I’ve decided the USPS’s “Informed Delivery,” an email service available in the U.S. which alerts you to incoming daily mail, should probably be called “Panic Attack Now” for those of us with anxiety problems. I recently received an email letting me know a letter was coming from the IRS. I wasn’t expecting a letter from the IRS, so I spent the next four hours in an absolute hysteria, binge eating pizza and reading every document online about the potential contents of letters from the IRS I could find. The letter, inconsequentially, was a notice about an online request I’d made. Nothing owed, nothing in error, four hours of my life wasted in service to the two-headed beast of anxiety and greed.
For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I decided to put my vast experience at freaking out over financial matters to use. I started this blog with posts about “Goddessing On a Budget” and have made significant improvements to my financial health in recent months, but, nonetheless, I consistently return to money worries day in and day out. I determined to spend some time here exploring the connection between money, definitions of wealth and spiritual practices within a Goddess Spirituality framework.
Who’s in Charge: Our Relationship with Money
I sometimes find myself wondering if I own money or if I am being owned by money. I’ve decided to conceptualize the way in which I connect to money as a relationship. Even on the surface, questions immediately arise. If I see money as a representation of material resources that have been transferred to me, ostensibly as a result of my labor, what can I do to engage in healthy stewardship of this possession? I believe that many of us see money instead as a reflection of our inner value, merit and basic “goodness” and we evaluate our self-worth accordingly. We allow money, wealth and income to serve as our master instead of our deserved and needed companion. We indenture ourselves to its whims and exalt its benefits, even while our lust for it remains unsatiated. We act as masochists, willing to prostitute ourselves with hour after hour of drudgery, thrashing at the chains of our self-imprisonment in its gleam. When a windfall or raise comes our way, we are kings and queens, either showering the excess on parades through shopping malls or sitting alone in our miserly office, stacking and restacking each coin, refusing others and ourselves even a few tokens of joy.
One of the reasons I think we often have an unhealthy relationship with money is that it is a resource embedded with a myriad of systems, most of which are inherently unfair and unjust. We may rightly earn a certain quantity of money through honest effort and energy while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that the structure through which we came about it is corrupt and benefits the few at great cost to the many. I cannot do justice within the context of this article to articulating the tentacles of greed and avarice winding through the employment and financial structure of American society. My own financial future hangs in the balance as I am planning to apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in a few years. As of the writing of this post, there is a bill being drafted in Congress to rescind this program. Because of the interest rate, I have six figures at stake. I detest with a passion the idea that a few hundred men at the seat of power in America have the ability to sign or not sign legislation that, with one stroke of the pen, would completely alter the course of my life. The tiny sliver of insight that has been opened to me through this experience has compelled me to contemplate what the daily struggle must be like for those who, by no fault of their own, were born with characteristics that put them at a much greater mercy to the systems of influence in which we find ourselves.
Despite my realizations about the inequitable situation in which we each find ourselves, there is something in me that chaffs at the idea of money being completely disentangled from labor. In a strictly financial sense, I’ve lived the American dream. I came from very little with no one in my family having a college education, and was able to get my doctorate degree and a well-paying job. I did so in part on the graciousness of long-dead scholarship endowment sponsors, but also through my own tenaciousness and determination. Because of my resulting tendency towards individualism, I feel internally conflicted over the idea that money and possession as things that are not actually “owned” by anyone but are instead best understood as the property of all. This idea rings true for many who practice Goddess Spirituality, engage in feminist thought or live a minimalist lifestyle and who believe society would benefit from increased interdependence and communal living. I’ve even come across a few people who have rejected the concept of money entirely. If we allow for ideas of cooperative living to enter our collective consciousness, we have tremendous work to do in order to achieve these goals on a even a small scale. How we better society in order to more equally distribute resources is a task I hope there are minds strong and able enough to realize progress within my lifetime.
Poverty of Soul/Inner Riches
In certain corners of the various religious and spiritual traditions to which I’ve been privy, I’ve come across a recurring theme of wealth and prosperity. The basic idea of each of these subgroups is that if one prays/believes/casts spells/ practices enough, one will acquire material possessions and riches. A fundamental lack within this viewpoint is to ask whether or not becoming rich is a worthy goal. Without a doubt, there is a minimal threshold of income or resources below which life becomes very challenging. It angers me to see spiritual practitioners of any faith exploiting impoverished individuals, parting them from the little money they do have in order to grow their riches. There are absolutely “female lifestyle empowerment brands” that hone directly on these needs within women and which seek to take advantage of a women’s desire to become enlightened or spiritual.
