Money Trouble

June 6, 2012

Karl Marx opined that “religion is the opium of the people,” meaning that it helps mollify the masses by feeding them promises of a better experience after death, and thus denudes the oppressed of their zeal for social change.

I’ve had friends and clients who have been in trouble with serious drugs, including heroin, which is an opiate.  One of my first clients at a community clinic was a woman who was on Methadone—a drug used as a low-cost government-funded treatment for opiate addiction.  She went every day for her Methadone shot, a drug that did not get her high, while blocking the painful effects of kicking heroin.  Thus she was addicted to a drug that didn’t get her high as a treatment against a drug that did.

In this context I would myself opine that money has become the Methadone of the people.  While religion at least promised ecstasy, if you were good, after death; money promises feelings of superiority, safety, abundance and coolness (“A million dollars isn’t cool.  You know what is?  A billion dollars.” The Social Network) while still alive.  But money simply doesn’t deliver.  It’s a dirty burning drug whose high is as short as crack and as powerful as aspirin (it takes away headaches, I’ll admit, but never really sends you anywhere cosmic).

While coins in the U.S. had “In God We Trust” emblazoned on them ever since a bid to suggest that God was on the side of the Union in the 1860s, and later this motto crept onto paper money at the height of the Cold War—asserting that we were different from communists who were atheists, perhaps the real problem with our current addiction is not the verbiage but the money itself.  Not to insult pigs, but cloaking money in the word “God,” is lipstick on a pig, particularly when the paper’s value itself is as flimsy as the emperor’s non-existent new clothes.

Yes we need housing, and we need food, and we need health care, education and infrastructure, but those actual goods and services have been so deeply confabulated with money as to have us convinced that money is the problem and the answer (how much talk of the “economy,” and whose fault and how to fix can we stand as our actual lives as a nation fail to get safer, healthier, better educated, etc.?).

The debacle that is Facebook’s IPO is akin to a dead canary in a coalmine—a sad and alarming sign that it’s time to leave the toxic zone that pretends that money is so cool.  Being kind is cool.  Being authentic is cool.  Being loving is cool.  Being rich…?  Not so much.

Maybe we might dare to re-think what success actually is.  Working hard and providing goods and services to others, and reaping rewards for this (material and spiritual) seems cool; but ripping people off, asserting that “greed is good,” and being petty, mean and cruel to others, no matter how much, or little, money one has is not cool.

We have been cowed by Shadow pigs—the Shadow of our empty and frightened selves, hungry ghosts that they can never be filled.  But we need to cultivate compassion for those empty, scared, greedy projections of our own dark aspects who honestly feel that they do not have enough even when they have millions, for it is either unconscious fear or wounded cynicism that prompts our archetypal con-artists and hucksters to treat fellow humans as suckers here for the taking.

Our economic quagmire will not change by tax law, or by banking regulation; it will change if and when the zeitgeist sees 50,000 square foot homes and private jets and says, “That’s not cool.”  When it becomes un-cool to be wasteful and ostentatious we will have a drastic reduction in greed and corruption—as the quest for money beyond a nice home and a nest egg is largely a quest to be “look at me” cool.  And that’s so un-cool.

I’m not talking about taking anything away from the rich, save for attention and idealization.  Let them play alone in their big empty lives and let’s get our own eyes on the real prize:  fun, community, connection, creativity, good food, music, sport, even spirituality in an earthy, American, Walden Pond Whitmanesque leaves of grass sort of way.

When we fear the future we are suckers ripe and ready to be milked of our lunch-money.

It is a radical thing to be happy, secure and free.  This means that we can savor our pleasures and treasures in what we already have.  Can anyone reading this blog truly not afford a hot dog (tofu is fine)?  A slice of apple pie?  A walk (we don’t need a car to have an American Dream)?  Scientific research tells us that the small things bring happiness while the big do not.

Washington and Wall Street truly don’t get it.  But how cool are they, really, with their 80-hour workweeks and hollow celebrations of excess (not to mention their all-too-often neglected and messed-up children)?  How much are you personally hungering and wishing to hang out with top earning Wall Streeters and power players in Washington?  Those kinds of dinners are strictly work, always working for the next angle, the next deal (all in manic denial of where the body of rich and poor alike end up, which is dead.  And as for spirit, who can truly say?  But how much does your spirit care for money?).

Don’t get me wrong here, my kid’s off to college next year and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to pay for it, not to mention the next three years and my younger one after that.  But at least I know what I’m working for, and it’s not so that they can attain the American Dream of being rich, but rather a better and deeper American Dream of being free.  For that it helps to have an education, but it could also work to have a trade or a craft, ways that our kids can grow up and deeply participate in their world, not rise above it, fly above it or live out of touch with it.  To be free is to learn how to love, and for that the world is a blossom opening to our loving kindness.

