Putting Out These Fires

I woke up on Saturday to wildfire smoke out my front window. It was thick and heavy and we couldn’t leave our residence. I live about 1500km from the California wildfires in the interior of British Columbia. My eyes are sore, my throat itchy, and a headache has been sitting in my head hammering away since the smoke landed. It feels like the whole continent is suffering the pain and the effects. We are all so interdependent, I thought.

I live at a meditation center and work as a meditation teacher and money coach. And we sit as a community every morning and evening together, holding all the people affected by the wildfires in our hearts.

My spiritual side is devoting my practice to all those suffering from the fires raging through the Western US, while my money coach side contemplates a healthier political and economic system that places more value on nature and people than on money. I hope for a day where we can return to being treated more like citizens and less like consumers.

Perhaps the current fire situation is an outer manifestation of an inner imbalance in the human race.

My spiritual lineage is Buddhist, and fire is a central metaphor of Buddhism, usually as a negative quality of mind or consciousness. Putting out these fires is the goal of Buddhist practice. Maybe, perhaps, the planet is actually helping us with this.

In his early teachings, the Buddha identified “three poisons,” or three negative qualities of the mind that cause most of the problems in the world. The three poisons are: greed (​raga​, also translated as lust), hatred (​dvesha​, or anger), and delusion (​moha​, or ignorance).

From my work with clients and organizations in their relationship with money, these negative qualities of the mind seem to come up in our sessions again and again.

We tend to fill up our houses with things we don’t need, spending more time accumulating and less time letting this go. We take more than we need, desperately seeking meaning in our greed and overconsumption.

Lynn Twist from the Soul of Money Institute speaks to an unconscious assumption that many people carry that we don’t know we have, which is measuring our self-worth by how much we have in our bank account. Gosh, think of the suffering of trying to keep up with the Joneses here.

There is so much opportunity to be angry with what our governments are doing or not doing, or the great number of inequality in wealth distribution. According to a study from Harvard University, most of the wealth in the US is held by the top 20% of the population. This unequal

distribution of wealth particularly affects people of color, including black and indigenous communities. There is a lot to be angry about.

I find it scandalous that a few billionaires have used their money to dominate the US elections and changed the American political system to meet their agenda at the expense of freedom, democracy and clarity.

The arising of these feelings in today’s climate is justified. But the more courageous work is to recognize how our own greed, hatred, and delusion around our relationship with money contributes to the harm in the world. And learning to manage our feelings can help us to make better decisions around using money as a work for love.

In Buddhism, the three poisons are opposed by three positive attitudes essential to liberation from our dissatisfaction and suffering: generosity (​dana​), lovingkindness (​maitri​, Pali: m​ etta​), and wisdom (​prajna​). Buddhist practice is about recognizing these positives for positives and growing them and recognizing the poisons for the poisons and letting them go.

So, what are your thoughts around this man-made resource called money? What mental attitudes have you projected onto your relationship with money? What thoughts give rise to generosity? What is it to be generous?
What thoughts give rise to using money for love, not greed?

What thoughts give rise to using money wisely, not coming from a place of ignorance or fear?

Personally, I feel we have a lot of trauma around money. And I believe we can heal from it, which can lead to improved relationships with others, more compassion, openness, appreciation for life, spiritual growth, personal strength, and a renewed sense of possibilities in the world.

I’d like to end with the fire metaphor again. The word nirvana is derived from the extinguishing of fire. Sariputra, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, was once asked, “What is nirvana?” He answered, “The destruction of greed, the destruction of anger, the destruction of delusion—this is nirvana.” What would our planet, our connection with each other, look like if we cleared up our shame, our unconscious assumptions, around money as a human species?

May this article inspire you to initiate a journey towards healing your relationship with money.