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.

 

How do you make a living?

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What does it take to make a living?

When I was employed (God help me) I kept coming up with desperate schemes to quit my job and keep my family financially afloat.  But no matter what ideas I considered, people would tell me “there’s no money in it” or “you can’t make a living doing that”.

I’m glad I never pursued any of those schemes. Not because those warnings were true, but because I would now be stuck devoting all my time to something I didn’t really care enough about.

But in terms of the money, I’m wondering what exactly those people had in mind when they said you can’t make a living from whatever straws I happened to be grasping at: farming snails or running a microbrewery (or maybe both; snails love beer after all).

The whole time, I was preoccupied with the thought of income-replacement; not exactly the same thing as making a living.  I knew I was earning enough to live, but I had no idea how much was actually required – the minimum income needed to sustain my family.

Friend dtcwee put me onto a bit of free software that now allows me to keep track of all our income and expenses.  It’s been a bit of work, but the effort is paying off.  It’s only been seven weeks since I started, and it will take at least a quarter to be more confident in our progress, but at present we are still living within our means despite having lost what was, all things considered, a reasonably good salary.

In terms of our weekly expenditure, I am happy to report that at present my family is spending much less than the average in our state, without any significant compromises in our standard of living.  According to my calculations, we could live for 2.5 years on the average yearly expenditure of a South Australian household, or 3.7 years on the average yearly expenditure of Australian couples with children under 5.

This knowledge is empowering.  Knowing exactly how much money we need to live means we can afford to be much more picky about the kinds of work we will do to pay the bills.  The bigger the bills, the more limited our choices.

Most of us have been raised to think the opposite – that having a high-paying job gives us options and choice.  We rarely think that our expensive lifestyles limit our choices when it comes to employment and work-life balance.

Objectively, we are living a more frugal lifestyle. But subjectively we don’t really notice it.  We derive more value from not working hateful jobs than from being able to buy lots of things we don’t really want or need.

 

The end of employment and a new path

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Lately I’ve been considering the prospect of never being employed again. I don’t mean never working – I’m working more than I ever did as an employee.  But there’s a reasonable likelihood that I will never again need to don the clothes, the attitude, the soul-crushing alienation and the corresponding facade of a white-collar employee who sacrifices his freedom for the sake of a steady income.

The term ‘wage-slave’ is dramatic but fitting.  We live in an era where the average wage is far more than enough to meet one’s daily needs in terms of food and clothing, but nowhere near enough to afford the equally basic need of shelter – a piece of land and a roof over one’s head, a place to raise a family and explore the many and varied means of enriching one’s life.

In my city the median house price reportedly reached $400,000 this year, with the median household income (2011) at $57,356.  $57,000 can buy a hell of a lot of food, clothing, electricity, water, and transport.  But even if you spend the first few years of working life at home, sponging off your parents, at best you’ll only come out of it with a healthy deposit for your imminent mortgage.

The idea of going to live far from the city in some kind of self-sufficient paradise is equal parts dream and nightmare depending on how I’m feeling at any given moment.  But in principle we shouldn’t have to flee the city, or rather, flee the boundaries of costly real estate, in order to meet the basic need of shelter.

More importantly, self-sufficient isolation would undermine other basic needs: friendship, family, and society (in the broadest sense).  I could much more easily achieve self-sufficiency by abandoning my wife and child and learning to eat tree bark, but most people understand that making those kinds of sacrifices defeats the purpose of trying to meet our basic needs in the first place.

My wife and I currently live with our child in a small 1 bedroom apartment, close to family and friends.  As much as we would love to own a small acreage in the hills, it has become abundantly clear that achieving such a goal requires the sacrifice of too much personal integrity – effectively embracing the ‘wage-slave’ existence for however many years it takes to pay off a mortgage debt.  It would mean harming life in the present for the sake of an untested future goal, a goal that might never be what we hope, or might come too late, or might be rejected for some yet unforeseen circumstance.

Instead, we’ve decided to take the path that arises out of enjoyment of our present circumstances which are, after all, pretty good in a global context.  Since we can’t predict the future but have enough at present, we should focus on what we do have rather than what we hope to one day achieve or possess.

