Earning and Spending Soul
All of my lectures and workshops revolve like planets in tight orbit around a central theme: how do we express and demonstrate our spiritual understanding? What do awareness, consciousness, and realization look like when those words take shape and move into the world within a body of values, choices, commitments, and actions?
This area of inquiry is what I term engaged spirituality. But even as I write that phrase, and every time I say it, I hear in the back of my mind something Mark Twain once said, "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself." Authentic spirituality does not require the qualifying adjective "engaged"—it is repetitive. Authentic spirituality is automatically engaged: insight and action are as inseparable as flower and fragrance. The only way to impede the natural movement of insight toward corresponding action is if one builds delusional dams of such naïve notions as: there is no self, the world is not real, and nothing matters, everything is pure consciousness.
Just as we work to refine our inner sight, we must work to clarify our outer actions, so that they accurately and appropriately reflect our deepening insight and wisdom. This inside/outside work is what I call spiritual activism, and it implies a high degree of personal responsibility and honesty about our values and our choices. Spiritual activism refers to all the ways in which we actualize—make real through action—our spiritual understanding. I've encountered considerable resistance to this notion of insight and action being one and the same within spiritual communities. People don't always want to look at the relationship between what they say and what they do. There is a lot of unconsciousness in this area. There is a lot of hypocrisy. Awareness and action are one thing, and we must speak of them as one thing. We must hold each other accountable to this truth, and to whether there is the same truth in our actions as in our words. In this regard, I cannot do better than to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
Money is perhaps the biggest blind spot when it comes to awareness of, and responsibility for, our actions as expressions of our spiritual insight. MONEY. The word alone is enough to take your breath away, isn't it? Until we look at our relationship with money square in the eye, until we wash each penny earned and each one spent with our full awareness and conscious choice, our spiritual light will be dim, our spiritual power will be weak, our spiritual heart will be closed.
In our culture, money stands proudly on the same podium with religion, politics, and sex, as hot buttons for reactivity and trapdoors for good intentions. Money is hot-wired to a lot of emotional and psychological buttons. Money triggers life and death issues for us, since it is connected to our physical survival and well-being. Money triggers egoistic issues, since it is connected to status and privilege. Money triggers entitlement and abuse issues, since it is connected to power and authority. Money triggers self-esteem issues, since it is connected to an individual's worth. Money triggers so many things, doesn't it, and I wonder how many we are aware of? How many issues around money do we look squarely in the eye, and then do the same deep work we do as when we are trying to find our way to the soul?
Our beliefs—conscious or unconscious—about money will determine whether or not our life choices and actions are a real and true expression of our inner understanding. How we earn and spend our money may be the surest compass with which to locate the North Star of our spiritual journey to Oneness, and to wisdom, love, and compassion.
As spiritual beings, we say we are generous, but are we? We say we are compassionate, but are we? We say we are selfless and concerned for others, but are we? We say we care about the environment, about fair trade and socially responsible business practices, about social justice-but do we? I think that how we earn and spend money tells us the truth, and it may be a truth we'd rather not see. I wonder what we might learn about a person if we were to simply watch how they earned and spent money for one month, without being able to hear anything they said.
I remember an interesting lesson about being conscious with money. Years ago, I was reviewing a project budget of several hundred thousand dollars with my spiritual teacher, Swami Muktananda. He asked his customary laser-questions, all of which I was able to answer. I was able to account for and explain every expense and entry. But then, as I was leaving his room, he asked me about the leftover lunch money which our produce buyer had turned in to petty cash after an all-day trip to Manhattan. How much was it? he asked. I didn't know, but guessed it was around a dollar. He looked at me with a gaze I couldn't return, and could hardly endure. He asked if my work as one of his foundation managers was too much for me. No, I said. He asked if I respected the money he had entrusted to my care, on his behalf. Yes, I do respect your money. And round and round we went. He couldn't fathom how I wasn't aware of what happened with the dollar or so of returned lunch money. For him, awareness of Self and awareness of a dollar were not different. He was forever telling us that money was the shakti, the spiritual energy, of the world. His respect, care, and consideration for money—not the concept, not the abstraction, but each and every penny—were absolute. You could watch him make money choices and know the true state of his heart, motives, values, and character. His example and teachings in this area of awareness of money choices is a level of non-dual attainment the current crop of non-dual teachers can't even imagine, and more's the pity on that score.
It's easy to see how our money choices fertilize our attitudes and nourish our habits. It's also easy to see how our money choices enable and empower social institutions. Every time we spend money, we are saying yes to a galaxy of cultural values, assumptions, and structures: from the exorbitant salaries of CEOs to the quality of education to the availability of affordable health care. Half of every one of your tax dollars goes to the Pentagon, and you are proportionately responsible for everything the Pentagon does: you have enabled and empowered its choices with your money. It would thus be wise to help determine what the Pentagon does with your money—your spiritual energy—wouldn't it?
Money is an expression of our attention and intention; thus, what we do with our money demonstrates the quality of our attention and the clarity of our intention. How closely aligned are our money choices with our most important values and our aspirations and hopes for ourselves, others, and for the world in which we live? Our money choices are a form of worship, and our money choices show us what we honor, respect, and love.
When you attend a lecture or event with a "by donation" entry fee, what goes through your mind? How much, or how little do you donate, and why? Do you go through the same process when you fork over nine dollars for a movie, and another nine for popcorn and a soda? What is behind your complaints, fears, and withholds around money? Do you believe in abundance, or scarcity? Do you believe you're a better person driving a BMW than an old Honda? Do you feel that you "own" people to whom you pay money? Do you get mad at poor people? At rich people? Do the tides of your self-worth and self-confidence rise and fall according to your cash reserves? What dreams of passionate self-expression have you betrayed for financial security? How much money is enough? How much is not enough? Can you look a street person in the eye as you pass by? What does the money you have serve and support, other than your own personal needs?
It's a good idea to find out if your money choices speak for your truth and stand for your heart in this world. Looking into all of this is hard work, I promise you. It's a lot easier to blow the whole thing off, but in so doing, you would also blow off your soul and the possibility of living a truly meaningful, noble, and majestic life.
I urge everyone to begin looking at his or her relationship to money squarely in the eye. Work with some of the questions I've posed in this article, or come up with some of your own. Ask your teachers to tell the truth about their relationship to money, if they can. Don't cut any corners on this inquiry. By all means, sit like granite or glacier through a hundred years of silent meditation, but spend as long seeing into the buying and selling of soul. Become aware of the countless effects your pennies and dollars have, in your name.
Money is a sacred emblem of our heart, and our money choices are as true an indication of our spiritual character as can ever exist.