Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Mayuri Onerheim’s book,
Money • Spirituality • Consciousness.
Many years ago, I was delayed at a stopover point on a flight to India when a repair needed to be made to our plane. A Japanese passenger who was afraid he would miss the call to reboard attached himself to me, and we went to have tea while we were waiting. I don’t remember how it came about, but at some point, he said to me in his broken English, “Anything more than your tatami mat to sleep on, your bowl of rice, and the clothes you are wearing is your neurosis.”
He was polite about it, but there was no mistaking his meaning. That simple enoughness is a far cry from “needing” the house with ten bedrooms and five bathrooms, with three cars in the garage – never mind “needing” those same kinds of homes in several cities and stocking them with everything required to run a household, not to mention the extra vehicles for getting around in multiple locations.
Our collective delusion that more is better and having the most is best is perhaps epitomized in Dubai. While vast Antarctic ice sheets are falling into the ocean and raising the sea levels faster than we ever believed possible, the tallest building ever built sits on a spit of sand in that same body of water. The Burj Khalifa skyscraper is our modern-day Tower of Babel. And then there’s the indoor Alpine ski resort . . .
Building what we don’t need, accumulating more than we can possibly use or consume, running after possessions so that we can feel important or valuable – these are our sicknesses. It seems that most of us – and by “us” I mean First World “haves,” not those in survival whose basic needs are not being met – care about material well-being, wealth and possessions, security, and comfort more than inner depth and fullness. We end up defining ourselves by what we have attained externally. Success is measured by how much we have, not by who we are. Extravagance is fashionable. Having rather than being becomes all-important. Money becomes the most important object of all – sometimes not even for what it can get us but just for itself. Upping the amount of money you can store and hoard has become one of the chief motivators in modern life. We believe that those who have the most are the most valuable.
When we get caught up in wanting more/bigger/better/faster stuff, we have to figure out how to get the money to pay for it. If we don’t get what we want, we can sour our lives with jealousy and complaint. We spend our time worrying about what we don’t have, and this perceived lack becomes the lens through which we look at our lives.
I’m not saying that having money is wrong or evil. We need it to sustain ourselves comfortably. We grow through our money experiences in the world by facing the challenges of school, career, skills, family, home, and community. But we don’t recognize that there is a peak of enoughness; instead, we use money to fuel our drives of ambition, fame, and power.
Have you ever wondered what money would be if it were not used in these ways?
In our discussion, it’s important to remember that our acquisitiveness is not limited to externals. If we are on the spiritual path, this constant grasping can translate into wanting to have more, higher, or deeper spiritual experiences. It seems that there is never enough. It doesn’t matter how much and what we acquire; we are never satisfied. Regardless of how much we manage to get, we suffer from an underlying experience of deprivation, of scarcity.
How did we get into this mess? What is responsible for the situation we find ourselves in? Although we can point to many reasons that are connected with conditions in the outer world that would probably be valid, they don’t tell the whole story. Rarely do we recognize the deeper causes of the experience of scarcity and deprivation that remain hidden within ourselves. This chapter will open up an investigation of the underlying causes of our dilemma, which you may not have thought of even if you have been sincerely attempting to rebalance your relationship with money and to exercise good stewardship. This exploration can be an exciting opportunity to unearth what has kept you from breaking through into the kind of freedom you have been seeking.
What Are We After?
I heard an interesting statistic recently about personal storage in the United States. In the 1960s, personal storage facilities were virtually unheard of. As of this writing, more than 200 billion cubic feet of public storage exists. If you have ever watched the American TV program Hoarders, you are aware of the startling number of people who are pathologically unable to part with the belongings that they keep accumulating. Their homes become virtual junkyards, to the point where they can barely move around inside, the houses fall into serious disrepair, and the health and well-being of the entire family are seriously compromised.
It’s easy to look at such severe levels of dysfunction and think that, in comparison, we ourselves don’t have a problem. But perhaps it is a matter of degree. If we have fallen into unhealthy habits of grasping and accumulation and still keep coming up empty, something else is at work. So what are we really after? What is this consistent habit of external focus to satisfy ourselves trying to point us toward? What is it that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was pointing to when she talked about the poverty of the soul of the wealthy?
You might be familiar with a popular map of personality types called the Enneagram, a nine-pointed configuration that “charts universal truth about the nature of reality and the nature of human beings.” Although some believe that it is an ancient Sufi system, our modern Enneagram is probably more a synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom systems. In the early part of the twentieth century, the diagram itself – which goes as far back as Pythagoras – was used by spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff. In the 1960s and 1970s, Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo expanded its use as a spiritual tool for understanding our individual experience and for personal transformation, elucidating the ways in which the soul qualities of essence become distorted or contracted into ego states.