Abandoning employment – meaningless work according to the small-minded conventions of our present era – I’m intent on following instead the ideals that have always made greater sense to me, even if those ideals mean temporary sacrifices or more diligent choices.  Diligence and the sacrifice of unnecessary things never hurt anyone, and most of it we won’t even notice.  What we get in return is a life that is open and responsive to the development of a new path and new directions; a life that is increasingly free from the limitations of dry convention.

It’s exciting to think that I may never again need to lock myself into a compromised career path, never again pretend to be interested in the banalities of ‘making a living’ within the increasingly narrow band of jobs for which my experience and qualifications happen to be not so much suitable as least unsuitable.

The true significance hasn’t yet sunk in; I find it hard to fully appreciate what I’m doing, perhaps because our society doesn’t yet recognise or have the right terms for what I’m doing, which suggests to me that I really am on the right path.

Tiny-house movement

At least one Canberran is cutting back on the terrifying burden of mortgage debt by building himself a tiny, trailer-mounted house:

“The typical tiny house is built on a trailer – to get around legal and planning constraints – putting the maximum width at 2.5 metres,” he said.

“Usually people have a loft with a bed to maximise the available space.

“Most people have a mini kitchenette, and the contentious bit, that everybody is horrified by, is quite often a tiny house will have a composting toilet because you can’t easily hook the house up to sewerage.”

Mr Clapham said his solution to that problem would be a separate, very Australian, outhouse.

You can see more tiny house related material here and here. Personally I would like to have a much bigger house, but either way it’s going to be unconventional…

Update:

dtcwee is not overly impressed, noting that the Canberran’s exotic life choice is dependent on the good-will of wealthy boomer parents.

quoth dtcwee – “Ah the 1970s, when people dumb enough to overlook the effect of construction on resale value could still afford property. The ’80s called. They want their granny flats back.”

 

The nature of wealth

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Back in my bioethics days I spent a bit of time reading Thomas Aquinas on a variety of subjects, just to see what wisdom the ‘Angelic Doctor’ could bring to bear on aspects of contemporary life.  One insight that made a great deal of sense to me was his adoption of Aristotle’s distinction between natural and artificial wealth:

It is impossible for man’s happiness to consist in wealth. For wealth is twofold, as the Philosopher says (Polit. i, 3), viz. natural and artificial. Natural wealth is that which serves man as a remedy for his natural wants: such as food, drink, clothing, cars, dwellings, and such like, while artificial wealth is that which is not a direct help to nature, as money, but is invented by the art of man, for the convenience of exchange, and as a measure of things salable.

Now it is evident that man’s happiness cannot consist in natural wealth. For wealth of this kind is sought for the sake of something else, viz. as a support of human nature: consequently it cannot be man’s last end, rather is it ordained to man as to its end. Wherefore in the order of nature, all such things are below man, and made for him, according to Psalm 8:8: “Thou hast subjected all things under his feet.”

And as to artificial wealth, it is not sought save for the sake of natural wealth; since man would not seek it except because, by its means, he procures for himself the necessaries of life. Consequently much less can it be considered in the light of the last end. Therefore it is impossible for happiness, which is the last end of man, to consist in wealth.

This brief excerpt contains a number of important points.  Firstly, wealth is not the source of our happiness, but it is ‘a support of human nature’.  We need natural wealth in order to flourish and pursue the higher things in life.

Secondly, money and other forms of wealth that do not directly meet natural needs are to be considered ‘artificial wealth’.  Of themselves they hold no value.  In the words of Alanis Obomsawim, an indigenous Canadian:

When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.

The only value in artificial wealth is that we can use it to obtain natural wealth.  Hence artificial wealth such as money is a step removed from human life, an abstraction from the diversity of real things we need in order to live and to flourish.

Money has been around for a long time, but I wonder if our  ancestors were ever so preoccupied with it as we are today?  Money doesn’t behave in the same way as natural wealth.  Because we have no direct capacity to make use of it, it exists without natural order or function.  We can, therefore, obsess about it, pursue it, covet it and accrue it in ways that would not make sense for natural wealth.  As my grandfather says: “you can only sleep in one bed.”

I’ll be writing more on this topic, as I think our current way of life exaggerates the role of artificial wealth in our lives, with repercussions for our broader understanding of life and our pursuit of genuine flourishing.