Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for July 5th, 2008

What money can’t buy 28

Posted on July 05, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I am having an out-of-money experience.  — Author Unknown

It’s on everyone’s mind nowadays as we see the oil price index rise to stratospheric levels, the stock market plunge, the price of food, transport, tuition, electricity and practically everything jump to dangerously impossible levels. Everywhere you go, people are complaining about it and many are having great anxieties about the future.

With the way prices are spiraling, not a few seriously worry about their savings and the little assets they have. Will we be able to afford life in the next coming months or years in the style that we have been accustomed to, is a question I ask myself often these days. Other questions that beg for reassuring answers are: Will we be able to surmount this financial obstacle and move forward towards more acquisition of wealth enough to be ahead of inflation, recession, depression? Will I have enough for emergencies? Will I have enough for next month’s expenses? When will all this instability end ? Are the good times over?

Money and the economy are on everyone’s minds. People are tightening their belts and making do with the diminishing power of their income, which is becoming increasingly inadequate.

As an artist, I wonder if people will, in the near future, still have the resources to buy books, music, pictures, art, watch concerts and indulge in the so-called finer things in life. And yet I know from experience that when we were experiencing all that hardship under the later years of the Marcos regime, with the economy charting a negative direction of growth, we were booked solid for concerts. Just the same, it’s moments like these when I am almost always tempted to entertain the useless thought of imagining if I would be in a better situation today had I taken up, say, dentistry, law, architecture, etc. years ago. I don’t know whether economically I would be ahead; I do suspect, though, that I would probably be an alcoholic now if I had gone down a different path.

Money means many things to many people. For some, it is the root of all evil. For others, the loss or the immediate gain of it in fantastic sums is the cause of major anxieties, to be sure. Those are the two most common experiences of money. The pursuit of it, the earning, spending, saving, planning, and the creation of it demands a lot of energy from us. And a lot of that energy is spent on the acquisition, but more so, I suspect, on speculating. And we are constantly speculating whether what we have is enough. 

But what exactly is “enough”? Enough , I suppose, is anywhere between  “enough” to tide us through,  or to move ahead. Or it could be the best type of “enough” — to have enough to not ever worry about money, if there is ever such a state.

I know there are people who do not worry about money and I am completely fascinated by them. I have met a few and am in awe at how they live through life with aplomb and lightness. I notice that such people seem to have the following characteristics: one, they are not rich materially and are disinterested in accumulating money in large amounts; two, they hardly seem to worry about the economic twists and turns of their fortunes; three, they trust that the universe will provide; and four, they have a cheerful disposition and are passionate about life.

One may argue that these people are living in cocoons and are not facing up to the realities of living in this world. From a materialist point of view, that assessment may be spot on. I am reminded of a quote from Oscar Wilde that goes, “It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.” But from the perspective of someone concerned with general happiness and well-being, it is a desirable state to be in.

“There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either,” Robert Graves said. He seems to summarize how the materialist and the “What, me worry?” types tend to be totally indifferent toward, or often completely disdainful of, one another, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

I also know that for many of us who are more often slaves of the material world than free poets, there is nothing like life’s reversals of fortune to knock some spiritual sense into us, and remind us to look at our own self-worth outside all monetary considerations. In other words, what are we really, without our little pile of wealth, status and all the trappings? To paraphrase M. Scott Peck, the decline in our fortunes often signals the start of our spiritual journey. It implies that money often prevents us from ever expanding into territories outside the gross realm of material acquisition. But the loss of money often leads one to clutch at philosophical ruminations, religious conversions, or to put it simply, the awakening to things that money cannot buy. After all, when we can’t have money, we belittle it, scoff at it and those who have it and align it with what it is powerless against.

It is gratifying to the soul to list what money cannot buy. To show that the best things in life are free, in the creativity classes I hold, one homework assignment I give is to list down 10 things we are all getting for free right now. It usually leaves a few students stumped until they realize that one must open one’s eyes to see what is already obvious — air, scenery, sound, the ground, gravity, health, one’s thoughts, etc. And when I make them do a list of 200 things, they find themselves close to the realm of greater awareness, even poetry, as they explore the more subtle presence of gifts that are everywhere, such as the smell of coffee that is comforting, the presence of other live human beings in the room who dream, love, fear, ache, laugh and rejoice at probably the same things we do, to name just a few observations.

The sudden loss of money can, indeed, make us feel and become more authentic to ourselves and to others. Somehow, when we are talking from the depths of our empty pockets, we seem more real. There are no pretenses because there is nothing to hide. On the other hand, when our money talks exclusively, very little else about us can be heard or known.

On Australian TV last night, I was watching an obnoxious heir to a sizeable wealth brag that he would often tell people he disliked to “shut up because my family can buy off your family.” This shows how well money can dehumanize someone who allows his wealth to be all he is.

Is there a middle ground? Can one be a poet and a materialist at the same time?

Logan Pearsall Smith has a cynical answer to this: “Those who set out to serve both God and Mammon soon discover that there is no God.” Or how about this quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: “A man is usually more careful of his money than of his principles.” I can understand where these two quotes are coming from. Often, I have looked the other way at the expense of more noble callings to earn an extra buck. But on balance, I have willingly parted with money as well, for charity, and even for principles.

One of the most sobering reflections on the topic I have ever heard was from Jon Santos, a comedian and good friend who puts things in such wonderful perspective. In the middle of a conversation about the economic problems people were facing, a conversation that was turning more pessimistic every second, Jon wisely pointed out that “at least we were not in Burma.”

Being present to other realities can often lift us above our own problems.

* * *

The 42nd run of Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU), a workshop of “creative awakening,” is on once again. If you are in search of a more empowered, creative and joyful life, this workshop is for you. If you have not joined this session, now is the time to do it.

TCU will be held August 4 to 8, concluding August 11, from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. The cost of the workshop is still P5,000.

Please  write to emailjimp@gmail.com for a syllabus or  call Ollie at (0917)855-4303 for any other queries or for reservations.

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