Money & the Meaning of Life /3
April 22, 2009, 13:44
Filed under: Money | Tags: , , , , ,

The truth is that when it comes to my relationship to the material world I think I’m completely neurotic.


But then I think most people have a neurotic relationship to money whether it’s always wanting more or like me not wanting to think about it or being terrified about what to do when the money runs out. But the irony with me is that I’m very pragmatic and I probably know more about finance than most people. I even know what a hedge fund is and for over a decade I’ve known that derivatives would one day kick the s__t out of the world economy. People who know me can’t understand why I live such a financially destitute existence or that I sometimes live what to them seems such a reckless existence like the many years I lived off my credit cards until I had to declare bankruptcy. I don’t understand it myself.

me & Captain Howell

me & Captain Howell

I have the education and skills to live a very different lifestyle if I wanted, you know, a house, a car, a pension plan and a vacation in the islands once a year where I have tea with the manager of the bank where my off-shore funds are being securely held. But instead I live on the bottom rung of financial status where an expenditure of a dollar is a big deal and where I never know from one day to the next if I will still have a roof over my head. And meanwhile all my friends who looked as if they hadn’t a clue of how to manage their financial affairs live in their own homes, have nice safe careers and know where they will be when they are old and crumbling.

When I look at how people survive in the physical world I swear I’m astonished. I really don’t know how they do it. I mean I know technically but I don’t know where they get the confidence and motivation to do what they do. Most of all I don’t know how they came to believe in it. That’s not a judgement. I am simply one of the non-elect looking at the elect and feeling astonished. It feels like everyone knows a secret that I don’t or that they belong to a religion from which I am excluded When you’re an existephobe the whole world looks upsidedown.

But like I said earlier, being existephobic doesn’t mean that I am afraid of money. Not at all. For example I know people who say they wouldn’t want to win millions of dollars because they think it would destroy them. Not me. If I won 10, 20 even 50 million dollars tomorrow I would be fine. I would still take my 30 year old 3-speed bike for a ride to the top of the mountain and sit on my bench reading a book and no one would know the difference. It would mean that I no longer need to worry about surviving in a physical world so my existephobia would be under wraps. And since I agree with Needleman that money can be used creatively than all I would need to do is get out of my own way. As Rilke said: “True art can issue only from a purely anonymous centre.”

money money money!

money money money!

So I can’t see that winning a ton of money would drastically change the way I live. The simpler my life the better. My dream of the perfect life is one where there is unlimited time to do nothing. I have a particular gift for staring out of windows for hours on end. At most I might use the money to find a slightly less squalorish place to live and then I’d buy myself a new computer. A laptop so I can be more mobile. After that my first priority would be to help all those I know who are struggling to get by, like all the artists I know who can’t do what they really want to do because they need to work to pay the rent but who find it hard to look for work because they too suffer from existephobia. And then I would set up a foundation whose mission it would be to relieve as many fellow existephobics I can find together with all those who have dreams of what they would do if only they had the means. Imagine how much fun it would be to help others have the means to realize their own dreams. I think it would be one way I could help make this world a little better place to live in.

I would be the money girl.

I would be the money girl.

Poverty is such a horrible degrading place to be and no one should have to live like that so I hope I win billions and then through grace  and humility I would find a way to help others escape poverty. And perhaps one day we will transcend capitalism, or as Ken Wilber says, transcend and include capitalism, move beyond mere consumerism and create a healthier saner more spiritually sound way of surviving physically in the world where success would be defined by something other than your personal net worth and thereby eradicate the cause of existephobia. I am certain there is a better way even if I don’t win the lottery.


Money & the Meaning of Life /2
April 21, 2009, 13:39
Filed under: Money | Tags: , , , ,

The reason I’m not very good with positive intentions when it comes to money is that, other than very basic needs like shelter and food, I don’t really know what I want. The material world seems so unreal to me. That doesn’t mean I’m a Buddhist. I’m a existephobe.

an existephobe

My relationship to the material world simply makes no sense. I wish it did but it doesn’t. I’ve never been able to come up with a concrete plan of just how I’m going to survive materially nor any clear notion of where my next paycheck is coming from. Even when I owned a business and had twenty people working for me, every time we were able to make payroll or pay the rent I felt it was nothing short of a miracle, that it had far less to do with anything I did than it did with some kind of divine intervention. That’s why I always have a ticket in the lottery. Even if I don’t know precisely what it is I want, I believe that if you don’t have your hand out your hand will remain empty.

