Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mindful Money Use and Reciprocity

I wrote about "Spirituality and Money" quite some time ago, but since I see so many people trying to somehow manipulate situations and spiritual ideas to "attract" more money, I felt like I'd take a moment to talk about this subject a little more. The first key idea is to understand this: money is just a tool. It's nothing special. It's a means of helping us exchange things because bartering can be challenging at times. I mean how many chickens is a cell phone worth? I sure don't know. Maybe some people would be willing to figure that out, but I think exchanging money makes things a little easier on that score. Now that's not to say that people have used money well. They haven't. Most people have gotten so lost in accumulation that they don't see the pain it causes them and others, so for this blog, I'm going to offer a few tips to help people find their way to better balance with money in their lives.

Money: Just a Tool, Not a Goal

The first idea that needs to be let go of is that money is a goal. It's not. As I've already said and will say repeatedly, it's a tool. It helps you to do things because of how society is set up. I can fund a nuclear bomb or a Habitat for Humanity housing project with money. See? Drastically different uses of the same tool. Money remains the same. But when it is oriented in people's minds as a goal, we get in trouble really quickly, don't we? We start hoarding, trying to become millionaires. There's a song on the radio with the line saying, "I want to be a billionaire so f#$%ing bad." Poor soul. He doesn't know what he is asking for.

Now, I do understand that the idea hiding in there is that money will make you happy. But that's ridiculous. It can buy you experiences. That is true. But having money in and of itself doesn't make you happy. Usually, the more money you have, the more you have to lose. So the ego freaks out more and more, trying to control and protect it all. Tons of time and effort goes into money management, and even if you have money managers taking care of your stocks, bonds, and investment porfolios, you still have to work with them and stay in touch or else your money will soon be gone.

Money Is Meant to Flow

In my nature of energy blog post, I talked about how energy just wants to flow. In many ways, money is just a form of energy. It is meant to flow. If you dam up a river, what happens? The land behind it gets gorged and flooded with water. The land ahead is dried out, and many lifeforms die out. In so many ways, I see the centers of wealth as directly causing the centers of poverty. And then we try to put bandaids with small grants for low-income housing on the problem and wonder why it doesn't work. It doesn't work because the mindset has not changed. People aren't being mindful with money. They're hoarding it and stopping the flow of it, and in turn, suffering is caused.

Which is why one of the best things you can do is to learn how to let money flow in your life. Charging down the doors of the super-rich elite does nothing. They are simply acting from their programming as 99% of all of humanity is doing. Most poor people put into places of great wealth either quickly lose it all (such as a lot of super-star sports athletes) or continue the same miserly habits. So the problem isn't necessarily the individuals as much as the prevalent mindset that we need lots of money to be happy.

Devaluing the Valuation System

Here's the next important step; breaking down the judgment system we have for valuing things. This is clearly going to influence more than money, but by noticing how we judge some things as worth more or less, we can see how made up the whole valuation system is. In seeing how we make up the "cost" and "prices" of things, you are bringing more awareness to the absurdity of how a lot of society is functioning around money. Why is a candy bar worth $1.50? Why not $5? Why should a cell phone be worth $200? Now, the ego has got lots of rules. It will reply that value is determined by how much time it takes to make it, how hard it is to get materials, how many people want it, and so on and so forth. The ego is very good at making up rules. Start paying attention to yours. You're the only one who can break it, and you're the only one who can realize that these rules and value judgments don't really matter. They're still part of the big illusory game, and you need to break down that game inside of you. Otherwise you're valuing every moment of your life after awhile. You'll be thinking about things in turns of what they will get you, and this thinking will bankrupt you and sour all your relationships. It will leave you exhausted, miserable, and depressed.

