What does it mean to be rich?

I love using etymology to inform my philosophy as I ask and answer questions like: what does it mean to be rich?

Full credit for all etymological resources to the magnificent website etymonline.com

Rich comes from Old English rice “strong, powerful; great, mighty; of high rank,” in later Old English “wealthy,” and was influenced in Middle English by Old French riche “wealthy, magnificent, sumptuous”.

So the high-ranking elites in Old English society were powerful and mighty and also wealthy. What we think of as rich most directly links to the wealthy component.

So what is wealthy?

Wealthy is the adjectival form of wealth, which means “happiness,” also “prosperity in abundance of possessions or riches,” from Middle English wele “well-being” (see weal(n.1)) on analogy of health.

Now we have a bunch of new words to track down:

Happiness, prosperity, weal, and abundance of possessions and riches.

Starting with riches, which, you might have guessed, is a bit of a dead end since it takes us back to rich.

In fact riches means “valued possessions, money, property,” c. 1200, modified from richesse (12c.), a singular form misunderstood as a plural, from Old French richesse, richece “wealth, opulence, splendor, magnificence,” from riche (see rich(adj.)).

What about possessions? Possessions are things that you have or hold, believed to stem from a root word that means “having power, able”.

Abundance means “copious quantity or supply,” mid-14c., from Old French abondance and directly from Latin abundantia “fullness, plenty,” abstract noun from abundant-, past participle stem of abundans “overflowing, full,” present participle of abundare “to overflow” (see abound).

So abundance of possessions and riches basically means having or holding so many things, especially the kinds of nice things high-ranking people have, that they are metaphorically overflowing.

But that’s not necessarily what we mean when we say “I want to be rich”. There’s more nuance needed, though in some respect it can simply mean “I want to be like one of those high-ranking elites!”

Let’s keep going.

Weal isn’t used much these days. It means “well-being,” from Old English wela “wealth,” in late Old English also “welfare, well-being,” from West Germanic *welon-, from PIE root *wel- (2) “to wish, will” (see will (v.)).

Will means “to wish, desire; be willing; be used to; be about to”. A fascinating word that predates our contemporary notion of free will, and appears to combine intentionality (he wills it) with behavioural commentary (he will do it).

What makes it even more fascinating is that well as in well-being comes from the same root as will.

Well means “in a satisfactory manner,” which makes sense if we take satisfactory to mean as desired or as willed.

Well is satisfactory because it matches what I will. And well-being therefore means being as I will.

So let’s add weal, meaning “being as I will” to our understanding of wealth. Wealth doesn’t just mean having so many things that they are metaphorically overflowing. It also means things being as you will or desire them to be.

Let’s keep going.

Prosperity is traditionally regarded as from Old Latin pro spere “according to expectation, according to one’s hope,” from pro “for” + ablative of spes “hope,” which sounds a lot like things being as one wills.

Finally, happiness, from happy means lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous;” of events, “turning out well,” from hap (n.) “chance, fortune”.

Etymonline notes that: From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for “happy” at first meant “lucky.”

And just for the sake of completeness, hap was a purely positive conception of luck. “chance, a person’s luck, fortune, fate;”.

So going back to where we started, Rich referred to a class of people who, amongst other things, were wealthy.

Wealth turned out to refer to a number of concepts, most predominantly the idea of things being according to one’s will.

Happiness has come to mean the emotion once associated with being favoured by fortune.

And abundance of possessions clarifies the overflowing of material things, presumably desirable things, which most people associate with wealth anyway.

If I had to summarise, I would say that the underlying historically-informed meaning of wealth is about the fulfilment of desires, which for most people includes material possessions and is commonly believed to rely on fortune or good luck.

I would argue that the word rich retains additional implications apart from wealth that touch on things like status and power. Perhaps that’s why we have the phrase rich and famous but not wealthy and famous.

Crazy wealthy Asians doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Practicing happiness 23

Feeling good vs feeling normal.

