Pat O’Bryan just made what I think is a really insightful post on his blog. I’m not going to summarize what he said here, I’ll let you read it for yourself. (And it is worth reading.)
Pat’s post set off a train of thought that I want to talk about.
Money and enlightenment:
I believe that many of us here in America have an incredibly powerful belief associating poverty (or at least relative poverty) with godliness and enlightenment. We feel that somehow the most holy person is the one who has no possessions and no desire for material wealth.
So I think it’s important to look at where this belief comes from. I could be an extremely cynical person, and suggest that this belief has been encouraged by religious and political hierarchies for hundreds of years in order to keep “the people” from going after the wealth held by the hierarchy. But I’m not that cynical, so I’m not to say that.
I think we can certainly see elements of this belief in our culture over many years, going back at least to the Puritans here in America. And there are certainly other traditions in the world that holds similar values about spirituality and money. It’s possible that this sort of belief grew out of an honest desire to encourage people to not be greedy. To not seek wealth in ways that harm others.
But the more important question is: does this belief serve us?
I would never try to answer that question for you, only you can do that. But I’d like to provide some food for thought in talking about my own beliefs.
Beliefs are extremely powerful, there has been a tremendous amount of research demonstrating how important it is that people with serious illnesses have a sense of hope, a belief in the possibility of improvement and good quality of life. How over and over again it’s been demonstrated that people with hope, with that belief, do dramatically better than those who are pessimistic. I think that this is both spiritual and biological. (If you haven’t read it, check out Candace Pert’s book Molecules Of Emotion)
What we believe changes us, mentally, physically and spiritually. So I think that it’s incredibly valuable to look at our beliefs and see if they serve us. Much of what we believe is programming that we pick up as members of a culture.
From the time we are born we observe what’s going on around us, and are thereby indoctrinated into the worldview of our culture. This is basically a good thing, it’s how we come to understand the way the world works, so that we can survive in it as we continue to grow. But there’s a down side to this, we don’t get to choose the programming, it happens automatically, unconsciously. It’s been my experience that most of the difficulties in my life come from my unconscious beliefs. I’m operating based on a map which exists deep in my unconscious and it’s so deeply ingrained, that it feels unnatural to question it.
I think that questioning beliefs is incredibly important. Because this “map” is like a filter that we use to understand the universe, and where things fit in it, it’s easy to forget that it’s just a map. It is not objective reality. We as humans, are incapable of perceiving objective reality! Everything we look at, everything we hear or see is filtered through the map of our programming and experience.
When I look at the idea of spirituality in relationship to money, and do my best to set aside my programming, here’s what I come up with:
I believe there are people who have experienced a call to a type of spiritual practice that involves some level of material poverty. I think that is fine for those people, if that’s the call they are experiencing.
I also believe that there are people who through their spiritual practice, following their path, have come to a point where having many material possessions is not something that they want. I think that’s also fine for those people.
But most of all I believe that each of us has our own path, that we live in a universe of infinite possibility. I believe that just because something is right for someone, even a very great someone, does not mean that it’s right for anyone else. I believe that it’s up to each of us to discern our particular call.
This is not the easy way! I do believe that it’s the best way, at least it’s the right way for me. It’s up to you to decide what’s right for you.