Along with all and sundry, I’ve been tagged by Slade of Shift Your Spirits to talk about money — everybody’s favorite topic. Slade’s got a neat twist on it that’s worth exploring: an exercise he picked up from Morgana Rae. Since money is such an abstract concept — for many of us, it simply flows in and out of our lives, and we’re never sure exactly how much we have, or why — he suggests we personify money and establish a relationship with it. Give it a face, give it name, and think about the relationship you have with it. Is it a healthy relationship? Is there plenty of give-and-take? Is Money someone you’d want to take home and meet your mother?
And the exercise takes it a step further: once you’ve figured out who Money is, figure out who you want Money to be. If Money isn’t Mr. or Mrs. Right, dump the loser and create a new Money for yourself — someone with a nice smile, who makes you laugh, maybe even takes you on whirlwind tours of Europe and lets you use that little vacation villa in Aruba whenever you want.
When Slade first mentioned this exercise back at the beginning of March, I thought it was a great idea, so I’ve been working on it for several weeks. The first part of the exercise was to figure out who your “Old Money” is: what has your relationship with money been like in the past? I’ve realized I actually had two kinds of money in my life, and so I needed two separate personifications.
The Rich Heiress. This is the conception of money that I got from my mother; and in fact, my mother could easily have been “the rich heiress” herself, if (a) she had actually gotten the money she was entitled to, and (b) she hadn’t decided to live the life of a Zen ascetic. My mother’s family was rich, but the family’s assets came under the control of her uncle, who never did a lick of work of his life, and frittered away almost the entire family fortune by living high on the hog for 30 years. So this old Money really was Old Money. In my mind, Old Money was an older woman, filthy rich, and obsessed with keeping up appearances. I would bump into her at parties, where she was always dressed in a sequined evening gown with pearls and gemstones everywhere, smoking a cigarette. She valued witty, cynical conversation, but had nothing but disdain for a hard days work, or the poor, or the helpless. Everything was about who you knew and what parties you attended. If you played her games and fawned on her, she might give you an allowance; but I despised her and would have nothing to do with her.
The Plant Manager. The only other version of money I knew was my father’s version, and in this case, my father (who was a textile plant manager for many, many years) was a pretty good match for the personification himself. The plant manager would hire you, depending on what openings were available, and he’d work you hard — always according to what he needed you to do, not according to what you wanted to do, or were even necessarily good at. He would work you hard, and keep you in line. And he worked you long hours, and keep you away from your family, and your hobbies, and only grudgingly give you a vacation every once in awhile. And he wouldn’t pay you a whole heck of a lot.
The next part of the exercise requires that a New Money be chosen — a new personification that lets you have a healthier relationship. I did what I always do for these exercises: I ruminated and meditated and stared off into space. Part of that process I’ve documented in this post.
But I could not come up with any New Money that I wanted to have a relationship with.
Maybe I’m just not ready to commit right now. Maybe I feel like I want play to field a little bit more before I settle down again. Maybe it’s just that all the candidate New Moneys I’ve been dating have fallen short in one way or another — it turns out they have ties to the government, or to big corporations, or something. Or maybe it’s because all the New Moneys seem to have little strings attached somewhere — oh yes, they’ll do great things for you, but you gotta give up this and this and this…
Maybe the perfect New Money is waiting out there for me somewhere; maybe I’ll find it someday. But here’s the kicker: I don’t want money. I want freedom.
Freedom from Want
In my earlier meditation on money, I saw myself as a wolf that was breaking free of a halter. The wolf is a beast destined for freedom; the halter was my hang-ups about money. I had gotten the idea that having gobs of money was an unhealthy attachment. But money gives freedom in our society; and freedom is our destiny.
In the Celtic pantheon, Cernunnos is the one to go to for freedom. He is the old Horned God, close relative of Pan and patron of the animals, the woods, and the wildness in each of us. I had asked Apollo to appear to me before, and that had worked well. I appealed to Cernunnos this time, and asked him to show me the way to freedom.
