what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now
Money is a flow of energy
I was once someone who didn’t save money. I remember feeling like saving money is something I should be doing, but I had no real plan as to how or when to get started. Maybe I’ll start when I make more money or after this next big purchase or whatever marker in the future I told myself was a good time to start saving. All I knew is that “right now” is not the right time.
How and why should I save money? NYC rent is brutal. With what’s left after bills and living expenses I spend on things like sushi, live music, a Spotify subscription, the new iPhone, the new iPad and an ab roller that I use on rare occasions so I have an excuse not to throw it out. But I worked hard for this money and I’d like to enjoy it, at least some of it. Just letting it sit there doing nothing for months or years on end seems boring. And any way, it’s way more exciting to figure out how to make more money than it is to save money.
My generation is all about the side hustle. Selling clever cross–stitched quotes, painting yourself gold and becoming a living statue, offering professional cuddling services. These are all perfectly good ways to make an extra buck. Then you’re going to want to make an instagram account to show off your side hustle. You dial in the right hashtags (#procuddles), and boom, you’re part of the new trend of people who work all the time but can never seem to get ahead financially. Now I’m not knocking anybody’s hustle. Get that paper boo. I’m just acknowledging that hustling and making money is attractive and our culture glorifies working a lot. But no one is starting an instagram account with pictures of their savings account.
So, I hustled more and I made more and I saved nothing. What was keeping me from living on less than what I made? That’s all saving actually is, living on less than 100% of your total income. It seems so simple, but the solution to this problem eludes around half of the population in the United States. Most people can’t afford an emergency $1,000 expense and would need to take on debt to cover it. Maybe the solution to my money woes couldn’t be found on the material plane. So, I started to look at my relationship with money. What did money mean to me? What comes to mind when I think about money?
My general feeling about money at the time was that it was the root of all evil. A necessary evil that I wished I had more of. Why did I want more of this evil thing? Well, if I had more money I could fulfill on the bigger dreams I had, like traveling, owning my own business and buying a house. The idea of eventually retiring with savings so I wouldn’t have to work when I’m 80 years old also sounded pretty sweet. But none of these ideas fell under the category of “diabolical plan”. So why did I think money was the root of all evil? More importantly, how was I supposed to develop a healthy relationship and good habits around something that I believed to be a great source of pain and suffering in the world?
You know how you can repeat a word several dozen times in a row and it begins to sound weird and after a while it completely loses its meaning? I needed to do that with money. But not just the word, my entire relationship with money. I started writing down my inner dialogue about money. This was not meant to be some articulately, well drafted work of literary excellence, far from it. I wanted to capture the way my mind anxiously and hypocritically related to money. Not how I would talk to another person, but how I talk to myself about money. It sounded something like this…
I hate money It makes everyone miserable and angry and there is never enough of it and I wish I had more but it’s so hard to get more and I’m worried I won’t have enough for rent I’m so stupid I wasted all that money on that useless thing and now I have to work more so I can make more and try to spend less and it’s hard and I wish I had more but also fuck money I hate you.
That’s a pretty accurate depiction of the stream of thoughts my brain instinctively has about money. It takes zero effort for my brain to get that wheel spinning. But reading it out loud seems to have a peculiar effect. Thoughts that seemed to be as rock solid as the laws of physics become flimsier. After a second reading, the structural integrity of these thoughts seems to buckle and after 10,20,30 times, I feel like Neo in the matrix realizing there is no spoon.
After listening to myself read my thoughts out loud over and over, they no longer have the power over me that they had when they were just thoughts. There is now some space created between me and my thoughts. Just a little crack, big enough to slip a new thought into the pattern. But what new idea about money would actually be useful? What line of code could I insert that would alter the entire program? If I could make my experience of money based on any new thought, feeling or idea, what would I choose? Well naturally I would want money to mean happiness, power and freedom. Sounds great right? There’s a problem with this though; it’s the same problem I would have if I only wanted the “positive” side of a magnet. I can break the magnet in half but then I’d have two magnets with negative and positive sides. Everything is tied to its opposite. And the only reason I would choose money to mean happiness, power and freedom is because I’m choosing from a place of misery, weakness and restriction. If I feel that money is the cause of some negative feeling, then I resist that negativity by attaching myself to a positive ideal of money. No matter how hard I struggle with it, I will never be able to separate them from each other. They need each other in order to exist. As long as I resist feeling bad about money and strive to feel only good about it, I will always have a “negative/positive” relationship with money.
Another way to look at it is like a Chinese finger trap. The harder I try to pull away from sadness with money and chase happiness with money, the more stuck I am with “sadness/happiness”. This is why people who win the lottery so often end up more miserable than they were before. If I won the lottery and all of a sudden had $10,000,000, I would try to spend the money in a way that maximizes happiness and minimizes sadness. But I’m still stuck in the sadness/happiness trap. Even more troubling is that the thing keeping me in the trap is the thought that I can get out of the trap if only I had more money. Ask someone who had very little money and then, all of a sudden, found themselves with more money than they knew what to do with… the Notorious B.I.G will tell you, “mo money, mo problems”.
