Peace and prosperity are, I think, what most human beings want in some shape or form. We want to have inner peace and we also want prosperity to enjoy living in this material world. The way the world is set up, there seems to be a tension between the two. In the pursuit of prosperity we often sacrifice our peace and, even if one achieves financial wealth, identification with our wealth can impair inner peace.
Teachings of prosperity consciousness and abundance consciousness have become very popular in recent years and they tap into this understandable desire for material wealth or the resources to thrive in life. In my experience, however, these teachings are open to profound misinterpretation. Many people do not get what they are looking for. One common misinterpretation is to see abundance dualistically, from the perspective of the individual, personal self. There is a pervasive consciousness of lack in our society, so recognising that there is abundance too is helpful for a more balanced and rounded outlook. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it is essential to recognise abundance.
In some cases, though, these misinterpretations reinforce the identity of being a person “who manifests”. And, they can create clinging to a positive mindset and a reluctance to be with loss. Real abundance is simply What Is, the totality of the glass half-full, as well as the glass half-empty. Paradoxically, it is when we’ve made peace with loss and lack that the abundance which is already and always present is easier to perceive.
POLARISATION AROUND MONEY
Prosperity and wealth can manifest in both the outer world, as well as the inner realms. Money in particular triggers a great deal of polarisation, with people either chasing it or rejecting it. There is a long history among spiritual seekers from many traditions, rejecting and demonising money and only recognising inner wealth. To me, this does not feel very balanced.
Money is a very strange phenomenon because it’s a construct. So at one level, it isn’t real. But of course it feels profoundly real. If you’ve ever lost your wallet, or even a £10 note, there’s an instant embodied reaction so deep you can’t control it. The experience of money is very real, but because we don’t explore it, and we don’t really talk about it in a mature way, it stays very unconscious. There’s a lot of chatter about it of course. The news, politics, the sales in the shops, the offers in the supermarkets – there’s a lot of talk about money but it is very superficial: ‘How do I save money, how do I make money, how do I hang onto it?’ These are narrow perspectives because it is so much more than what we take it to be. It reflects our relationship with our own self, with each other, with all manner of things. As a result, we try to solve our problems at the level of symptoms. And when we look to create prosperity there’s a disconnect between the inner and outer realities. This is true in our personal lives – and also collectively as societies, as nations.
GDP growth is one of the main drivers of government policy. Gross Domestic Product is a measure; a way of measuring the level of activity in an economy. It’s become so much more than just that though. It reflects a mindset that trickles down to how businesses behave, the way their performance is measured, the way company performance is measured and the way return on investment is measured. Since the Second World War, the dominant mindset has been the pursuit of economic growth, as measured by a few factors, GDP being one of them. It seems very reasonable to want growth, but the way we define growth reflects how the mind likes to grab onto things that it can measure. What the mind doesn’t register is what it can’t see at the moment.
There are a number of other drawbacks with GDP. One big flaw is that it doesn’t measure everything of value. It only measures what is monetised. A lot of very valuable activities take place in our lives which are not monetised, for example, our care of children, our care of each other in families, or our care for the elderly. Money has evolved for trading outside of families. Within family units, generally, we don’t exchange money for what we naturally do for each other. The UN has developed a broader range of indices to measure development, but GDP still reigns supreme.
The other thing it doesn’t do is to look at the nature of those transactions. So if a government or an individual is spending money buying arms, it is going to register exactly the same as if it they were spending money buying medicines. GDP doesn’t measure the quality and the consequences of the nature of these transactions. This type of culture seeps through many areas of our economic life because money is denominated in numbers. Numbers give us information about quantitative aspects but not qualitative aspects. In order to invoke those, we need to have a different way of being with them, of enquiring about them or speaking about them to get the fuller picture. Without that, what you measure becomes the driver. It becomes the reason for your activities and the way the economy and policies are structured. This is why, in my view, a lot of policies at government level don’t work.
