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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.
Monday, January 9, 2012
The Power Behind Money
Fresh out of college, yet to make a mark on the world, I landed my first full-time job, proud and eager to flaunt my academia and contribute toward a better society. The working poor was what Chicago’s local newspaper, the Tribune, labeled all of us case managers working in the social health field. It is one of the sad ironies of modern life that people often seem to be paid in inverse proportion to their value to society. At first it didn’t bother me that I earned less in a five-day workweek than bartending a four-hour shift. I was making a difference helping Chicago’s neediest citizens. My clients were homeless, mentally ill substance abusers, most of them refugees or immigrants who considered the working poor a label of aspiration. I attempted to keep this perspective but my spirit thickened with despair. The job had me treading the dark waters of bleakness. It didn’t take long to realize that four-years of protected college courses did nothing to prepare me for a reality I would otherwise step right over, turn my head and ignore.
Getting acquainted with Chicago’s inner drug world was like rummaging through a musty, cold dark cellar with a lone dim-lit flashlight. Every turn was a blurry unknown without any clear divisions. Soon the light flickered on and the underworld once buried and ignored revealed itself in all its grueling misery. I recognized faces on the streets as shattered clients in my office – the same ones that looked up with watery eyes and a luminous raw fragility that spoke no hope. There was no discounting a reality that quickly and painfully revealed itself. Every corner was now met with heart-wrenching compassion for the tormented lives that shared our city streets.
Two years later I relocated to NYC and left my Chicago clients. As irony would have it, I left those who were chained to the bottom 1% of poverty, for clients in NYC who were dancing on top of their mountain of wealth (the group we now reference as the 1%ers). As a personal trainer in Manhattan’s upper west side, I walked through the homes of multi-millionaires, privy to how society’s elites lived their lives. I watched as an observer on the periphery of these contradicting worlds. It’s one thing to live these extremes, another to witness them. Remaining close enough to be affected yet far enough to view the scene in its entirety, it was like standing at the edge of a rocky overhang and watching the grace of Mother Nature at play while adding to feelings of omnipotence and rapture.
The clear distinction between these two groups is money. But beyond this obvious certainty, is what lies beneath. What we have coined the root of all evil has ironically come to resemble something of the divine. As Charles Eisenstein said in his article Living in the Gift: “It (money) is an invisible, immortal force that surrounds and steers all things, omnipotent and limitless, an invisible hand that, it is said, makes the world go’round. Yet, money today is an abstraction, at most symbols on a piece of paper, but usually mere bits in a computer. It exists in a realm far removed from materiality.”
We are a society bound by relentless greed, obsessively trying to fill a void we mistakenly believe can be filled by monetary possessions. We depend on money for survival, rely on it for comfort; when we have it we fear its loss and obsess about its gain. The bottom 1% with nothing, strive to gain something (in my clients’ case it was only crack cocaine they desired considering addiction was a prerequisite to enter the program), the top 1% with everything, strive to gain more – more money, more entitlements, more power.
Money’s original purpose was for convenience and fairness. Before money, there was barter – which wasn’t always fair. Currency allowed symbols and coins to be exchanged more efficiently. Money at its best should connect human gifts with human needs, so we may all live collectively in greater abundance. The concepts around money have come to generate scarcity instead of abundance, separation instead of connection. Now, the more we feed the ego with desire, the emptier we feel and the farther we divide as a people.
How do we stop praying to a profanity that transformed money into a reckless pursuit of wanting? How do we create new kinds of attitudes and beliefs around this invisible hand that makes the world go’round? Simply put, we begin within. We fill ourselves with self-worth, the kind that money can never buy. Instead of stuffing the void with excess of donuts, drugs, or another pair of stilettos we seal it with self-love, compassion, peace, trust and faith. We begin to rely on ourselves for our own inner happiness and contentment, gaining comfort simply from our own breath. In this frame of reference we see the sacredness in everything, including money. We value life as a gift given to us and we see the interconnection amongst all things.
Nature continues to give and we continue to take in abundance. Once understanding our dependence on taking, it becomes completely natural to give, for we cannot have one without the other. Only when our inner “tanks” are filled can we fully and eagerly give of ourselves. We cannot give what we lack.
“If you knew the power of generosity, you would not let a single meal go by without sharing it.” - The Buddah
Thousands of years ago the Buddha already knew what modern science is proving today. Research has found that the mere thought of giving money to charity activates the primitive part of the brain associated with the pleasures of eating and having sex. Chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are actually evoked by self-giving. But generosity isn’t only about money. Giving of ourselves is the greatest act of generosity.
Mike Dickson wraps up the power of generosity eloquently and concisely in his article “Reflections on the Generous Life”:
“A generous life involves putting more effort into looking after each other, becoming more actively involved in our own communities, speaking up for the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our society and becoming their champions and ambassadors. A generous life involves paying attention to the plight of the world’s poorest people and learning how we can help them, actively campaigning to save our planet, amassing fewer things we don’t need and withdrawing our financial support from those who are destroying our world for purely commercial gain. It involves acknowledging that we do care about the destruction of the rain forest, about preserving fish in the sea and tigers on land for our children to wonder at when they are grown up. It involves acknowledging that we value these things more than we value fabric conditioner.”
Maybe the next stage of human evolution will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature – bringing forth the gifts within each of us, taking part in the natural exchange of giving and taking, and breaking the suffocating grasp money has on our spirit. Can we emphasize cooperation over competition and circulation over hoarding? Will we ever have the courage to trade a strong economy for a more compassionate, peaceful society that values people over profit?
I’m interested and eager in hearing your thoughts.