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What if you could change your relationship with money?

Photo by Lucas Favre on Unsplash

Money deranges us. We never seem to think we have enough, and the pursuit of more distorts and damages our lives. Yet we persist in our madness.

Steven Harrison wrote a remarkable book a few years ago. It was called Doing Nothing. As someone who wonders why most of humanity is engaged in the relentless pursuit of doing something, everything, anything, I was intrigued by the title when I saw it on the bookshelf. What does doing nothing look like? “Nothing is a surprisingly active place,” the author tells us. “It is here that we discover who and what we are.”

There is a profound lesson about money deep in the book. “We cannot avoid our own materiality, even by realising its limitation. Does the deep realisation of our nature address the functions of our life? Does it pay the rent? Buy our food? Pay the bills?”

The essential truth there is clear: our lives, no matter how spiritual we make them, have an inherent material aspect. We must live somewhere, eat, consume, pay for things. If we do not pay, someone else does. We face biological imperatives as human parents, too: we want the best for our children, and what is “best” often becomes a relativity, a competitive race with others, or a need for the esteem of society.

We need money, then. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But as I have often written here, we must learn to keep it in its place. Money is a tool for life; it is not the point of life itself. If money gives us a more fulfilling, more peaceful, less troubled life – then it is working for us. If it does the opposite, it is destroying us.

In whose lives does money cause so much strife? Those who objectively have too little are undoubtedly troubled. Not knowing where your children’s meals or school fees will come from is clearly a very stressful situation to be in. And yet those are not the only freaked-out folks around when it comes to money. There are also the multitudes who are nowhere near genuine poverty or hardship, but spend every waking day trying to get more money. And more. And more.

This is where Steven Harrison provides his insight. The mania about money comes, he suggests, because we allow two strong, destructive emotions to cloud our interactions with it: greed and fear.

First, the greed. Many of us cannot seem to have enough money. Very few are able to say: this is good, this is enough. We have a decent roof over the family’s heads; we eat well; we can fulfil all our essential obligations; we can conduct ourselves with dignity in society; we have something put away for a rainy day. But to those with pecuniary disease, that sounds like severe hardship! To those folks, the bigger house, the more showy car, the elitist school, the look-at-me holidays become absolute essentials, goals to strive for and fight for. Greed consumes them.

Then there is fear. Our insecurities haunt us. We fear returning to the poverty of our childhoods. We fear losing our independence. We fear having to beg others. We fear getting left behind. We fear the scorn of the moneyed. And our fears amplify: First we fear that we are not making enough money; then, when we have some money, we fear that our money is not making enough money…

But what would you do with money if you were able to detach greed and fear from it? Then your money would become a tool for your life; and more money would become the byproduct of the work that you do. Perhaps we could then focus on being ourselves, being true to ourselves, and able to relax ourselves? Perhaps we could then focus on the meaning of our lives and our work on earth?

We were surely not put on this planet just to clock up the numbers on some man-made scorecard called net worth. We were not given higher consciousness just so that we could use it to worry about our balance sheets. What might we become if we could control our greed and our fear and let the dollar signs fall away from our eyes? What would the world look like if we stopped trying to measure it in currency?

Next week, let’s meet here to get more practical. What might we do with our careers, our businesses and our relationships if we stopped using money as their only measure? What genuine riches might we stumble across?

(Sunday Nation, 11 November 2018)

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