#77: Seeing your financial world more clearly (the ABC of money, part 20)
7th March, 2022
Welcome to the Idiot Money newsletter. This week, becoming wiser with money by understanding that everything you do for, with, and through, money is at risk of being irrelevant, including:
  • The good type of dis-illusionment, in the process of becoming financially enlightened.
  • Enlightenment as freedom from entrapment, rather than relief from pain.
  • And, finally, the conclusion to five articles’ worth of words on Marcus Aurelius’s use of the word ‘even’.
This is part 20 of our series on using Axiomatic Buddhist Concepts as a practical means to help us live better with money. See the series menu here.
Making better decisions by default requires more than clever environment control at the moment of each decision. It requires engaging with the process of becoming more enlightened. This doesn’t change just because those decisions are ‘financial’.
What is reality? What is enlightenment? What the hell do either have to do with becoming wiser in the context of your seemingly mundane monetary decisions?
As the title of Anil Seth’s wonderful TED talk, Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality, suggests, what you ‘know’ as ‘reality’ is both at least partially ‘yours’ (as opposed to something unreservedly objective) and a hallucination (i.e. probably not all that ‘real’ as you commonly understand the term).
This is not the place to dive into the nature of conscious reality. It is the place to help you become wiser with money. So why mention your take on reality at all?
Because your take on reality is fundamental to turning your finances into a flourishing, flowing, fulfilling, life. It’s what this whole series on financial enlightenment has been circling around.
(If you want to play with the consciousness stuff, both Seth and Antonio Damasio have new books out, which they talk about together here.)

The parable of the palace, revisited

In part 16 of this series, we introduced Marcus Aurelius’s self-reminder that it was possible to live well, even in a palace. We’ve since spent about 5,000 words unpacking that one word, even.
We’ve used it as a prompt for questioning what does it even mean to be rich, and how would being so really make your life better?
To round this off, it’s time to consider one final, still-deeper, meaning. A meaning that lies at the heart of everything vaguely meaningful you do with money. And that encapsulates what philosophers from both East and West have been banging on about for 2,000 years.

Dis-illusionment

Eastern and Western philosophies are both, broadly speaking, encouragements to ‘see more clearly’.
By which we mean something about being better able to align our actions with reality.
Reality is important. In nature red signals danger, but when it comes to the dangerous crimson of reality or the anodyne azure of illusion, we reach for the red pill, and make an instant mockery of all those damn fool messages that encourage us to confuse quality of life with access to comfort.
Imagine you feel you are in a committed long-term relationship, though your other half (unbeknownst to you) is being… less committed. Is it better to find out, or not? If you’re like most people, you’ll reject the soma of unshakable, certain, contentment, and plunge into the pain and suffering of red-pill reality.
We care extraordinarily deeply about things feeling ‘real’.
And yet we flee from reality all the same.
We construct our worlds, and when we do so, choose to build great palaces of illusion. Money, and specifically how we live with it, is fundamental to both aspects of this.
Seeking psychological ‘safety’, we imprison ourselves in illusions. And then wonder why we feel stuck, trapped, inert. And why our escape plans are as unsuccessful as they are abundant. We keep making the same mistakes, oblivious even to the fact that, despite not working, they are, in fact, mistakes. As we saw earlier:
These mistakes are rooted in a belief that it’s external circumstances that determine the quality of a life, rather than how well one is set up to dance with those circumstances. This belief leads people to dedicate their resources to changing the quality of their lives by changing their worlds, rather than their worldviews.
‘Enlightenment’ is coming to see that these mistakes are actually mistakes. It’s coming to see reality more clearly.
This is not to say it’s having some sort of crazy happily-ever-after breakthrough flash that opens your eyes to an ‘objective’ reality forever more. Enlightenment is a process, not a state.
Buddha didn’t walk out of the palace, into a blinding light and have a happy-ever-after breakthrough. We like to believe he did, because we love a breakthough moment. The perfect, end-of-struggle, end-of-suffering, end-of-having-to-contemplate-what-the-heck-to-do-ever-again-as-if-locked-in-a-perpetual-infantile-existence moment.
But the Buddha was on the road to enlightenment, not Damascus.
He was escaping fantasy, not playing out its favourite trope.
And, luckily for the rest of us, given how we really don’t want certainty over how our decisions will direct our dramas, so are we.
If we want to avoid feeling stuck, flat, and inert, and especially if we want our money to help us do so, we want two things:
  1. 1.
    To lose our illusions.
  2. 2.
    To remember this at the right times.
This is what leaving the palace means in a psychological sense.
And it’s super important.
We’ll see more precisely why next time, in the context of the reality of your relationship with yourself, others, and the world… and how money plays such a vital role in all three.