want something and don’t get it, that’s my automatic response.
Q. Why is that?
A. It’s like an up and then a down.
Q. Could you explain what you mean?
A. Sure. You picture the money in your mind and everything you’re going to buy. You almost have it. So when reality doesn’t match up, it’s a real down.
Q. What about not getting is a real down?
A. Then i feel cheated. Lacking. I sort of begin to expect it will happen and when it doesn’t, there’s no place to go but down … I mean, become unhappy.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. That i have to be unhappy? (a sigh and then a huge grin) i guess not. There have been other things in my life which i didn’t get and yet i didn’t go berserk over it.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t get unhappy about not getting?
A. Wow … The same thing pops into my head as before. Maybe i won’t really go after it or maybe it’ll prove it didn’t matter.
Q. Are you saying by being unhappy, you stay in touch with wanting money and proving to yourself it’s important?
A. Yes. I never realized how much that was part of the way i functioned. It’s unbelievable, yet i see i do it all the time.
Q. Do you think you could be happy and still want more money?
A. Yes, yes of course i could. And proving things are important to me by being miserable doesn’t make much sense anymore. I don’t have to be unhappy to know i want something. Okay, that’s a real change for me. Okay … Now i’m not unhappy, but i still have my money problem.
Q. What do you want to do about it?
A. (Broad smile) find more free-lance work. Definitely! (drifts and begins to look agitated)
Q. What are you feeling?
A. Why is it so important to me?
Q. Why is what so important?
A. Money. It’s been like this as long as i could remember. Even when i was married. There was always something else i felt i wanted that i didn’t have. And then, when i would get it, there would be something else. And for each thing i decided i wanted, i always believed i had the best of reasons. I guess if i get more work, maybe i’ll be unhappy because i’ll decide it wasn’t enough. That really scares me.
A. Did you ever read the play no exit, by jean paul sartre?
A. Well, it would be like that. There would never be an end. Maybe that’s why i haven’t really tried to do anything these last couple of years. Oh god, it’s such a vicious cycle. If i go to work and it isn’t enough, that’s terrible. If i don’t, then this is an unsatisfactory condition, but there’s still hope. I’m afraid it goes on forever.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. Sure. It would only end when i’m satisfied and you know, i’ve never before been satisfied with the money i’ve had.
Q. Why not?
A. Because i’ve always wanted more.
Q. Wanting more and being dissatisfied are two very distinctly different movements. Why do you get unhappy if you see yourself as not having enough?
A. I can’t really answer that. It’s the way i am.
Q. I know you feel it’s part of you … Let’s try to tackle it from another direction. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t dissatisfied with not having all the money you wanted?
A. Then i wouldn’t want more.
Q. Are you saying being dissatisfied keys you into wanting more?
A. Yes. I can’t believe how this keeps coming up. It’s incredible what i’ve been doing to myself. I get it both ways. Being dissatisfied motivates me, but then fear of being dissatisfied later stops me. In the end, neither gets me what i want. By seeing all this as “the way i am,” i guess i would never believe i could change it, but now i see i can. I’ve had it and i’m different starting right now … And you know how i know i’m different?
A. I don’t believe the same things any more.
Q. What are you wanting?
A. I was going to answer more money, but you know, i guess i’m really wanting to be happy … To feel the way i do right now. I don’t have all the money i want, yet i don’t feel deprived. I’ll just find more work. Pure and simple. So beautifully simple. I’ll try to make more money if i can … And that neither feels like a threatening nor unhappiness-producing situation. And if what i can generate is not enough … Well, i can deal with it then. (long pause) right now, i feel so good and for me, right now is all that counts.