Awakening Through Money

Awakening Through Money

“Money is part of life where we are confused and upset – or filled with arrogance and pride.” – Lynne Twist

Awareness is one of the greatest agents for change. In bringing true awareness to something, we see the illusions we have created to justify our worldview, actions and habits. In illuminating that which we don’t want to see, we are forced to awaken and eventually change. I believe that in truly looking at money, seeing the light and shadow aspects, we can awaken to true abundance.

Money  • noun. A medium of exchange in the form of coins and banknotes. [1]

Money • noun.  A measure of value. [2]

If money is a medium of exchange and a measure of value, it means that money is only a math system to track to flow of goods, resources and energy. Money itself holds no inherent value, yet we treat it as extremely valuable, often compromising that which has greater inherent value, such as clean air, water or basic human survival.

Money is a man-made system that we use to assign value to things. Yet somehow we forget that this is all it is. We forget that we created it and its only value is that which we assign. We make it mean so much more than it actually is. We even correlate the assigned value of money to the value of self. If we have more money, we feel more valuable. If we have less money, we feel inferior. Society agrees. Others respect us and we feel good, and perhaps artificially so when we have money and we feel bad when we don’t have money or even worse when we have debt. The crazy thing is that this is all artificially constructed. So what does this mean for a society of debt owners?

The Debt Economy

Debt feels like the heaviest burden of life. It depresses your spirits, keeps your mind occupied with the huge weight hanging over your head and makes you feel bound – because you ARE bound.” – Suze Orman

Like many women of my generation, I am thousands of dollars in debt from school loans and credit cards. During my travels abroad in my early 20’s there were a few times I forgot to pay a credit card bill and my credit score went from “not so good” to “really poor” according to Experian. But my credit score was the least of my worries.  My interest rates rose to 29.99 percent. My shame and avoidance of facing this “reality” got to the point where I would avoid opening my mail. I was so emotionally shut down around my debt that I couldn’t even look at my bills, which of course spiraled downward even further.  I was embarrassed to tell anyone for fear of what they would think: “How could someone who is so good at math be so stupid or lazy?” I felt like I was trapped. I felt enslaved to my debt – a dark empty pit-like thing that had no face.

But this experience of debt isn’t unique to me. Not only is our monetary system created by debt and the Federal Reserve System (which I won’t get into during this post), the entire US economy is deep in debt. In 1980 the gross public debt was 909 billion dollars, equal to 33% of GDP. In 2009 our debt shot up to 12.9 trillion dollars, equal to 90% of GDP and today it is $16.7 trillion dollars ($52,912 per US citizen), greater than the US GDP ($16.6 trillion).[3]  But this is only public debt.

According to the Consumer Federation of America, this year Americans hold $856.5 billion in private credit card debt, $7.86 trillion in mortgages, and $999.3 billion in student loans. The average credit card per household is $15,325 (this does not include mortgages, car loans or student loans).  This is probably due to the fact that approximately 43% of US families spend more than they earn (about $1.22 for every dollar earned), according to a Federal Reserve study[4]. Both the US economy and US citizens spend more than they earn. If being in debt is a form of slavery, what are we doing? Isn’t it time to wake up? The only thing holding us back is fear and attachment.

Fear and Money

I would be the last person in the world to tell you that money alone will ever make you happy, for it will not, but I would be the first to tell you that the lack of money could certainly make you miserable.” – Suze Orman.

It would be dishonest for me to say that I have no fear around money.  I do. In-fact, I struggle with fear around money. But my quest for wisdom around money has allowed for some of that fear to be replaced by curiosity, fascination and spiritual growth. Through what I have learned, I see a tremendous opportunity for me to heal my relationship with money and provide other people the tools to do the same. I also see an incredible opportunity for new money systems to replace malfunctioning money systems, and through that we can shift how and what we value in society.

One of the big problems is that most people don’t really have enough to meet basic needs. Around the world, about 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day and are barely able to feed themselves, yet the wealth is accumulated in the hands of the few. The top 10% wealthiest people in the US hold 80% of the wealth. How much does one person really need?

The next question is: How much do we need to be happy? Does money really make us happy? A recent study called the Paradox of Declining Female Happiness by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers[5] looked at women’s happiness over the past 30 years in relationship to their economic power. Over the past 30 years women have made tremendous progress in their buying power. Women’s real wages have increased significantly in relationship to that of men’s. Economists expected to see a parallel increase in women’s happiness, but according to the study the contrary has happened. Women’s happiness has fallen relative to men’s across all groups. To make the point even more clear, according to an article in Scientific American, 11 percent of women and 5 percent of men take antidepressants.