Giving for the Sake of Giving

To actively devalue the valuation system, you can practice giving for the sake of giving. You can give money, your attention, or your work. However, it has to be done without the expectation of getting anything back. That's key. Because in anyway that you want something back, then you're still caught up in an ego game. That's how the money system works. You give only to get something. That's why donating for no reason is such an absurdity for a lot of people. At the very advanced level (and it's unfortunate that this is advanced for most people), you would simply give because it's what you felt like doing in the moment. You saw a woman on the street, gave her $10, and walked away. It's what you felt called to do. In this society, the woman might be floored. She might also have no idea how to receive, and a curious thing might happen; she might try to give your money back.


Receiving for the Sake of Receiving

To continue to let go of the need to value things, we also have to let go of the idea that we need to do something in order to receive. This is where having a friend or two in your close circle of friends or in a spiritual community can be great to practice with. Throughout a month, you simply would give something to someone. It could be money, a gift, a compliment, or anything really. For the sake of this blog post, I think gifting money could be really illuminating. You may find all kinds of issues coming up when someone gives you money. You will probably be confronted with a whole lot of social stereotypes and programming. Here are a few that come to mind as I write:
  • You're not worthy
  • You didn't earn it
  • You feel like a charity case
  • You feel like it undermines your independence

It may get even more self-deprecating than that. It's extraordinary how much we as human beings are unable to receive. Now, this is different than taking. Taking is coming from a space of feeling that the world owes you something and that you deserve to get things. If this is the issue you're working on, then starting out with a practice of giving is important before moving on to receiving. Wherever you are in your path, however, both elements are critical because they make up the fullness of reciprocity and the flow of life.

Reciprocity and Money: Allowing Affluence to Flow and Cycle Back

In many ways, the breath can be another way to look at this flow. We breathe in to receive, and we breathe out to let go. When everyone is doing this, then things can find their harmony and balance. If someone is holding their breath metaphorically speaking, the whole suffers because we are all interconnected. But since this is such a hot-button issue that's hooked into most people's survival issues, here are some other suggestions for developing this critical tool in your everyday spiritual life:
  1. Tip well at the coffeshop. There are tip jars all over the place not just coffeeshops. Throw some money in there (no, I don't work at a coffeeshop, but I appreciate the people who do working for pretty minimal wages). Do it when no one is looking so you don't have the expectation of getting a compliment.
  2. Create a reciprocity game with friends. As I mentioned above, having some friends to practice this on can be very rewarding. It can also help you to talk out the feelings you have when someone gives you something and an issue comes up. Or you can simply talk about how good it feels when someone gives you something. As I said, money is best because it carries so much baggage for most people.
  3. Pay attention to what you're buying and why. This is stepping back a little bit, but depending on what you need to work on, it may really help to see why you buy and what you buy. Look at how you are valuing things. Clothing is a great one because so many types of clothing are really not that much better than other types. Branding, however, makes it seem like some are "better" than others. I encourage you to start to see through the lies that brand names perpetuate just to get more money from you.
  4. Noticing when you spend. Some people buy to make themselves feel better. Noticing this can be another good start to being more mindful about when you use your money. Find out if you're buying stuff that you really need or if you are just buying to keep up with your neighbors, stay up on fashions, improve your mood, or otherwise perpetuate stories about who you think you are and how you want others to view you. This too can be very illuminating.

Finding Ease in Your Relationship With Money

The fun part is when you really see money as a tool. Then it's easy to give, and it's easy to receive. It's not that big of a deal. When some people go into awakening, many of them want to get rid of all their things and all their money. But really, what is happening here is an aversion towards the old attitude of accumulation. And certainly, some people will naturally have more money in life. That's just part of their life path. This doesn't mean they're doing anything better than anyone else. Success in accumulation of money is very, very, very rarely a sign of spiritual success, and in my opinion, those who have more also have more responsibility. It's kind of like a big utility transformer station; with more money energy flowing through them, they have more responsibility to keep that flow going to many others. If done well, the whole of our human community is nourished and can prosper harmoniously.

So, I hope these are helpful thoughts to bring mindfulness and money more in sync in your life. Money is just a tool, and if used well, it can enrich your life in the ways that are most important.

Today's picture comes from my student, Jenn. Thanks so much!
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