You might ask, how is it that a existephobe can own a business? Isn’t that like an arachnophobic having spiders for pets or an ouranophobic believing  in the rapture? In a way you would be right. My owning a business was a kind of convoluted and somewhat shadowy way of dealing with my existephobia. From an early age I developed a very pragmatic relationship to the material world, kind of like negotiating a peace treaty with a colony of spiders. I learned to live on very little, to demand very little of the physical universe, and what I did have I managed with the tenacity of a miser. It was all about being safe.

You can never be too safe

You can never be too safe

The longer I could hold onto a $1 bill, the longer I could ward off another attack of existephobia. When it comes to money I can be quite anally retentive! I got myself into business inadvertently, in that I didn’t go into business because I wanted to go into business––like I said an arachnophobic doesn’t cuddle up to spiders––but being a designer I decided very naively to open a studio and then had employees and then it got bigger and then someone had to deal with the business and no one else wanted to do it so I had to do it––it was hell. (Hagiophobia, a fear of hell. I have that too big time!) In fact it always felt like the room was crawling with spiders! But like ancient Chinese wisdom recommends: keep your friends close but keep your enemies even closer! I managed the survival part of the business in such a way that I could keep my eyes off the bottom line as much as possible without jeopardizing the studio. Sort of like how Seymour Glass told Buddy to keep his eye off the marble if he wanted to win. My accountant who has lots of zillionaire clients once told me that I was able to squeeze more out of a $100 than anyone he knew which he thought was ironical because I was forever on the brink of going broke. The irony was that while I could manage the $100 I  couldn’t get serious about making more. Being an existephobe, whenever I thought of how we were going survive or if maybe I should go out and get more clients I’d panic after which I’d spend several days picking myself up off the floor. It felt much better to think that somehow everything would magically work out and surprisingly it usually did. When you’re an existephobe you need to constantly devise clever strategies to think as little as possible about how you’re going to survive in the material world and the way that works best for me is a metaphysical trust in divine intervention kind of relationship––at least so far!

Money & the Meaning of Life 1
April 21, 2009, 13:28
Filed under: Money | Tags: , , , , , ,

I stole that title from one of my favorite books by Jacob Needleman. It’s been years since I read it but back in a former life when I was working in the ‘real’ world I went through a period where I was fascinated by people’s relationship to money. Mostly that they didn’t seem to know what their relationship was. And I knew even less about my own than they knew about theirs. The only thing I knew for certain was that there was very little in people’s lives that was more important than money.

I think Marilyn knew what she would give it all up for.

I think Marilyn knew what she would give it all up for.

During this period my favorite question to ask people, especially people whose lives seemed to be almost exclusively centered upon the making of money, (though you and I know that the only ones who really make money are governments, banks and clever crooks,) was:

“For whom or for what in your life would you give up all your money and everything you own right now without hesitation if you had to?”

Almost unanimously the response was a blank confounded stare as if I were asking them what it would take for them to give up their belief in God. They had no idea. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to tell me but that they really didn’t know. One time I put my question to a couple who had been together for years and looking at each other they both replied without a blink: “I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything we would sacrifice our money for.” It began to get very depressing so I stopped asking.

Then I discovered Needleman’s book and it was a revelation. Essentially he seemed to be saying that money is whatever we want it to be and that while it can be very destructive (such as for example what’s happening now!) it can also be used very creatively. I really liked that a lot because if anyone had asked me what my relationship to money was I would have had to say that it was (and still is!) metaphysical.

That's me when think about earning my living.

That's me when think about earning my living.

