More Than Money
Issue #7

Money and Spirit

Table of Contents

“The Relationship Between Money and Spirit”

Money and spirit seem to have a tumultuous relationship, sometimes going hand-in-hand, other times appearing fiercely at odds or in painful separation. The following sampling of voices, personal and cultural, reveal some of the range of feelings and positions people hold about the relationship of money to the spiritual life. Some clearly feel their wealth is a barrier to God; others experience their use of wealth as God's love in action. All the people we interviewed are searching to find a relationship to money that honors their spiritual beliefs.

Finally Walking My Talk

I have been blessed with a potent way for my wealth to serve the spiritual world. It started four years ago at Sotheby's auction house. I bid $39,050 for three ceremonial "masks." I knew these were sacred objects to the Hopi and Navajo nations, and I returned them to their home.

The outpouring of support for this action led to my founding the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation, a public foundation which, by facilitating the return of spiritual objects, enables American Indians to continue or reactivate their spiritual ceremonies. The Foundation also gives non-natives a powerful way to connect to the spiritual lives and powers of indigenous people. That one act set people and events into motion which have transformed my life. To be "walking my talk"--that is, taking what I have felt in my heart for years and turning it into actions in the world, is fulfilling beyond measure.

I am aware of the contrast between my material world and the Native world, and I grapple with my own addictions--to comfort, to jewelry or a weekly manicure... I have learned to live with and sometimes laugh at all my anxieties and internal contradictions. ("Oh no, what if my money someday disappears? Will my life be ruined? or will I be freed to be more spiritual?")

Now that I have a vehicle to serve the world, I feel more relaxed. In the larger scheme of things, money--or pain and guilt about it--is not that important. I also recognize these feelings as part of who I am--I don't need to get rid of them or be "pure" in order to serve. I am thankful to have money to do the work I feel called to do: transforming money into the currency of spirit.

- anonymous author

The Marriage of Spirit and Matter

For twenty years I have worked and taught classes in the mystical realm. About a year ago, midway through teaching a nine-month course about chakras (energy centers in the body), one of my student teachers came to the class in tears because her spiritual group now forbade her to assist anyone who took money for their spiritual teaching. As I was unwilling to stop charging fees (which were needed for rent, advertising, photocopying, etc.) she was lost from the course--another victim of the division between spirit and matter.

As I see it, we are all children of the divorce between spirit and matter that happened long ago when the archetypes of the Great Mother and the Great Father were split apart. The Mother Goddess, worshipped for 30,000 years, represented the living spirit within the flesh as seen through the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In a gradual process that took place roughly 4000 to 1500 B.C., she was taken over by a thundering Father God, who denied connection with the physical and with the Mother archetype.

Over time, the Goddess was completely overthrown and her worshippers killed, enslaved and burned. Spirit and matter became separated, each one seen as devoid of the other. Spirit became completely immaterial, while matter (and the Earth itself) became seen as a mindless inert mass with no spiritual value.

When my friend dropped out of the class, I asked her (hypothetically) whether she could stay if we cut out the meditation, ritual, and yoga. Her answer was yes, I could have charged money for a marketing seminar or a cooking class, but not for anything that had spiritual value. (As if even these things were devoid of spirit, which as any cook or salesperson can tell you, they are not.)

This society is so convinced that money corrupts the purity of spiritual pursuits, many small churches and spiritual organizations suffer and die from a frayed shoestring budget, while more mercantile industries take over the planet. I long for our culture to bring our material existence and our spiritual quest into the same dimension; to reclaim our right to prosperity, and to use that prosperity to steer the world to a healthier place.

- anonymous author

Healing the Division

For most of my life, I have viewed money and Spirit as existing on opposite ends of a spectrum. Either one is supposed to make you "happy" or "successful", but not both together. In addition, money and love got twisted deep inside me at an early age, when I lost my mother and was handed an insurance settlement. That money came to represent the love I didn't have and I hated it.

Although my financial worth is nearly half a million dollars, I have treated myself as worthy of zero. Although for six years I have been touching Spirit daily through meditation, the idea of Spirit loving, touching, and caring for me has felt incomprehensible and foreign.

In meditation this December I realized I needed to stop giving money to others until I could say no to requests as clearly as yes, and until I can offer gifts to myself as lovingly as I do to others. I remember sitting there in tears, deciding yes, I will listen to my inner guidance, and for once money and spirit didn't feel so far apart.

