Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Money, Bliss and Patriotism

While the three words above may not be obviously connected, I submit to you on this Wednesday before Independence Day that they are.

Joseph Campbell has asserted in many of his books that by saving yourself, you save the world. That by following your bliss, you become a force for life and vitality and positive change in the world, a light beating back the ever-encroaching darkness.

One of the things I've tried to highlight on this blog is the connection between money and bliss. Or, actually, that bliss is not dependent on money, and in fact, is squeezed out by its pursuit. Ironically, many of us spend our days worrying about making money because we are in debt, or because we want something material: a nicer car, a bigger house, a fancy handbag. Lest you think I sound self-righteous here, rest assured, I am not immune to the siren song of that fancy handbag. I want one, I really do.

But pursuing something if one cannot afford it is not wise. And so I stop. And I say, if I have money, I will buy the fancy handbag. But the handbag is not a goal. I do not want to make myself miserable for that handbag.

Unfortunately, many in our country--and in the world--have eyes only for the things they want. And so they either work jobs they hate to get those things, or they spend money they don't have (courtesy of our friends in the credit industry) to get those things.

And because no action comes without an associated reaction (thank you, elementary physics!), we can see here what the consequences are to making obtaining things our primary goal: misery or debt.

Thus starts the cycle. The cycle of servitude to a job you hate to pay the master (card) that owns you. Now, I'm not saying there aren't things we still need, and of course we'll always have bills to pay, and we'll always need to do work in exchange for some kind of wage.

The question is, how much choice do you have in that work, and how much freedom do you have if you need to walk away?

My argument is that it's patriotic to get yourself out of debt, or to aim for work that fulfills your soul rather than filling your living room or your closet. You may not much care for the idea of patriotism or loyalty to a nation, and that's fine. But it will be patriotic whether you call it that or not, and that's what matters. Save yourself, and in doing so, you save the world. It's a powerful idea.

Reduce your debt, eliminate your crushing dependence on your paycheck by eliminating unnecessary spending, and begin--even if only in your off hours--to plan for something more. To start writing or drawing or sewing or dancing or doing whatever it is that gives your heart and your mind ease.

I've often said that disease is an interesting word, since it is literally the "lack of ease." While you may be physically healthy, are you at ease with your life? Do you feel serenity and concentration when doing your work? Or are you suffering from a profound dis-ease that gnaws at you, that keeps you up at night, that makes you dream of high-priced handbags as a balm for your ills?

Diagnose your dis-ease. My bet is that it begins with money and work. Once you have real freedom again, once your work feels (and is!) in a way voluntary, once you have the flexibility to pay attention to other areas of your life, your family, your community, you will find wealth (in the narrow and broader sense of the word), happiness and health.

And as we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on Friday, I think you'll agree that the more people with those three things living next door, the better.

So go ahead, declare your own independence. And if you need some inspiration, the words below should help:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...

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