Surviving in the physical world terrifies me. I wonder if there is a phobia for that? The closest phobia I found was chrometophobia, an abnormal and persistent fear of money. Imagine that! Like having a phobia of God! (There is a phobia of heaven––ouranophobic! I’m definitely not ouranophobic!Heaven is one of my favorite places.) Some people fear money because they think it may be contaminated with cocaine, dirt, germs, or terrorist toxins. That would be the ultimate terror wouldn’t it, the terror of touching money! Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the steel industrialist and philanthropist, developed chrometophobia toward the end of his life. Offended by the sight and smell of money, he refused to carry any cash. I suppose he had plenty of servants to carry it for him, short men in black suits and bowler hats carrying briefcases full of dirty money.

But I’m certainly not afraid of money. I love money. Henry Miller wrote in his essay Money and How It Gets That Way, “The value of gold is not thirty-six dollars to the fine ounce, (imagine if you bought it in the 1936 when he wrote this essay and still had it now?!!) or whatever it may be, nor the number of asses that it can be equated to; the value of gold resides in its mystic presence, in the pleasure it evokes when handled. … Gold should be kept in the house where it may be seen and felt. If gold is unobtainable, then money, money in whatever form. For when all the theories of economists are exploded, those who had the good sense to keep a “mobile quantum of cash” on hand will be the least cruelly deceived.” I agree. I love the feel of money. It makes me feel all warm inside. It doesn’t take much. A $100 bill is commensurate to a shot of good scotch. A $1000 is like making love. You get the drift! So one thing I’m not is a chrometophobe.

What I suffer from is existential phobia, a fear of surviving in the physical world. I call it existephobia. (If there is another name for this phobia please let me know.) Existere in Latin means to stand therefore I have an irrational fear of not being able to stand in the world. Whenever I’m forced to think about how I am going to survive in the material world in concrete terms, (because if I’m not forced I avoid it like the plague!) such as for example ‘how am I going to make more money?’ or if someone asks me ‘how do you earn your living?’ I break into a cold sweat, I feel nauseous, my head hurts and I feel on the edge of an enormous abyss.


If what Carl Jung said is true, that the only thing that will kill you is panic, when I am suffering from existephobia I am about as near to dying as I can get.

Being an existephobe my relationship to the material world has developed over the years into what I would call a metaphysical relationship, particularly in the sense of surviving physically in a physical world, to what we politely refer to as ‘earning our living.’ (If anyone doubts the power of money, what that banal phrase suggests says it all; earning money gives you the right to live!) The reason my relationship to the physical world is metaphysical is because I tend to relate much better to that which exists beyond the physical than to the physical itself. For example, while I have never had a plan as to how I would earn my living, I am still alive and mostly because I trust that somehow all my genuine needs will be fulfilled. That may sound passive or like some new age snake oil about positive intentions, you know, like The Secret, but it’s not that at all. At least that hasn’t been my intention! It’s more about expecting the unexpected, desiring nothing but what is, trusting in higher levels of consciousness, where the ego surrenders to the authentic self, that part of who I am that knows far better than the ego what’s in my best interest. I think that is where I differ most from formulas like The Secret which seem to be concocted by people who don’t suffer the least from existephobia, you know, people whose idea of liberation is a new Lamborghini. Thinking about The Secret reminds me of how the way to hell is paved with good intentions.

I’m not saying that I think I’m any better; only that because I suffer from existephobia I need to deal with things differently. While I try to respond fully to whatever comes up, as in if opportunity knocks answer the door, but at the same time I try not to be attached to any outcome knowing that whatever happens is mostly out of my hands. It reminds me of something I read somewhere:

“You can do whatever you want but you can’t want what you want.”

What is it that determines what we want? We think we do but I don’t think so. And besides, when it comes to surviving in a material world I don’t know what I want except perhaps enough money to do whatever it is I want without having to do something I don’t want to do to get it. Any time I receive money for whatever reason it always feels like a miracle, in that it feels like something that happened all on its own, that it happened for so many other reasons that have very little to do with me, that I just happened to be standing there with my hand out. And I want you to know that this is just as true whenever I lose money and I have lost a lots of money! That’s what it means to me to survive metaphysically, to have a stronger deeper relationship to the invisible, to what can’t be seen as opposed to what can.

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