I want to flesh out a subtle point in the Abraham-Hicks teachings. I think it’s an implicit point and I haven’t seen it described quite this way before.

When our thoughts are aligned with our desires (and hence our inner being) we feel positive emotion.

When our thoughts contradict or resist our desires (and our inner being) we feel negative emotion.

Throughout each day we experience a range of alignment and misalignment, positive and negative emotion. Some of us spend more time in the negative and others spend more time in the positive.

The average of this range is our “point of attraction” or “set point”. But I think of this as an area rather than a point, having a range albeit a small one.

Everything in this range feels “normal” to us, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. We don’t like the negatives and we do like the positives, but they still feel normal or expected to us.

Shifting “normal”

I think the real point of the A-H teachings is to shift the range of what we consider normal, so that there is more positive and less negative.

But most of us approach these teachings with a desire to obtain things that are quite far outside our normal range. We fixate on “big” desires that we think would feel amazing if we achieved them.

But amazing is a long way from normal. “Amazing” is like saying “far away”. And if we set our attention on things that are far away we will inevitably experience distance.

This distance translates into a believability issue. It would be “amazing” to wake up tomorrow and find you’ve won the lottery. But if it feels amazing in that distant sense, you probably don’t believe it will happen.

Ironically, if it feels “amazing” that probably means you have a lot of resistance to it. If you really believed you were going to win the lottery tomorrow it wouldn’t feel amazing after all. It would feel normal to you. Positive, but in a normal way.

Thats why the A-H teachings emphasise ease and satisfaction and appreciation.

Recalibrating normalcy

It’s counter-intuitive, but if we focus on good things that feel “normal” we tune ourselves into allowing our preferences and desires. Whereas if we focus on distant things that feel “amazing” we implicitly reinforce our resistance to them.

Focusing on amazing distant things we don’t have is like saying “I’d feel better if I had that”. But if you had it, you would soon adjust to it as it became part of your new normal.

So the real question is what constitutes your “normal” set point? Is it a normal of allowing and appreciating good things? Or is it a normal of resisting and yearning for distant things?

The point of the A-H teachings is to change your normal…not by greatly changing the contents of your life right now, but by changing your own relationship to the flow of wanted and unwanted in your right now experience.

Because even in an experience with lots of resistance there is still some allowing of good things. Do you appreciate these things? Or do you deride them as insignificant?

Are you focusing on the fulfilment of your preferences or the denial of them? Because your “normal” contains both, and where you focus determines which one will grow in your future.

Am I looking at my normal experience through the lens of getting rid of unwanted things? Or through the lens of appreciating wanted things?

Appreciation doesn’t mean I have to feel ecstatic about every little thing in my life. I don’t have to feel wonderful that so many of my preferences are being met. But to at least acknowledge that they are being met is an excellent shift to make.

What do you prefer?

Do I prefer having a couch to sit on, or having nowhere to sit? Obviously I prefer having it. How does it feel to have it? Of course it feels normal. Does it feel good? Yes of course it feels good to have my preference met.

I could at this point say that it doesn’t meet all my preferences in a couch, or a couch isn’t a very significant preference, etc. But that’s just resistance.

Go back to the preference. Couch or no couch? Couch. Feels good? Yes.

Now I could also object that it doesn’t feel good enough, this good feeling isn’t really changing my life. But that’s resistance too.

Try preferencing again: good feeling about couch or no good feeling about couch? Well when you put it that way, I prefer having a good feeling about my couch.

By extension: do I prefer feeling good about all my many preferences that are being met right this minute? Or do I prefer not feeling good about them? Of course I prefer feeling good about them.

And here’s a glimpse of the whole milieu of preferences that I have allowed into my experience. It’s a snapshot of my “normal” degree of allowing vs resistance. It’s an insight into how good I’m letting my life be, objectively how many preferences I’m letting be met.

Ultimately even something as cliche as winning the lottery is just a preference. It’s not a game-changing deus ex machina that changes everything about your life. It’s not an emotional atom bomb of joy and amazement that will keep you glowing for years to come.