Run With Me
He came. The first couple of times I saw him, he was somewhat hazy and indistinct. When I could see him clearly, he was extremely tall, perhaps seven or eight feet from hoof to head. That goes up to nine or ten if you count the horns, which sprout straight up and back from his head like those of an antelope. He has a mane of curly hair, brown like a bear’s, and a bushy goatee. He wears nothing, neither on his human torso nor on his legs — which are usually the hind legs of a hooved animal, but not always. His eyes are piercing, and change color depending on his mood.
The first time I could see him clearly, he simply said, “Run with me.” And without further ado, we were off — him on all fours, galloping like a horse — I couldn’t see how he used his arms to do that! He kept his human shape above the waist, and yet he galloped exactly as a horse would.
I kept up with him, running along on my two legs, completely effortlessly — somehow I was swept up in his wake and drawn along. Still I could feel the speed and the joy of the exertion: we had leapt directly into a runner’s high. We ran — over the grassland, along the beach, over the hills and into areas of my little “visualization land” that I’d never visited — in a few moments of exhilarating speed we covered every inch of the territory I had explored on foot; and then we crossed the edges, discovering — or creating — new territory as we went. It was breathtaking, and left me giddy and gasping.
After he did this to me a couple of times I was a little less eager to seek him out. Maybe I should have had more faith, but honestly, it was exhausting and I didn’t think that I was learning anything. But the next time I meditated, I found he was there waiting for me.
“Come on,” he said, and we were off. But this time, as we ran, he spoke.
Conversation with the Horned God
“Why are you afraid?” he asked me. He was as simple and brusque as a policeman asking for license and registration. But he wasn’t shouting as we were running, or anything like that — his words simply appeared in my mind.
“I’m afraid I’ll make the wrong choices,” I said. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle the responsibility.”
“You’re human being,” he said. “Making choices is your right — and your duty. You’re a good man with a conscience. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but that’s expected.”
Then he communicated something completely unexpected, not with words or with thoughts in my head, but with a pure bolt of feeling: love. I struggled to understand; and then I realized that Love, he was saying, was the basis of righteous judgement.
“But most people don’t have much money,” I said. “Why should I have that freedom when others don’t?”
“They should have freedom, too,” he said. “It’s not your fault they don’t.”
We were headed directly into a forest I had occasionally explored the edges of — one that I suspected was inhabited by fairies and other mysterious wild things. The woods were alternately dark and light as we dashed through thick underbrush and open glades.
“But what if everybody had money? ” I asked. “Not everyone would make great choices. Not everyone is ready for it. There are some terrible people in the world… if they all had complete freedom, what would they do?”
For the first time, he stopped and looked me in the eye. His eyes were golden-green. His thought flashed: Using your Free Will is the fastest route to growth.
As I stood, trying to absorb this, he was off again, and I could do nothing but follow after. Now he picked up speed, and headed directly for the heart of the forest. I expected it to grow darker, but instead the trees thinned, and suddenly I saw it: a towering presence, magnificently gigantic, like a great wooden mountain — a tree that went up taller than any skyscraper, puncturing the heavens. The roots wound among the oaks and rowans of the woods at its feet like bus-sized snakes.
Cernunnos dashed straight up the tree, headfirst, like a squirrel; and I saw that his hind legs had changed to become squirrel-like. I was pulled up after him, up, up, and up, as fast as a climbing rocket; in seconds I could see the edge of the forest, the edge of my “visualization land”, and the great sea beyond it. We were far higher than the mountaintops. Then Cernunnos left me behind, zipping up and losing himself among the branches, and I continued to rise alone.
Unexpectedly I was at the top. There was no sign of Cernunnos. The World Tree tapered abruptly to the thickness of a rope, and ended in a strange twisting ascending spiral. The spiral tendril was wound around a bolt of yellow-white light descending from some unguessed height.
The top of the tree was somehow connected to — hanging from — drawing life from — pure energy from above.
More to Come
I feel like Cernunnos is still laying the groundwork for me. I have a very long way to go, but almost daily, I get hints of where I need to be focusing my attention — energy, leadership, honesty. It feels like I’m slowly, slowly shifting an iceberg.
It’s not about being granted freedom, or earning freedom, or being good enough for freedom. We’ve already got it; we can’t get rid of it. Instead, it’s about accepting it — as a gift and as a responsibility.
This post was written in early 2007. You may be interested in some of my later thoughts on financial independence in my series on Zen and the Tarot.