Money is Water, Not Rock
I had a friend in high school who was not good with his money. It slipped through his fingers as soon as he got it. He used to put his hand under running water and tell me that this was his relationship to money. He was a mess, but he was right about money. By its nature, money flows. In fact, its very usefulness, just like water, is when it flows. It's not as useful when it just sits around collecting pond scum.
Of course you're right. It's a good idea to have a nest egg. It's a good idea to have some savings as a backstop for times of financial difficulty. But in my own experience, obsessing about saving money brings about the wrong psychology.
When I was younger I was a bank teller. I had graduated high school in Texas and moved out to coastal California because I had fallen in love with the ocean. I was so in love that I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent myself from having to leave and return home. The way I did this was to try and save as much of my paltry income as possible. I went to great lengths to save money.
For several years I ate little more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, beans and rice, and on celebratory occasions, chips and salsa at a restaurant. I was saving gobs of money. Or at least it felt like gobs of money to me. With every dollar I saved I felt more and more insulated from having to leave California and return to Texas. But this obsession with saving brought about a psychology that was not helpful to me. I was so conservative with money that I did not take chances. I didn't even invest the money wisely. I kept it in savings accounts that bore virtually no interest. I was so protective of my money that I pushed away relationships because socializing meant spending money that I preferred to sit on and save. I reduced my openness to friendship and play and exploration. I actually contracted my life rather than expanded it. My commitment to sitting on piles of cash meant that I did not change and grow. I grew stale and brackish. I was a bore to be around. I started growing pond scum.
My first years in California were marked by me huddling and turning inward and trying to ward off risk. I was living a life of diminished courage. I was not throwing myself at life, I was turning away from it.
While in college I had a professor who introduced me to the idea that courage was something to think about, meditate on and cultivate in oneself. He was a comparative religious ethicist and he was an expert in Dante, Aquinas, Mencius and Zhuang Zi, among other philosophers. He brought me to ancient and sacred texts that explored the virtue of courage, a virtue discussed and explored in most philosophies. For my professor, courage of the mind was paramount. In order to live fully and openly, in order to engage mentally, intellectually, psychologically with life, one must cultivate one's faculty of courage. My professor taught me that my life in California had not been one of courage. I had been shrinking away from life instead of running toward it. My obsession with amassing and protecting my money was an obsession in turning inward and fearing the natural flow of living and learning.
Remember my friend in high school who used to joke about how money was just like water for him in that it always slipped through his fingers? Well I was the fool who was trying hard to cup my hands and hold on to as much water as I could for fear that the tap would dry up. It took an education in courage to realize this. But what really brought me to clarity on this point was when I came to be a business owner.
Once you start a business, you really throw yourself at life. You open yourself courageously to whatever may come your way. In many cases, you cannot figure out how your business grows or changes as new customers find their way to you. Much of it is a mystery. Or at least its complexity is beyond you. What becomes clear though is that there is a flow to things.
This past Monday I received an email from a potential client who worked for a very large, very established tech company. I truly have no idea how they found us. The work they needed done was work we had done very well for another large client. But that client was not how we were found. Though I have asked, I still do not have a clear picture of how this new client came to know of us. But that's classic. That's how things always seem to go for businesses like mine. The workings of how clients find us are mysterious, but what is obvious is that there is a flow to it.
When water flows through a stream or river or down a shower drain, it tends to do so in surges and waves. Some bodies of water flow very steadily and consistently, but all of them flow with at least some irregularity. And to be sure, all bodies of water have some sort of flow to them. Those with less movement have more schmutz than those with more. The work that flows through my company is very much like this. When it rains it pours.
Once I noticed this sense of the flow of work that came through my company, I began, slowly, to become more comfortable with it. There are surges and there are droughts, but at all times there is a flow of some kind. In fact, observing this aquatic behavior can be informative. When you can tap into the nature of money as flow, it can educate your business decisions. When I see one income stream begin to dry and turn into a trickle, I know that I need to make a change and open up a different stream of income. But observing the behavior of this flow is an exercise in courage in many ways. You can't see what the natural flow of money can teach you if you do not allow your own money to flow as well. When you build up a dam and prevent money from moving, you block the flow and close off what can be observed. It takes courage to let things flow, principally because it requires a courageous state of mind to remain faithful that more money will come flowing down your stream.
I have developed a peculiar habit, when I notice the flow of money slowing, of releasing instead of holding. In the past, when I thought I was at risk financially, I would huddle and hold on to more money. But nowadays, now that I know more about the nature of money, I release it rather than hold it. For example, when I find that I am feeling insecure, at a psychological level, about my finances, I alleviate this dis-ease by giving some money to a charity or cause I like. Or I give bonuses to my team. Or I take a friend out for a nice meal. Or I buy something somewhat frivolous for my wife or kids. I do not know the cause and effect of it, but I have found over the years that when I take the courageous action of letting go, very shortly thereafter, something new and prosperous comes my way.
And so we touch on something truly useful in this meditation on the nature of money. Opening up one's hand, courageously, and letting the water flow through freely, somehow opens us up to allowing greater and greater flows of abundance to run through our lives. Money is an easy meditation in this regard, but the abundance of love in our lives also obeys these same principles.
In my youth I never thought that money and love would be connected, but insofar as they elicit and respond to courage they are the same, like water, they flow.