It’s just a preference some people have. And for many it’s a stick to beat themselves and their normal experience with….a symptom, not salvation.

In reality there are so many preferences met that I take for granted in my daily life, it’s shameful that I ignore them and wish for “more”.

I’m literally uplifted and sustained by a whole web of preferences I’m allowing on a daily basis. I go from one good thing to another, albeit taking them for granted most of the time.

As a teenager I would have been overawed at all the stuff I have now. But today I’m just expecting it to be there. I shouldn’t feel overawed anymore, that’s not the point, but if I want more of my preferences met I should take stock of where, how, and why my life is so full of things I desire, value, like, and prefer.

Practicing happiness 22

Exploring the relationship between wealth and body weight helped me recognise the feelings of insecurity, insufficiency and vulnerability that are helping create my reality.

Wishing I had more wealth or feeling bad about lack of wealth turned out to be self-deceptions that kept me from noticing how I feel at a deeper level.

Living a “marginal” existence reflects my fear of external forces, my desire to withdraw into safety even if that means making do with material insufficiency.

Yet there’s another beautiful paradox at the core of it: because wealth to me means or feels like sufficiency, security, and invulnerability….things I had already regarded as beyond me.

Denying my own sufficiency, security, and invulnerability, I thought it better to treat that awful state as “true” and adapt to it as best I could. Make the most of subjugation and try to limit my exposure to damage and suffering.

I really thought it was true, hence the terror I felt. It is terrifying to be convinced of your own insufficiency, insecurity, and vulnerability in a hostile world, and believe that no one and nothing is coming to save you.

It felt like an improvement to say “that’s just the way it is” and quash any hope it might be different. It seemed like progress to put all the pressure and burden on my own internal efforts to transform myself.

“Grow up”, “this is just life”, but I held onto my spiritual goal, thinking I could somehow transcend the limitations of this ****** existence.

But I was wrong. I was wrong to accept that I am insufficient, insecure, and vulnerable. I was wrong to believe in hostile and cruel external forces. I was wrong to think I am powerless unless I somehow met the requirements of spiritual transformation.

My thoughts create my reality – so I made that my truth, but it doesn’t have to be. I can change my thoughts and change my reality. I can allow sufficiency, security, and invulnerability to be my reality. I can deny the ability of any external force to create my reality. I can accept and allow the power already and always within me.

Real freedom, real security, real sufficiency real invulnerability — I can allow these with my thoughts and begin enjoying them immediately.

My life is my creation, and I can choose what goes in it – thoughts that feel good or thoughts that don’t. It’s entirely up to me. And when I change my thoughts my reality really does change. I feel it, and I see it, and that process of deliberate creation is the most satisfying and delightful thing of all. It’s the meaning and purpose of my existence – freedom, expansion, and joy.

Practicing happiness 21

“I create my reality” means my reality is a reflection of my thoughts/vibration.

I used this principle when I lost weight – deciding that my body weight was a reflection of my eating behaviour. But then it turned out that my eating behaviour was a reflection of my emotional state, and hence my thoughts/vibration too.

How?

I found that I was eating more than I needed because of the pleasure it brought, and when I stopped, I felt negative emotions that had been there the whole time.

In psychological terms I’d been using eating to regulate my emotional state. Many of us overeat for this reason, often unconsciously.

When I was overweight I’d wish I was leaner and better looking. That wish or yearning was painful, but it gave me a sense of control or rightness to my situation. To be unrepentantly overweight was frightening and shameful, so feeling bad about being overweight and yearning to be leaner brought a kind of balance.

Painful yearning

These lessons apply to my broader reality.

As with my weight, my whole reality is a reflection of my thoughts/vibration.

When I painfully yearn for life to change, it’s the same as wishing I could be lean.

But wishing did not accomplish anything and was in fact part of the problem!

My painful wish for relationships, money, housing, and other conditions to change is in fact a ruse designed to balance out my actual thoughts and feelings on these subjects.