- anonymous author

The Tiger Teacher

As a young person I yearned to emulate the great spiritual teachers who spurned money and embraced poverty--St. Francis of Assisi, Jesus, Krishna... "How can I ever be pure like them," I thought with pain, "If I have to join the crass world of money?" In my early twenties I sat in the fields and meditated and prayed for 4-6 hours a day.

But money is like air: even if you dislike it, you still have to breathe. So I began working on an investment scheme of my dad's, hoping it would eventually buy me freedom to follow artistic and spiritual pursuits.

To my great surprise I began to see that money could have a nature that was healthy and vigorous. This was contrary not only to my spiritual readings but also to the '60s notion that money was intrinsically evil, part of a capitalist system taking advantage of poor people. I dove into learning all I could about money, got degrees in financial planning, money management and accounting, and started a small business doing tax returns. Again I was shocked that my experience contradicted "spiritual" assumptions: what motivated my work was not greed, but the opportunity to give of myself.

I began to use meditation to observe my moment-by-moment experience with money rather than just be caught up in my belief system about it. I unpeeled the layers of my feelings about money. I saw, for instance, that underneath "envy" was actually grief: that I never had the financial freedom to write, that my parents hadn't given me more monetary support...and under that, more basic sorrows about the human condition, about the fact that everything I loved would inevitably pass away.

Slowly I began to see that these were only thoughts, and I didn't need to project them onto money. Money was simply a window to deeper experience.

Now I work as both a financial advisor and a teacher of Buddhism. I consider money a powerful spiritual teacher, because it so frequently calls up people's demons: desire, fear, guilt, greed, jealousy. In every contact with our demons is an opportunity to practice quietly noticing what is going on inside. In Burma, novice monks are sent out into the jungle to meditate where tigers roam; in our culture, money takes the place of tigers.

- anonymous author

Becoming a Clear Vessel of Spirit

I used to earn my living guiding sessions for wealthy people. Secretly I was a prostitute to wealth, changing my attitudes, opinions--everything--to be valued by people with money. Later, I went through a phase of renouncing wealth. When I walked into a room with five people, one of whom was wealthy, I would see four spiritual people and a rich person! Renunciation was no different from attraction--money still had a hold on me.

Very gradually, through meditation and by being with people of extremely varying means, I cultivated my equanimity. Now I can listen to a person with great wealth and simply hear her or him as one human being to another. I can look poor people in the eyes without the urge to give them everything, to relieve their situation if just for the moment. Accepting each person's unique karmic predicament about money, I can start to serve as an instrument for healing, helping people free themselves from addictions or pathology about money.

- anonymous author

Life, Love, and Money

When I was a young man, I thought it absurd to believe in a God who knew or cared about me personally. But then in 1969 I had a near-death experience that shook my beliefs to their core. Some spiritual force had tapped me on the shoulder--me!--and said "Ed, I need to talk to you!" I was told that what matters in my life is how I have loved. Period. This love wasn't about feeling a certain way, but rather, about action. Did I smile at the person who walked up the sidewalk? Was I mindful in my speech so as to avoid hurting others unnecessarily? I was told my job in life was to be helpful, but I wasn't told in what way, or to whom.

For the ten years following this experience, I suffered with my own inability to live day to day in line with the directives I had been given. Before, I thought it fine to yell at my children if they annoyed me, or to hurt someone's feelings by trying to be clever. Afterwards, I couldn't. I had to painstakingly unlearn habits I had practiced all my life.

Over time, I did manage to create a fulfilling vehicle for my love: ironically, through a commodity so often viewed as contrary to spirituality--money. I founded a financial planning and investment company which helps clients use their assets "in ways appropriate to their life path." We ask clients the deeper questions: "What's important to you? What does it mean to be a shepherd to money? Just like intelligence or stamina, a talent or great beauty, wealth is a gift you can choose to use or not--so what will you do with it?" We talk about security, obligation, commitment... not in quantitative terms, but in the underlying meanings. We are dedicated to treating clients the same whether their assets are fifty thousand or ten million.

My observation over two decades of this work is that people who think of the money as security are never satisfied with it. Those who think of it as a responsibility to retain in a manner appropriate to their ancestors suffer greatly, always trying to live up to a spoken or unspoken ideal. The people with wealth who are most happy and energized are people who have clarity about their larger purpose and use their assets in ways that are consistent with it.

- anonymous author


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