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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