#82: The overlooked truth of reality that is messing up how you live with money
11th April, 2022
Welcome to the Idiot Money newsletter. This week, becoming wiser with money by understanding that reality is about relationships, not the things related to, including:
  • The reality of your relationship with money, and why it’s so damn important.
  • The two keys to understanding in-the-moment financial enlightenment.
  • Overcoming your financial illusions at the time you most need to overcome them.
This is part 21 of our series on using Axiomatic Buddhist Concepts as a practical means to help us live better with money. See the series menu here. The (probably) final instalment will follow shortly.
Reality is relationships. Primarily, your relationships with yourself, with others, and with the world.
Has it ever struck you as odd that some of the people who are most ‘go, go, go!’ can simultaneously describe themselves as a bit ‘stuck’?
But maybe it shouldn’t feel odd.
If you actively wanted to feel ‘stuck’, how would you go about it?
You wouldn’t do nothing.
On the contrary, I think you’d do a lot. No one feels quite so stuck as the person that’s ‘tried everything’.
The stickiest stuckness, like the flowiest flow, is rooted in constant movement. To paraphrase Niels Bohr, while the opposite of a trivial truth is blatantly bollocks, the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth.
Money should be a ticket to flow-filled fun, but in the hands of most, it’s a means of getting stuck on a merry-go-round of meaninglessness.
The framework of Buddhist philosophy that we’ve looked at in this series is a way to stop spinning in self-deceptive, self-destructive circles.
In this (probably) penultimate post, we’ll revisit how, and introduce the fundamental importance of relationships – to yourself, to others, and to the world – when it comes to seeing more clearly the reality with which you want to align your relationship with money.
Because reality literally is these relationships. As Iain McGilchrist explains in heroic depth in The Matter With Things:
What we are dealing with are, ultimately, relations, events, processes; ‘things’ is a useful shorthand for those elements, congealed in the flow of experience, that emerge secondarily from, and attract our attention in, a primary web of interconnexions.
(and, as he notes in The Master and his Emissary (my emphasis): ‘Perhaps indeed everything that exists does so only in relationships.’)
Yet one of the mischievous messages of money is to pretend that the primary importance should be attached to the things, not the interdependent web in which they exist. Which is why, of course, so many not only exhibit so much stupidity like trying to ‘buy’ connections by building isolationist lairs, but positively show-off about having done so. We’ll return to this later, as part of our McGilchrist series.

Financial enlightenment

Last time out in this series, we noted that:
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.
And that:
Seeking psychological ‘safety’, we imprison ourselves in illusions. And then wonder why we feel stuck, trapped, inert. […] We keep making the same mistakes, oblivious even to the fact that, despite not working, they are, in fact, mistakes […] Mistakes 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.
We noted that if we wanted to avoid feeling stuck, flat, and inert, and especially if we want our money to help us do so, we wanted to do two things:
1. To lose our illusions.
2. To remember this at the right times.
When Marcus Aurelius wrote that one could live well, even in a palace, he was saying it was possible to free yourself from illusion even in a place designed to protect that illusion.
The Buddha, when he walked away from his palace, was walking away from the unchallenged but ultimately unsatisfactory ‘comfort’ of these illusions.
When, after trialling and erroring with a palace-denouncing aestheticism, the Buddha ‘awakened’, he was awakening to reality. Awakening to the fact that, ‘Liberation occurs through recognizing just by that which you are bound’. To the fact that if you’re playing a game you’re not really enjoying and for which the only prize is to keep playing, you don’t have to keep playing just because everybody else is. To the fact that you can choose to play a different game.
There’s a certain comfort in the certainty of imprisonment, but it’s ultimately soul-destroying. Which is why Buddha doesn’t talk about pain (and thus enlightenment would be relief). He talks about entrapment and enlightenment as freedom.
The feelings of being ‘stuck’ despite being in ‘go go go’ hustle mode and of something being missing even when you ‘have everything’, are deeply connected to being trapped in an illusion that disconnects you from reality, from the sense of ‘home’ derived from your relationships with yourself, with others, and with the world.
When these relationships are off, you feel anxiety, alienation, and absurdity.
If you wanted to rob your life of a sense of meaning, replacing these real relationships with synthetic substitutes (hi there, money!) is exactly how you’d go about it.
Money interacts with these relationships like nothing else. Which is why it’s both so dangerous when you remain blind to how you live with it, but also so useful when you get to grips with it.