When I was overweight I would feel bad for various reasons, and then eat to escape those bad feelings, and inevitably put on weight. Then I would feel bad about being overweight and wish I was leaner and make attempts at dieting and exercise that didn’t really address the cause.

Real change came when I allowed myself to feel bad without escaping into eating, knowing that if I stopped dysfunctional eating my body would inevitably return to a healthy weight.

It worked. So the same will work with the rest of reality.

I create my reality

On an issue like money, wishing for more money and feeling bad that I don’t have it is akin to wishing to be lean and feeling bad that I’m not.

That means it too is a self-deception.

If I don’t pay lip-service to being financially secure I would have to face the deeper fears and worries I’m escaping from.

Both the “i wish I had money!” cry and the feeling bad about not having enough money are parts of a bigger dynamic. They shouldn’t be taken at face value. Like wishing to be lean and feeling bad about being overweight, they appear solution-oriented but accomplish nothing. They are in fact problem-oriented.

Take them away, and what lies beneath them is a much more potent feeling of terror; and this terror is an emotional response to thoughts of insufficiency and insecurity. Thoughts of not enough power to survive amidst brutal and crushing external forces. Thoughts of being vulnerable in the face of harsh and uncaring others who will exploit and abuse you if given the chance.

Dealing with terror

These thoughts are a significant component of my vibrational set-point. To escape them I focus on less terrifying thoughts of being out of the way and detached from that terrifying reality.

In other words: I focus on whatever is left when those emotions are blocked out. I eke out an existence, and to complete the self-deception I lament my marginal existence and wish it could be otherwise.

I don’t know if you can follow this, maybe it’s too personal. But the reason I’m not rich is because wealth would contradict my thoughts of insufficiency and insecurity and vulnerability.

But to stop me exploring that fact and ending up facing the painful feelings of terror once more, I commit the self-deception of wishing I had more money and thinking of ways to obtain it.

If I just went out and got a job I would be placing myself in that situation of interdependence, submission, and vulnerability that I’ve worked hard to escape.

Yet I create my reality, and what I’m truly escaping is not external circumstances but my thoughts and feelings around those circumstances.

If the perfect job were offered me, I’d see it as a trap. If money were freely given me, or I won a lottery, I’d be challenged by the money itself to face the insecurities and fears I’ve described here.

Finding coherence

To be free of self-deception, to understand how my thoughts create my reality, is profound, meaningful, and brings relief from struggle and confusion.

Where I am makes perfect sense right now.

And the answer for me is to feel the terror I’ve been avoiding. But feel it in an atmosphere of knowing that it has always been there whether I feel it or not, and avoiding it merely kicks the can down the road.

The influence of that terror on the whole of my life is palpable. I wonder what life would look and feel like if I stopped trying to escape it?

I’m curious. What would happen if I allow myself to make peace with those terrifying thoughts of vulnerability and insufficiency?

How will my life change when I no longer think of myself and life in this terrifying way?

Because these thoughts are old. Really old. And while that means they have momentum, it also means they are out of date. I haven’t examined them for ages, maybe ever? And in the meantime I’ve been growing and learning and expanding so much.

Am I vulnerable? Am I insufficient? No. Those beliefs only formed within me in very specific circumstances many years ago. Given a chance to air them and examine them in the light of day? I think they are ripe for change.

Does your happiness seem far away?

Your reality is a reflection of what’s going on inside you – the average of all your thoughts and attitudes.

So if it seems like your happiness is far away: be it relationships, wealth, career or anything; or if it feels like there are weighty obstacles to your desires, these obstacles and this distance are a perfect reflection of the resistance within you.

If you have doubts about a major purchase you might be tempted to make the purchase anyway. But the doubts won’t be resolved by action alone. Instead you’ll find new reflections of doubt in your fresh circumstances.

If you think you can make a relationship happen through effort despite obstacles, know that the obstacles are reflecting resistance already in you. Trying to change the circumstances will just bring the resistance out by another path.