The False Security of Money

How do you let go of attachment to things? Don’t even try. It’s impossible. Attachment to things drops away by itself when you no longer seek to find yourself in them.” – Eckhart Tolle

After taking a personal development seminar in 2008, I declared to my husband and friends that I would resolve my emotional and logistical money issues. I thought for sure that if I made more money, I would be happier and my money issues would disappear. I wasn’t sure how it would manifest, but I declared that I would triple my income.

Within a few weeks, I was offered my first big contract consulting job, which was exactly triple my previous income. I was ecstatic and flabbergasted. I was suddenly making $12,000 per month and putting more than half of that in the bank. After years of working in the non-profit sector, it was the first time in my life I was able to save money. I paid my bills on time and got some of my credit cards under control. While I could have easily paid off my credit cards in one month, I only paid the monthly amount due.

In six months I put more money in the bank than I made the entire previous year. I didn’t particularly like my job, but I felt secure with the money I was making. While my boredom at work increased, I kept thinking in the back of my mind, . . . “what happens if I lose my job?” I shuddered to think that I could lose this security. I was so afraid of the money not being there, that I felt constrained in all areas of my life, yet I somehow felt falsely secure and even proud of myself for “figuring it out.”  I finally felt like a grown-up.

With this false sense of security, my husband and I decided to have a baby. Our situation looked great on paper: We both had good jobs and were saving to buy our first home. I got pregnant at the end of October, just before the financial crisis hit. By February 1st 2009, the company I worked for downsized by 20 percent and I lost my contract. Because I wasn’t technically an employee, I didn’t qualify for unemployment. Within two weeks, my husband lost his job as well.

In just a few weeks, we went from earning $18,000 per month in combined income to my husband’s $1,800 per month unemployment check. Both of us immediately began looking for jobs. I had a few interviews but at nearly five months pregnant with a showing belly, it was very obvious that I wasn’t going to be a “committed employee.” As an architect with over ten years of experience, my husband received only one job offer: It paid less than unemployment.

After four months of serious job hunting, I sat down and made a realistic budget. I determined that we had six months to continue living in San Francisco before we ran out of savings. So we invited two new friends to share our three-bedroom flat. Initially I was embarrassed to think that I was going to be a new mom and yet was still living like a college kid. I felt like I didn’t have my “life” together enough to be an adult. How could I have a baby without having “it” (aka: money) figured out?

The humbling experience of “losing everything” taught me how strong the illusion of money is. Through our year without income, both my husband and I received more gifts than we could have ever imagined. We discovered our passion by working on projects together trying to find a way to make ends meet. We dove deeply into exploring what we are truly committed to creating in life. Through the gift of losing our jobs, we were able to spend almost an entire year together without going to a “job” (including the first 4 months of our son’s life). Eventually and just in the nick of time, we both found interesting work that paid barely enough to cover our living expenses. In sharing our home, we developed deep friendships with some of the most amazing people. In being vulnerable, our friends showered us with abundance and love. One of my dearest friends who worked at the farmers markets brought us a bag of fresh, locally grown grown produce every week for nearly ten months. Ironically, in the middle of a financial crisis (both personal and global), I experienced more blessings abundance, generosity and love than any other time in my life.

Through this experience, I now know that true wealth is not about how much you have in the bank, it is about how much gratitude and joy is in your life. I have come to understand that my value as a human being is not measured by my income or debt, but rather by my relationships.

How do we create the change we want to see?

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

In starting to dive deep into the exploration of new money systems, I have also been reflecting on how to shift our attitudes and behaviors around money. I think that the approach has to be two fold: 1) A systems change and 2) A personal behavior change. We need people to make new choices, using new systems that replace the old ones. In truth, we must change things fast, because our economy and ecosystem can’t deal with a debt based money system for much longer. The documentary film The Money Fix poses some interesting solutions: 1. Local Currency, and 2. Mutual Credit Systems. The challenge is implementation of these systems and the buy-in to make it a true economic shift, requiring a huge change in consumer behavior. Unfortunately our entire economic system is based on credit card debt, which allows for consumer overspending, fueling our economy backed by nothing but debt. We need systems solutions. They won’t happen overnight, but if lots of creative, brilliant women and men design new systems and make different personal choices, we might have a chance.

“Instead of asking ‘what do I want from life?’, a more powerful question is, ‘what does life want from me?’” – Eckhart Tolle

What ideas do you have?  Stay tuned for the next post diving deep into some solutions . . .

[1] Oxford English Dictionary

[2] Oxford English Dictionary

[3] US National Debt Clock,

[4] Khan, Kim. How Does Your Debt Compare.

[5] Stevenson, Betsy and Justin Wolfers, The Paradox of Declining Happiness. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2009, 1:2 190-225.