The end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time

We started this series by looking at the ‘three mental poisons’ of ignorance, desire, and aversion (or delusion, greed, and hatred if that chimes better with you).
We noted that:
The key problem with mind-poisons is that the tool we use to identify them, let alone do anything about them – the mind – is the very thing that is poisoned. How do you see more clearly if your vision is so caked in mental mud that you can’t even see that you don’t see clearly?
Acknowledging that the poisons are even there – that the dissonance between your ideals and your actions is due to more than just ‘mystery’ or the wiles of advertising gurus – is the first step to bothering to look for an antidote.
We moved onto the four ennobling provocations (or noble truths) that clarified the root of that dissonance. And from there we looked at the eightfold path (rather a system than a path) as a way out of the madness. We then linked the whole lot to the neuroscience of what’s going on in your head, and the right and wrong ways to meditate to make it go on better. And, of course, what it all has to do with living better with money.
Each of these elements is part of the system of tackling the two points above: recognising the profound need for losing your illusions, and remembering to do so at the times remembering is most important.
Each element of this philosophy isn’t about popping a pill and wishing for ‘change’. It’s about challenge. Do the challenging in the right way, and the right changes will happen by themselves. Focus on the change, and chances are you’ll just end up lost in a different way (especially if the intention behind focusing on the change is to avoid challenging the beliefs that made the change necessary).
It’s about living in a way that is in effect constantly (but effortlessly) asking: Does this way I’ve been looking at the world ‘work’? Does it make life flow as freely as it could? Is this life-choice-governing belief true? Does it have to be true? What are the consequences if it weren’t true? How do I test it?
This is about skill development, not environment control.
If you change your environment, maybe you make better decisions when you remember to do so. If you lose the illusions, you start to develop the skills to make better decisions by default, to live more in flow.
Seeing more clearly is easier said than done, of course. When your vision is clouded by monetarily super-charged self-deception and you’re subconsciously craving a certainty that’s at odds with any idea of a ‘Good Life’, you can be looking right at something and still see shit.
Not everyone likes being provoked. Especially when it comes to life choices. Clients in financial-planning meetings are very happy, almost proud, to not know about investment stuff. They are decidedly not happy to have someone question whether what they’ve done to make the money to invest, or what they plan to do with it later was perhaps maybe not quite unequivocally the wisest move every time.
Not everyone likes to remember things, either. Because it reminds them that they forgot something in the first place.
The root of the word ‘remember’ is something like ‘be mindful of again’.
As we saw before, in the words of John Vervaeke, ‘Mindfulness isn’t about concentration, it’s about getting the right kind of concentration… It is about constantly renewing your interest.’
Living mindfully with money is about living. It’s a system, not something to do in your lunchbreak. It’s about strengthening your mind so you’re better equipped to both see and deal with reality. Which is why this has been a very long series, not a listicle linking some pithy quotes to some ‘simple steps you can take to rid yourself of your money illusions’. Because I’d like this to actually work for you, and I’d like to believe that deep down, you’d like it to too.
The type of remembering we’re talking about is a special kind of remembering. It’s not remembering a fact, but a lost mode of being in the world. It’s remembering that you are already free in the ways that matter most. And that it’s probably time to make the most of that, even before you have a certain ‘number’ in your bank account, and even if – nay, especially if – you live in a palace.
(While I’m here, I cannot reasonably NOT leave you with another plug for Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis lecture series, especially, in the context of this post, episodes 36 and 37 on Reverse Engineering Enlightenment.)
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Financial enlightenment
The end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time