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Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Money is a problem because it seems both very important and also a little nasty.

The world of new age spirituality doesn't like nastiness, but also wants to make money.

A few different ideas have emerged to solve this problem.

Some of these ideas are helpful. But three in particular I believe cause more harm than good.

Spiritual Lie #1: “Money is just energy.”

Money is not “just energy,” except in the way that everything is “just energy.” People call it that because they’re horrified of what it really is, and would rather live in blissful denial than confront the bloody, gritty, material truth.

Money is a very specific kind of energy—one with some incredibly hardcore elements and associations, some of which are quite beautiful and some of which are not.

A few of the most important ones:

  • power

  • obligation

  • vengeance

  • friendship

  • law

  • violence

  • resentment

  • pleasure

And the list goes on.

Now while it may be possible to stay in a marriage while ignoring or shaming key aspects of your spouse’s soul, that marriage will gradually stagnate and rot.

This is also the case in your relationship to money.

If you want to develop a powerful relationship with anything, you need to become intimate with every part of it. You can’t simply choose to avoid the parts that feel distasteful.

Money is a character in our world. It has a personality. It has a soul. And you are in relationship with that soul.

If you want the relationship to be powerful, you need to treat it with the same kind of love as you would a human relationship.

That means becoming intimate with all parts of it—vengeance, resentment, friendship, pleasure, and all the rest.

You can make a good amount of money without doing so. But something will always be off in your relationship to it—just as something will always be off in your human partnerships when there is an aspect of your partner that you refuse to accept.

Spiritual Lie #2: “Making money is all about having an abundance mindset.”

Abundance simply means a large amount, a "more-than-enoughness." But the term in connection to mindset was originally popularized in the late 80’s, by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

An abundance mindset in Covey’s original sense is one in which the goods of the world, especially “successes,” are seen as not scarce.

Covey’s contention is that people who succeed at a high level often transcend the experience of competition for finite resources and rewards.

The popular meaning of “abundance mindset” today is a little different than Covey's. It’s the lovechild of Covey’s term and the Law of Attraction teachings exemplified in Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret. (Law of Attraction teachings are based in the belief that the mind creates reality, and thus that positive thoughts create positive realities.)

So the “abundance mindset” born of these two frameworks is one in which you attain success through a relentless commitment to having thoughts about success—ideally with the line between future and present success somewhat blurred as a result of actively perceiving the unlimited bounty of reality.

This kind of abundance mindset doesn’t sound so terrible. Thinking positively, perceiving bounty—what could be wrong with that?

Well, a lot of things. The two most important are that (1) abundance is only half of the truth, and (2) Thinking positively is appallingly rude to the subconscious.

1) Abundance is only half of the truth

Life is finite. Perceived lack isn’t merely a delusion; it’s grounded in a very real aspect of existence. There are a finite number of dollars in your bank account. There are a finite number of square feet in your house. There are a finite number of breaths before you die.

All great art and beauty is born partly from this finite quality, and the sense of limitation that accompanies it. Love owes its urgency to death. Innovation is inspired by insufficiency. Songs derive their sweetness from the longing born of brevity.

Read a single Shakespeare sonnet and try to maintain a pure abundance mindset. To focus entirely on the bounty of life is to either ignore or deny half of it—the half perhaps most responsible for its profound beauty.

2) Thinking positively is appallingly rude to the subconscious

It may be true that the mind in some way creates reality. Whether you’re a cognitive-behavioral therapist, a scientist observing that all of perceived reality is a kind of brain-born hologram, or a hermetic witch changing your world by changing your soul, the idea has real value.

But thoughts exist in the conscious mind. And the conscious mind is a tiny sliver of your being. To use conscious brute-force to try to will the world into a new shape that your subconscious disagrees with is incredibly disrespectful to your subconscious.

And, given the kind of power that the subconscious mind seems to have, you may want to think twice before aggressively bossing it around.

Spiritual lie #3: “You need to...”

I used to spend money as soon as I made it. As a result, I would oscillate between steak dinners and literally eating out of trash cans.

I have friends and clients who have never experienced anything like this. They were raised to budget, to save, and to maximize financial security at all costs.

It’s a good thing that there are resources in the world trying to improve people’s relationship with money. But suggesting the exact same path of improvement to each person is insane.

If you've compulsively saved since you were 12, you will not significantly improve your financial life by taking on a new and rigorous budgeting system.

Similarly, if you've always compulsively spent everything you've made, you will not benefit by being told to “spend as if you had your dream income.” (This is a common piece of advice in the "money manifestation" world.)

Your relationship to receiving, to generosity, to debt, to risk, to planning, to work, to love—all of these things, and many more, are woven into the practical and psychological financial system of your soul.

That means that any truly useful prescription for practice needs to take at least some of these things into account.

"You need to just appreciate what you have”; “you need to follow your desire and buy everything you want”; “you need to tithe at 10%”—each of these suggestions may have some wisdom in it. But to simply practice one blindly as a cure-all is like taking the same medication every time you feel any sort of ill.

So how do we treat money instead?

That depends on exactly who you are and exactly what you want.

But whatever the answers are to those two questions, the most effective approach is guaranteed to be an honest one.

And an honest approach will honor the realities of money. It will honor the fact that money was born of both goodwill and vengeance; that it is inextricably bound up with grudges and debt; that it has inspired slavery and war, and enabled some of the greatest achievements of human art; that it is a nearly bottomless source of power, with the capacity to persuade human beings to commit atrocities or allow them to create dazzling beauty and joy; and that it is as poetic a reflection of the nature of the cosmos as it is an embarrassment to human dignity.

It will reflect the comprehensive nature of reality—as both abundant and finite, spiritual and practical, infinitely complex and impossibly simple.

And most of all, it will be an approach born from and crafted for the unique blueprint of the human being taking it on.

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