If wealth seems always out of reach it’s not the external distance that’s the problem but the internal resistance in the form of thoughts about wealth, value, economics and so on.

Use the reflection

The good news is that we can use the reflection or manifestation to understand and ease our resistance.

If it seems like there are no jobs for people like me, or if the only jobs for which I am qualified appear soul-destroying in their awfulness, that’s just a reflection of my thoughts about money.

Someone like me doesn’t deserve easy money.

The cost of obtaining money is just too high.

Money requires sacrifice.

Yet I’ve had jobs that were objectively easy, and did I enjoy them? No. I created and focused on aspects of the jobs that kept alive the feeling of sacrifice or struggle.

If the job was easy, I spent every day fearing that I’d be called to account for not accomplishing enough.

I balanced out the easy money by feeling untenable guilt and unworthiness.

Close the gap in yourself

Instead of struggling to change the reflection or manifestation, work on resolving, soothing, or otherwise improving the thoughts you focus on.

Struggle and action will only move things around, they won’t change the underlying cause.

Whatever distance or obstacles appear in your reality, the real gap is not between your present circumstances and your desired outcome; the real gap is between your thoughts and your desires.

Work on closing that gap, simply by finding thoughts that feel better.

And when your thoughts actually change, then you’ll see that the distance doesn’t matter, obstacles don’t mean anything, and new possibilities arise without any effort on your part.

Believe that you have received it

It’s much more simple than I imagined.

The things we desire in life each have a “feeling” associated with them.

I want to be wealthy, and if I imagine having wealth right now it feels a certain way.

How often do I let myself feel that good? If I’m honest with myself, it’s not as often as I would like.

If you prayed for wealth and, as instructed, believed you had received it, wouldn’t you enjoy that good feeling right away? And would that good feeling persist?

That’s how simple it is. Simple, but not easy to do if you have practised believing other things, like your old stories that feel terrible and only add momentum to unwanted circumstances.

All you need to do is let yourself feel the feeling of what you desire (believe you have received it), and let the feeling be enough.

That last part is crucial because your embrace of the good feeling must be genuine. You can’t have one eye on the feeling and the other eye scanning for signs of what you want.

Keeping score and looking for evidence apart from the feeling itself dilutes it. It’s the difference between believing and “wishful thinking”.

Wealth has a feeling, if I believe then I must embrace that feeling and let the feeling be enough. Only that will count as sincere belief.

And after all, the reason we want wealth is to feel better. So feeling good right now is already the result I’m after, and the last, final step in letting go of old habits and old stories.

The Way of abundance

The way I lost weight and the way I healed my autoimmune pain had a lot in common.

One of the commonalities was my underlying belief that health is natural. Our bodies naturally incline to a healthy weight. Our immune systems naturally protect the body rather than attacking it.

According to Daoism it is our interference in nature and our contrived efforts to control nature that end up causing illness and dysfunction.

So the whole time I was searching for the solution to these physical problems, I had great faith that my natural state of health would re-emerge if I stopped interfering.

And it did. I took away compulsive overeating, listened to my natural hunger, and my weight decreased naturally.

I stopped pushing myself and let go of various stressful thoughts, and my pain and inflammation went away.

What about life?

But when it came to the rest of life, that faith dissipated.

Why?

Partly because “nature” is easier to associate with the body than with society, economy, and meaning in life.

These “higher order” subjects are usually associated with the problem of human interference, rather than with the movement of the Way.

But it’s also partly because physical health is not under our direct control. It makes sense that our health would follow nature, but how can our career choices, income, daily interactions, or the flow of traffic?

False dichotomy

I didn’t give up on finding the Way in daily life, but because of this dichotomy between the human and the natural I concluded that finding the Way in everyday life was much harder and required more effort.

I was fixated on the problem of “ego” and the Daoist idea of being free from desires. I thought I had to attain a special spiritual state before I could find my Way.

It didn’t occur to me to equate living a good life with the natural health of my body.