So, I can’t just insert “money is happiness” into my internal story because that’s just more of the same story. I need something novel and inspiring. Maybe I need to ask myself “what do I want money to feel like?” What if …money felt like riding a bike down a long road on a warm sunny day? Then, I guess it would also feel like biking up a steep road on a cold rainy day… if everything is tied to its opposite.
What if money felt like standing in the middle of a flowing body of water? If money was a flowing stream and I was standing in that stream, then money would flow to me and also away from me. I would not resist this flow. I’m simply standing among this flow of energy, allowing it to flow in both directions. All there is to do, is to be present to the flow, don’t resist it flowing away from you and definitely don’t resist it flowing to you.
So now, when I hear my normal thought pattern running its story about how I “don’t have enough and I need more and I shouldn’t do this and I should do that”, I can insert “money is a flow of energy, don’t resist the flow”. I can say it out loud to myself and repeat it in my thoughts.Each time I do this, I’m placing a new brick into an old crumbling structure, strengthening it with new material. In the beginning this might feel terribly awkward. The suffering/happiness story I’ve had most of my life will try to convince me that this is stupid and that I need to resist the flow away from me or to me, or both. But I can remind myself that neither my old story, or this new one, are the truth about money. They are neither right nor wrong, they simply paint a narrative that becomes my experience in life.
My old story about money is not something I invented all on my own. It’s a story passed down like a generational game of telephone played by my parents and my grandparents and so on. Slightly changing with each iteration but never a completely original tale. We inherit the seed but we grow it in a different pot. It seems that “negative/positive” stories about money are almost as old as money itself. Almost but not quite.
Money wasn’t invented to be good or bad. No one said “I’m going to make this thing called money and it’s inherently evil and it will make people either happy or sad but mostly sad. They will resent money but also desire more of it”. Money was invented just like a hammer or a wrench was invented, to be used as a tool. A hammer can be used to build a house and it can be used to harm someone but the hammer is neither the source of the house nor the harm. Our internal narrative is what gives meaning and purpose and actions to the physical world around us. Altering the narrative alters our meaning and purpose and actions. Take away the narrative all together and a hammer is just a funny shaped piece of steel. Money is just paper and circles of metal and numbers on a screen.
So, have I destroyed my old story and completely rebuilt money as a flow of energy? Nope, It still pops up all the time, but I no longer believe it to be the truth. I simply remind myself that money is a flow of energy and it is my job to never block the flow. When life brings a situation where money seems to flow away from me, my job is to not resist the flow. And when life brings a situation where money seems to be flowing toward me, I allow it to flow freely.
When I first started practicing this new way of looking at money, it brought me peace of mind whenever an unexpected bill or expense showed up. I knew it was just part of the flow. When a new opportunity for money to flow toward me presented itself, I didn’t have to figure out whether I deserved it or if my work was worthy enough because that would be blocking the flow. I began to experience an increased peace of mind around money. It no longer looked like the root of all evil. Sometimes the flow felt like a rain drop slowly meandering its way down toward the edge of a leaf. Other times it felt like a raging river. All I have to do is not block the flow. This new way of looking at money was just the beginning of my journey toward building a healthy relationship with money.
Many new things developed as a result of this shift in perspective. I went from never saving anything to building a regular saving habit. After saving for a few years I learned about investing money so that the money I saved worked for me and made more money. As my fear around money melted away, I began to get more interested in the stuff. Why don’t they teach us about debt, investing, compound interest, insurance and taxes in high school? You know, stuff that’s actually useful and practical in every day adult life. Why is money so taboo to talk about with friends and even family? To me money is now just another medium to create, like a lump of clay. Why do we all, including myself, act so weird about our lumps of clay?
I’d be lying if I said I never worry about money. At the time of writing this I am 33 years old, living in a rented apartment in NYC with my wife and 5 month old daughter. I own a business which is my only source of income and is indefinitely closed due to the COVID-19 virus. I have no idea how much this unforeseen circumstance will set me back financially. So yea, I’m a bit worried about money at this time. But I have spent the past seven years healing my relationship with money and building healthy financial habits. My mind can find some solace in knowing that I have some savings. But what brings me the most peace of mind is knowing that even if I depleted my savings and take on debt to get through this, I will still have my healthy habits that will help me recover and rebuild. During this or any crisis I will surely find my mind going back to my old familiar ways of thinking and being about money, but I have solidified the idea that money is a flow of energy and that worrying and resisting will only keep me stuck. So, I take a deep breath and remove the block and allow the energy to flow to me and away from me.