Everything in life has to go through cycles. We have to sleep and then wake. We can’t go through life on waking mode all the time. Just as nature has seasons, our economy is also part of nature; it’s not separate. But we treat it as if it is separate. And this is one of the phenomena that play out with our relationship with money – the sense of separation which starts from deep within and is reflected outwards. Collectively, this has a profound effect on the type of society and economy that we create.
The relentless pursuit of anything, any measure, any strategy is going to run out of steam. This is what we see happening economically. There have been booms and busts, again and again, and there will continue to be. It goes back to Biblical times and earlier – the Old Testament talks about seven years of feast and seven of famine.
So life is full of cycles and we obviously prefer the part of the cycle which is growth. We don’t like to address the part of the cycle which is the downturn. But what we call the downturn is inevitable and loss is inevitable. If we were to accept this, we would be much better prepared to deal with the actuality of a downturn. In turn, the peaks and troughs of the cycle would be less pronounced.
Our resilience and our peace are better served when we recognise that there is a natural order of moving through cycles. When things turn downwards, whether in our personal lives or as a nation, or in the organisations we work for, while it’s not what we want, nevertheless it is possible other things are afoot that are not yet manifest. What is happening in a cycle is a movement from the unmanifest to the manifest and back to the unmanifest. Of course the mind only registers what has been manifested. To register the unmanifest, or to be open to it, we have to utilise other capacities.
In a sense, that is what spiritual exploration is really enabling us to do. It’s to explore what is not seen. What lies underneath, what lies behind. Whatever the name of the tradition we may follow, whatever the path, there’s a sense that what we see is not all of reality. And in using the word see, I’m talking about all the senses, not just sight. What we register with the mind is not all that there is.
So cycles are part of nature. And economically, why should it be any different? Why should our economies be any different? Why should our financial reality be any different? It’s not comfortable to contemplate and accept this and that discomfort creates a culture where the myth – that perpetual growth should be possible – has taken hold. It seeps into our psyche. It contributes to a sense of tension and anxiety when things are not going the way of the general assumption and the way we would like them to go.
Allied with this driven quality that exists economically, there’s a sense, at an individual level, of the need to do, to push, to ‘make it happen’ in order to be financially secure, a sense rooted in a deep anxiety of not being in control. It’s built on an illusion of control when the reality is that we are not in control. This doesn’t mean that we sit back and do nothing of course. We have to take action and to work. But the tension that gives rise to these actions creates and perpetuates anxiety, narrowing down our field of vision so we don’t see clearly. We then don’t have available the full spectrum of options to respond to the present moment. This is the way that fear, especially around money, closes down our capacity to respond to what is happening.
At an individual level, that type of consciousness seeps in as well. There isn’t permission always to recognise that actually, if you’re in a downward phase of a cycle, that’s exactly where you need to be. It is not because you’ve done something wrong, it’s not personal. Things are still happening and developing and you’ll come out of the downturn. Without such a mindset, however, such a phase is full of anxiety for a lot of people.
So how can we pursue prosperity in a balanced way? Being active, growing, reaching for more, while still recognising that there is a larger reality at work. The analogy I find most useful for cultivating a flourishing life is that of gardening. A gardener does not make the plants grow – there is a bigger process which activates the seed. But with a gardener’s input, the garden will turn out very differently.
What we can do is to bring all our skills, talents and resources to bear on making the most of the soil conditions, the environmental and seasonal conditions, choosing the seeds to be planted, weeding, pruning, feeding and so on. We might well have a vision for the type of garden we want to create. The more enthusiastic we are, the more we will attract people who want to share their knowledge with us and possibly also their plant cuttings.
Ultimately what does grow and how it grows is not in our hands. So a balanced approach to prosperity comes through a whole-hearted and active participation with life, while at the same time, staying non-attached to the outcome. If our efforts result in material success, we are free to enjoy it and share it. If, however, material success is not forthcoming at a particular moment in time, we remain free and open internally for what life wants to show us, so we can grow. In this way, we always win! Our life is always enriched.
This article was originally published in Being (Issue 3 of The Study Society Magazine), published December 2016. It can be purchased from the Society’s website and from other bookstores.