In addition to the basic Enneagram that maps the personality characteristics of the nine enneatypes – which is the Enneagram that most people are familiar with – are a number of others that we could describe as layers nested on that basic configuration. One of these is the Enneagram of Passions and Virtues. Here the nine passions are the attitudes or drives that are expressed when we take ourselves to be our personality and not our true Beingness. They are lust, laziness, anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, and gluttony. The virtues, on the other hand, are the characteristics that we manifest when we are expressing our deeper, true nature. They also can be understood as both the antidotes to the passions and the attitudes that help us on our consciousness journey: innocence, right action, serenity, humility, veracity, equanimity, nonattachment, courage, and sobriety.
I bring them up here because it is important to note the degree to which Western society is run by the passions described above. An important principle for our understanding emerges from simply observing the direction of our culture: The more secular a society gets, the more the passions are seen as natural, even idealized. Thumb through just about any magazine on the rack these days to see how much lust and gluttony are depicted. Then take note of any response of envy if you can’t have what is being advertised (or pride if you can).
Ask yourself sincerely: “Would I rather be passionate or virtuous?” Most people I know would much rather see themselves – and be seen by others – as passionate. Virtue seems to be perceived as more of a superego morality than an attitude to aspire to. There’s nothing wrong with being a passionate person, as long as it doesn’t block our sense of ourselves as Being. But when a passionate nature leads to excess, we get lost in materialism and indulgence. If we extend this understanding out into the wider society, we can see that the economy of the past few decades couldn’t have worked without lust—in fact, it actually banked on lust.
Let’s look more deeply at the passion of lust. Lust is an intense instinctual desire, most commonly for food or sex, but also for other objects or activities. It is aligned with our desire for pleasure. You have probably experienced the thrill of spending money, only to discover afterward that the rush is gone. Or the rush you get from gorging yourself on delicious food or from a recreational drug that sends you into bliss but leaves you with a hangover. Lust is always more about momentary pleasure than true, long-lasting fulfillment. So when we set our sights on satisfying lust, we are indulging in the satisfaction of the animal soul, the pleasure of the body. Unfortunately, satisfying our instinctual needs has become more and more what society is about.
This is so commonplace that we take it for granted as something that is natural and inevitable. You may argue that there is a line between “normal” lust and lust that we might consider excessive or even dangerous, which is drawn differently by various individuals and groups, according to their value systems. But wherever you draw that line, it is important to understand what is at work here.
Why do we fall into excessive lust, whatever form it may take? Lust becomes excessive because of the emptiness we feel when we are separated from the spiritual dimension. Our identity has become entrenched and virtually circumscribed within physical existence. We don’t understand that the physical body is the home of our consciousness but that it is not our fundamental existence, our Beingness. And when we take our fundamental identity to be the body, we are bound to be materialistic. We believe that even our deepest needs can be met in the material realm, outside of ourselves. This false belief is the basis of the habit of our increasingly external focus.
There is nothing wrong with the physical dimension – we are human beings with senses, and we are meant to take pleasure in them. Our mouths love fine food, our ears delight in sublime music, and our bodies love the touch of sexual ecstasy. But most people never ask themselves what their bodily pleasure and materialist desires reflect. Imagine if we had angelic “lust” – if we were to take pleasure in peace, in love, in truth, in meaning, in depth and profundity. True lust for life is a desire for truth – a fullness from the bounty of Being. This true fulfillment never can be a function of what we acquire externally.
There is richness in the world, but it cannot be had through accumulating things. Acquiring things is the ego’s attempt to expand itself. Even if we could extend ourselves to the end of the universe and appropriate everything in our path, we would be missing the boundlessness of Beingness. In fact, our experience of the underlying emptiness would actually increase, not diminish, because the underlying emptiness would become more apparent. Being cut off from our spiritual nature is the fundamental cause of our sense of scarcity.
At a certain point, we need to find out what is pleasurable to us on a more subtle, more profound level than our body-based lusts. When we begin to be curious about this, that curiosity can lead us to meditation and inquiry. The good news is that liberation from a solely material point of view can free us from an exclusively physical perspective and lead us instead to our true ground as a human being. Ultimately, it is possible for the physical world to be an expression of who we are. We can embrace all of our outer reality with the larger perspective of our Beingness.
Read the book review: Money • Spirituality • Consciousness