Money has been the man behind the curtain of my life, the invisible wizard who has dictated the terms of my existence even though I never gave him my permission to do so.
I grew up in an upper-middle-class family, but have struggled with money through most of my adult life. I never seem to have enough. When money dictates that I shall not do something (“I can’t afford it!”), I don’t do it.
Or, sometimes, I try to defy money. “Oh yeah? Just watch me do this thing anyway that you said I couldn’t do. I’ll borrow what I need and I’ll trust life to support me and somehow I’ll have enough to pay it back. You’ll see, money!”
Almost inevitably after doing this, I crash. I can’t pay back the debt. New expenses come up and there isn’t enough (I think) for me to continue paying for a decent life and pay off the debt.
So, the debt mounts. Sometimes I think life has betrayed me for not stepping in and magically plopping a big fat pile of money in my hands. Sometimes I think I am incompetent, a failure who will never make a good subject in the kingdom of money. I just don’t know how to do what it wants me to do.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the subject of money, and I came across this quote in a book called The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist:
“There is little that we accept so completely as the power and authority of money, and assumptions about how we should feel about it. We challenge assumptions about every other facet of life: race, religion, politics, education, sex, family, and society. But when it comes to money, we accept it not only as a measure of economic value but also as a way of assigning importance and worth to everyone and everything else in the world. When we talk about success in life, money is almost always the first, and sometimes the only, measure we use for it.”
I’ve allowed money to remain, for me, a monolithic black box. Like the mystery monoliths that appeared at critical junctures in 2001: A Space Odyssey, money never has to explain itself but has the power to guide the unfolding of events.
I’ve been puzzled, watching money go in and come out of my life over the past eight or nine years of living more or less on my own. I’ve been sitting at the foot of money’s throne, just waiting to see what it would do next.
A few nights ago, I had a eureka moment. In earth-based spiritual traditions within which I practice, each cardinal direction (east, south, west and north) has a corresponding element (air, fire, water and earth) as well as a characteristic energy. I realized that I could view money through each of these four lenses, and when I did, it transformed in interesting ways. It became more malleable and forgiving as I saw that it could be a conduit for more than shame and rebellion.
I saw that I have the ability to direct money according to my vision, to be the sovereign, surveying all corners of my realm and setting the boundaries within which money may operate.
East/Air: Money is a reflection of my choices.
The east, where things move as quickly and lightly as air, is the place of ideas and inspiration, the new perspective that appears suddenly to give a whole train of thought a new turn. The east is also the place of choice, of separating one thing from another. No new beginning can be made without choice.
I have tended to value small luxuries over being able to pay off my debts. I have made the choice over and over to give a higher priority to a five-dollar coffee or chocolate bar than to my relationships with those to whom I owe money. This becomes obvious to me when there is always money for coffee or chocolate but never money for paying my debts.
In the east, however, things can change almost instantaneously, at the speed of thought. In the moment when I decide to prioritize something differently, I have made a new beginning.
South/Fire: Money is a manifestation of my ability to influence the world, to make things happen.
The south is where sparks fly, where one moment there is nothing and the next there is exponential fiery growth leading to a powerful blaze. Situations may be totally transformed. Intensity and action push things forward.
When I have no money, I have diminished power to do anything, and not just for myself. I cannot give to causes I support. I cannot help a friend in need. I cannot invest in the creation of a business whose purpose is to offer sustenance and support to others.
Like a flame being passed from one candle to another, money is a force that can be transferred. What I do with money affects more than just me. I can take responsibility for even the tiniest spark, the tiniest bit of wealth I have, knowing its potency.
West/Water: Money is a constant flow of giving and receiving.
In the west, the tides are always going in and out. Things swirl like water and cycle from one form to another, never staying the same for long. What comes must be given back eventually, or risk becoming a stagnant pool of disease-spawning muck.
I don’t need to keep a balance sheet of who gave what to me and what I owe in return, but I need to know that if I allow the cycle of giving and receiving to skew too far to one side or the other, I will run into trouble.
If I am always the one asking to borrow money but never donating any, I become energetically bloated, full of what I’ve been given but not properly digesting it, not allowing it to move on to the next place where it may do good. And, there isn’t any room for anything new to come in. If I am always the one helping others but not providing for myself, I haven’t left enough time for the spaces within myself to fill. What I give out will be thin and of poor quality.
Money is always striving to move. Will I get in its way, or will I help smooth its course?
North/Earth: Money is a physical form.
The north is the place of the concrete and practical, the place of the efficient, time-tested path. It is the rock that has been there for ages. It is the plant that grows by striking a balance between its inherent nature and the constraints of its environment. The north is also the place of the ancestors, those who walked the path of life before us (just think of all the dead presidents featured on our money!).
This is money in its most familiar guise: coins, bills, credit and debit cards, even our bank balance viewed on a screen in cold, hard numbers. Here, money is a fact. I either have it or I don’t. I can wish I had more, but some kind of concrete exchange needs to happen first. It won’t just magically appear.
Earth is the densest of the four elements, the one that takes the most effort and persistence to move. Both strategy and time are needed. Neither one by itself can make much difference. Time alone will just keep giving me more of the same thing, and strategy alone will have me frustrated and giving up too soon when results don’t show right away.
Learning some of the innovative ways others have worked with money can actually be fun. I can learn from the rule makers and the rule breakers. I don’t have to use the exact same strategies as anyone else, but my observations of what others have done can help me better understand the deep structure of money as humans have designed it over the past 3000 or so years.
I am on a journey with money.
I am beginning to see its potential. I am letting it teach me rather than dictate to me. No doubt more possibilities will open up in time.
I’m just glad to be back on the throne.
Jayleigh Lewis is a writer who will one day write a book. She currently works as a spiritual advisor to college students as well as a freelance editor. She has a dream that one day humans will remember the integral role ceremony has in our lives and will learn to create sacred spaces within which intention may manifest. Learn more about her dream and read more of her words on her blog.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta