Friday, June 30, 2006

Atomic Friend


Lately, I've been playing around with the fanciful idea of the "atomic friend." This is not about nuclear energy, it's about how we perceive the world. When we look across the table at somebody we're having dinner with, for example, we don't see that person or friend as photons cast in our direction — we see facial expressions. Likewise, we don't perceive sound vibrations, instead we're aware of words and tones of voice, which themselves are as full of meaning as facial expressions are full of meaning.

This view of the "atomic friend" is something we get from subatomic physics, our perception of ultimate reality below what we experience in daily life. It's sometimes referred to as reductionism — the idea that we can define things at a level and say, it's nothing but that, it's nothing but photons, it's nothing but sound vibrations. Yet that's not how we experience life. We experience it with meaning, and love.

The same reduction process happens very commonly in modern society, without the benefit of any knowledge of subatomic physics. We just have to look at the sophisticated games people play around money and power, for instance. Instead of appreciating a child's requirement for love, many people simply give the child toys and money as a substitute for love. They've reduced the relationship to a very quantifiable thing called money, saying "Well, I can't afford to really spend time with you" — that's a subconscious thought, of course — "I can't afford to really spend time with you, but I can give you money, because that's what I'm spending my time doing, and here's the money that expresses my love." Well, somehow the love gets lost in the experience. It's like reducing facial expressions to photons.

It's the same with manipulating people as pawns in power games, in order to aggrandize one's own self or ego. One can manipulate hundreds or thousands of people as an executive, without much concern at all for the feeling experience of the manipulations — like moving a factory from one part of the world to another without experiencing or even paying attention to those things, because we've reduced it to a game of money and power, saving money, or the wonderful joy of the power, being able to move all those materials and people from one place to another.

These behaviors, I like to say, are truly unconscious.

Hear the mp3 audio: HERE

Audio to text transcription, editing, and augmentation
by Peter Good. Cartoon by Terry Pettengill.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paradox of possessions

Money, time, and love are the three legs of true wealth’s stool. What is money? It is a symbol for value, it is information; it is abstract. Humans are driven by symbols to go to war and fight for abstract causes. Money, being utterly abstract, is often valued more for itself than for what it actually buys—it is the ultimate “field of dreams.” Individuals and societies measure self worth by financial net worth, but this devalues the deeper qualities of awareness and soul that are the true source of all value.

It’s been said, "He who dies with the most toys, wins!" This is both true and not true. Some say, “Money does not matter,” but quietly and privately we fear poverty. Fear of homelessness, hunger, and a drop in social status drives many to an insane focus on money—at any cost. If you are poor with a positive state of mind, you may still suffer a sense of emotional degradation just from the social stigma of poverty. Such fears are well-founded in societies that fail to attain true wealth, since the members of those societies know they can and do fall into poverty. A world based on fear cannot be wealthy in any real sense.

Many of the “richest” people in the world are always “hungry.” Much shopping is for useless trinkets to replace the lack of meaning and love in life. Many a parent, for example, who has no time for talking with their children, will just buy toys. Most people identify with the stuff that they own as an extension of their personal ego.

Our possessions can own us. Attach ourselves to our possessions and we immediately lose our sense of true wealth. The very desire for not-yet-owned possessions breeds greed and lust. We suffer endless rounds of grasping for the goods that will make us “happy and full.” We get “more” but immediately need to get “more” again. There is no end in sight.

Walking by a beautiful garden filled with iris flowers, someone might think, “I don’t own it, how unfortunate!” So they miss the simple of joy of the experience. You don’t need to own things in order to enjoy them. To really “have” something we must be present to it. Taking time to appreciate the existence of an object, a friend, or a place is really having that object before us.

(This text taken from an article of mine titled "Realizing True Wealth" that first appeared in Verna Allee & Dinesh Chandra (Eds.) What is True Wealth & How Do We Create it? Indigo Press, A Division of Print and Media Associates, New Delhi, India, 2004.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

De-materialization of money

For years, I carried little pieces of gold, jade and silver in my pocket. I got the habit from my friend Glenn, who enjoyed buying small amounts of gold and silver along with hunting for jade at Big Sur beach in California.

Jade, silver and gold make excellent money tokens. The de-materialization of money started with paper money. Originally, paper money was "backed" by gold, silver or other tangible items. Later, we removed the "backing" or base of the money. Effectively, debasing the money.

Electronic computing turned money into intangible data configurations stored in computers. Actually, "money" is even more intangible than the computer's memory and electrons. It is the meaning that we give to these configurations that define money. Money has absolutely no physical basis at all, not even the electrons. It's all mental.

Money is a matter of conventions of social trust between us, banks, and governments. Inflation, deflation, monetary collapses are proofs of the conventional status of money. That should make us free of the spell of money, but it does not; for we depend on social conventions of trade and exchange for survival in our age of specialization.

Friday, June 02, 2006

With what do we buy our money?


With what do we buy our money? Many years ago, I was giving a talk on wisdom in the world. At the end of the talk, I was approached by an old man. He came up to me and said, "I want to ask you a question." I said, "What's that?" He said, "With what do you buy your money?" I thought about it for a minute, and said, "With your life, of course." He said, "You're right, and I wish I had known that when I was much younger. For all my life, I worked for money. I put all my time into working for money that I thought I would enjoy later on."

He explained that he just never thought about anything else except working to save money, to put money away, to plan for the future. And the future had arrived, and here he was, an old man. And he expressed that he had a sense of bitterness about that, that he hadn't achieved an earlier understanding about the importance of living life, and that he had indeed bought his money with his life.

Audio snapshot