Yet health and wealth are not so different. The Dao or Way that governs my physical body and draws it naturally to health is the same Way that guides my life into ease and abundance.

So by inference, what I require is faith that the Way wills abundance in my life just as it wills health in my body, and the only obstacle to both is my own interference.

I don’t need to attain a special spiritual state, just stop interfering in the natural flow and movement of the Way.

Health and wealth

Wealth is not just about money and property. The word itself actually means “well-being” and comes from the same root as “weal“.

In fact health isn’t just about the absence of illness and disease either. Health is wholeness and completeness, and by extension well-being also.

Daoism teaches that the Way nourishes and cares for all beings. Reminiscent of “Consider the lily” or the birds of the field, the mysterious power of the Way assures us of well-being.

How do we get out of our own way? How do we stop interfering with the wholeness and well-being that flow to us?

As I’ve been learning, the answer is twofold: first and most importantly, appreciate and savour the well-being that already flows to you, because in so doing, we tune into the source of that well-being and reaffirm its full availability to us.

I did this automatically with my health issues: recognising that the rest of my body functioned perfectly well; and even going so far as to recognise that being overweight was actually a healthy response to overeating, and that my autoimmune pain was a healthy reaction to internal stress and emotional tension.

The second part of aligning with our natural well-being is to recognise that it is our negative thoughts and ensuing emotions that interfere with this well-being.  The Way does not abandon us, we are the ones who deviate from its path.

In that sense, our negative feelings and the absence of well-being is an indicator that we are straying from the path. The gaps in our welfare and happiness are self-inflicted, if we stop entertaining them our natural well-being will quickly reassert itself in our experience.

Imagine, then, the streams of well-being flowing to you from the Way, the mysterious being that governs and nourishes all things, nourishing and guiding you into the wholeness and well-being you desire.

Remain in that stream, appreciate the goodness and relief and happiness it contains and let it carry you forward in grace.

We are all rich men now

My latest piece on MercatorNet examines how our consumer culture has fostered our love-hate relationship with money.

Most of us do not consider ourselves rich – we still have to work, after all – but consumerism has made us similar to the rich in our dependence on money, on wealth, for meeting our own needs. We may not be rich relative to the billionaires and multi-millionaires, but we are just as dependent on money as they are. Consumerism has given us the rich man’s dependence on wealth without his corresponding freedom from work.

Serving two masters

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Having a smaller, less stable income these days has left me newly appreciative of certain biblical passages:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Money too is more than food and clothing, and as such I think it gives us a sense of security and sufficiency that inhibits our sensitivity to providence.  Why should we ‘trust in God’ when we have permanent employment and a guaranteed income?

This balance between material security and spiritual dependence is complex, as demonstrated by the contending interpretations of the beatitude of the ‘poor in spirit’, and the story of the rich young man who went away sad.

It’s not wealth per se that is the problem, but our devotion to it over and above higher things; allowing it to dominate our lives and our minds.  At times it can be hard to tell whether we are the masters of wealth or the slaves, driven by financial imperatives with nothing higher to intervene or change our minds.

I think this is the significance of my decision not to follow the financial imperative back into mediocre employment for the sake of a reliable income and the sense of security and sufficiency it affords.  The decision to cease compromising my integrity for the sake of money means acknowledging something higher than my income in a society where a high income is more often than not the summum bonum.

Your money, or your life?

My latest article at Mercatornet.com looks at the distinction between artificial wealth and natural wealth, and how our increasing dependence on money may be distorting our enjoyment of life.

In our minds only the very rich love money, since only the very rich have enough of it to relax, sit back, and think happy thoughts about their bank balances and net worth. We do not think of ourselves as lovers of money, but we are nonetheless, nearly to a man, devoted to the getting, the storing, and the increasing of our share. We may not feel that we love money, but we are, like respectable men of a past era, intent on doing the right thing by it. And for nearly all of us the right thing is to chase money, accumulate money, loyally devote ourselves to the earning and the increasing of our monetary wealth.