Although money matters, I believe focusing on money, wealth, status or possession above other life goals such as relationships with self and others is an invitation to additional suffering and emptiness. Research has consistently demonstrated that having more money does not lead to happiness once we reach a certain income level. I’ve lived on both sides of the tipping point; it has taken me years on the plus side of it to see how much the additional work I was doing to continue to increase my income each year was bringing me down rather than building me up.
Not everyone has the privilege of being able to say that they have enough money consistently or to even renegotiate their relationship with income. If we are facing challenging times financially, I believe these moments offer us an opportunity to value our inner strengths and to find comfort in our collective struggle. We all have a wealth of internal characteristics that allow us to weather difficult moments; giving yourself permission to notice and appreciate these abilities despite financial setbacks may help to refocus your minds and allow you to move forward with handling the situation instead of beating yourself up for poor planning or blaming the situation for being unfair (even if one or both of those things is also true). There are also many resources dedicated to developing a sharing community instead of one based on competition.
Whether we are struggling to make ends meet or to reduce our cravings for “more” in the way of status and possessions, meeting our spiritual needs consistently may allow us to align our thoughts about money to reasonable terms. I genuinely fight with this on a regular basis; I seem to be able to have a rich spiritual life or a healthy budget, but both at the same time feels outside of my grasp. Paying attention is always the first step for me in realizing when the scale has tipped too far in the “I must have all the pretties and meditate 3 times a day” or the “I will record every purchase and spend an hour a day budgeting for the next two years” side of things. Both are important, both are valuable, and the other goals I have in life such as developing deep relationships, improving my physical health and connecting with nature also need time in the rotation. Spending time in ritual that centers around our relationship with money may be one way in which we can improve our relationship with our finances.
Acceptance and Empowerment Ritual
As with any spiritual practice I share, customize this ritual to your own needs and preferences.
For the acceptance aspect of this ritual, I see the purpose as twofold. First, I want to us to engage in acknowledgment of our inability to plan for everything and of the competitiveness and desire for comfort that are a part of human nature. Secondly, I want us to release beliefs about the connection between wealth and spirituality—in essence—the false belief that good people/behaviors are rewarded, and that bad people/behaviors are punished. As I’ve stated in other writings, I’ve seen way too much evil in this world to believe in karma and just desserts.
For the empowerment aspect of this ritual, I wanted to focus on developing a healthier relationship with money. I chose themes such as individual money management and advocacy for more equality in our financial systems as potential focal points. Taking time to set concrete goals or to explore the beliefs we hold about these topics may free us from automatic assumptions and behaviors that disempower and limit our financial lives.
Teacup and hot water
Journal and pen
Five popsicle type sticks. Write the following phrases on each one: 1. Personal money management. 2. Stewardship of money. 3. Gratitude for bounty. 4. Positive systems of influence. 5. Advocacy for equality. OR choose 5 phrases that represent empowering financial concepts to you and write one each on the sticks.
- Cast a circle and call in any elements or Deities that you wish to have present.
- Brew the tea.
- Spend time contemplating your beliefs about how much control you “should” have over money, how much you desire more money, and the extent to which you think being “good” or acting positively will lead to more income. Write your beliefs on the slips of paper.
- The green in the tea here symbolizes greed, envy and desire. Rather than reject or deny these emotions, allow yourself to explore them. What do they look like or feel like? Where are they held in your body? What behaviors do they lead to? Sip the tea as you allow yourself to connect with your envy. Is there any emotion or thought underneath of it? Any desire that it is hiding? I often realize my envy is rooted in wanting to be accepted and loved by others, for instance. Feel free to journal about any self-discoveries you make.
- Roll up the slips of paper and tie them with twine. If you wish to do so, you can connect them and hang them up in a location where you will see them when engaging in financial matters as a reminder to check in with yourself and your thoughts in your relationship with money. You can also rid yourself of them if you wish to symbolize releasing them.
- Lay out the five coins in the shape of a pentagram. Begin to lay the sticks to connect the coins in an order that feels intuitively aligned for you. As you place each stick, read the phrase and contemplate one or two aspects of the concept with which you wish to be empowered. For instance, when placing “positive systems of influence,” I determined to learn more about things like micro-lending and other investment tools that focus on giving money to those who truly need it instead of corporate shareholders. Feel free to journal your ideas. You may want to light a candle in the center to symbolize your growing empowerment in your financial life. You can leave the arrangement as a reminder for a period of time, or, if you are crafty enough, fashion a decoration out of it using the twine.
- Close the circle, thanking any elements and Deities that you invited.
If you choose to enact any part of this ritual, either as a spiritual practice or as an experiential inner work session, feel free to share your insights. I would also welcome your reflections on your relationship with money and financial systems. Lastly, I invite discussion of the activities in which you engage to balance your focus on the various goals and aspirations which you set for yourself.