I’m not writing to the masses, I’m writing to my friends, my blogging community and to kindred spirits that may happen across these words.  We live all across this great country, and we’re neither super-rich nor are we fools.  But I trust, perhaps even know in my bones, that we truly want the best for each other and for our collective children, and also for people and children we might not know.  Maybe as our consciousness rises, naturally and organically, we may see with clearer eyes and softer hearts and discover in some slightly magical way that we are already living the lives we most deeply yearn for; and out of the love and happiness and gratitude of our realization of our spiritual wealth and our eternally present situation, our sincere and myriad loves may ripple into cross-currents of rising courage, compassion and resolve to live according to what our deepest and best Selves feel to be right—a sense of Self that includes each other and our vast and mysteriously lovely, albeit sometimes painful and terrifying, world.

Sincerely doing our best and wanting a better world is precisely what everyone in this country believes they are doing.  May the best and most enlightened ideas win out, and soothe the rest—for the sake of us all.

Let the sand trickle through the hourglass

Of all our figuring

Let’s relinquish it all to the beach

And begin again

To build a sand castle

That while surely it cannot last

Shall be fun to make

And dance around

Until the tide claims it

And the sea swells big and mysterious

Once again

And we make our sandy way up

To dinner and stories

And dreams under starry skies

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Wolf Pascoe June 6, 2012 at 10:16 pm

This is so right and wise and so beautifully said.

“…it’s not so that they can attain the American Dream of being rich, but rather a better and deeper American Dream of being free.”

Makes me want to jump up and down and shout, Bruce for President!


mark June 7, 2012 at 6:10 am

Hi Bruce,
Interesting read. It goes to show the wisdom in the framing of the phrase of the founders, choosing ” the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” over the right to pursuit of money or property, which was the original wording. Hope all is well with you and yours with both of us sending our oldest off to college in the fall.


Mark June 7, 2012 at 6:48 am

Bruce, through luck and hard work, when my daughter was little, her mother and I found ourselves doing very well financially. One afternoon I picked my daughter up from her third grade class after school and she was crying. When I asked her why, she said: “The other kids don’t want to play with me … because we’re rich.” An important lesson, I think in how money so easily engenders and supports the illusion of separation.


TheKitchenWitch June 7, 2012 at 7:56 am

We are working hard to show our girls that not everyone lives the way we (and others around us) do. I have to explain that yes, family ______________ has a pool in their backyard, and that’s great, but that will not and cannot happen for our family.

My husband and I talk often about how, if we are not careful, our girls will become quite entitled, and that’s a huge fear. Gratitude– for even the smallest things– needs to hit home.


BigLittleWolf June 7, 2012 at 10:26 am

This kindred spirit could not agree more, and we will never come close to redefining our American dream or our more global possibilities of coexistence until we understand that we can only accomplish it together.

“Being kind is cool. Being authentic is cool. Being loving is cool. Being rich…? Not so much.”

Absolutely true.

But being poor is terrifying. Ignoring the poor is inhuman. Seeing those who are poor and being unable to help is disheartening. We must stop dismissing entire groups of people as though they are invisible. And the poor, I fear, are exactly that.


pamela June 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm

This really hit home for me. Our family is living in a hotel room now, and while we are not poor, we are homeless (for 6 weeks anyway). I had a couple of days freaking out that maybe we WERE poor and then another day wondering why that was so disturbing to me, that while I thought I was beyond this, clearly I value money and status entirely too much. I have been talking to my other hotel-mates and have been discovering what is always true – that we are all rich and poor, seeing and blind, and at our core, all the same. LOVE the poem. Literally, we are now making

our sandy way up

To dinner and stories

And dreams under starry skies


rebecca @ altared spaces June 14, 2012 at 6:36 am

I believe that the internet is giving us all an opportunity to establish a new economy of cool. A tide pool of connection in which to play and rewrite the rules of what’s important. Money might be on the list (because I like my home and a warm muffin from time to time) but I celebrate with you that there are other ways to omph up the party.


helga November 13, 2012 at 12:46 am

Thank you so much for these words. I came across your blog while googeling. And you phrase it just perfect. The whole story aplies for Europe aswell. We even do have the American dream, only it is not phrased like that, the idea is here. Anyway, just wanted to say how cool you are for sharing your thoughts. Nice to know that there are more people out there who share the same thoughts. And to easy to just consume a nice blogartical without posting something of apreciation back. You are cool!


Bruce November 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Hi Helga,

Thanks for these very kind words—seems uncool not to thank you in return as well. Here’s to a world of authenticity and compassion—maybe we all find each other by way of honesty and discover that we’re not as alone as we might sometimes fear.

All Best Wishes, Bruce


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