Love, the Greater God
Fear is a universal human phenomena; one we experience in mind, heart, and body. Fear in the mind takes the form of doubt: doubt of your capacity to meet the needs of a situation, doubt about what to put your trust in, and so forth. At the level of the heart, fear takes the form of anger and leads to withdrawal from relationships. We all experience self-protective anger. We express it passively, by withholding love and by ignoring the needs of others; and actively, through aggression, attack, and judgment of ourselves and others. The most universally-accepted notion of fear is fear at the level of the body, which has to do with fear of death, suffering, and pain. Basically, it's the sense that your are not in control of your body, that your body has betrayed you. There's also an element of fear in the aging process for many people, not only the loss of physical vitality, but the loss of mental capacity. The fear of dementia is great in our culture. Fear at the level of the body takes the form of dread. Dread is a paralyzing sense that the feeling will overwhelm you, that this feeling will dissolve your sense of self.
Fear is the deepest of our emotions, the most fundamental of our emotions. It's the most important emotion for us to consciously engage because it has so much power to rob us of our humanity: to make us cruel, to dehumanize us, to disengage us from a sense of participation with life. When fear takes hold of us at a deep level, we feel completely separated and isolated.
Although understanding fear intellectually helps us to approach fear, to truly understand fear, you have to face fear daily. Not just stand against it, but become its disciple and let it teach you about who you really are. That's where courage comes in. You have to relate directly with fear.
Many years ago, to tell an anecdote from my life, I made a decision to enter a room in my house, to pray ceaselessly, and to engage fear in every way that I could remember it, think of it, or anticipate it. I did this meditation for the better part of three days and at the end of it, I stepped out on my porch at my house, and suddenly, I had a vision of fear. I realized that fear is one of the greatest of all the gods. Fear is a god you can never defeat if you attempt to fight fear on fear's level. So, I looked at fear and got down on my knees. I put my forehead to the deck floor, and I bowed before fear, like you bow before a great master, and I said, "Fear, you are a great god, I know that I can never defeat you, but I know that there is another god that is greater to whom I give myself." While I didn't truly understand the implications of what I was doing or what it would mean, I did understand in some way that the principle of love was a greater god.
At that point, though I hadn't fully integrated the understanding, I made the decision to become intimate with fear, to look at fear directly, because in a loving universe, fear is just another relationship another place to know. Of course, fear is, at times, an overwhelmingly difficult emotion, but it is not something that has to divide you from yourself, from a sense of your own deepest I am. To evolve in consciousness is to less and less be a victim of fear. At that point, I was only beginning to develop some mastery, but I had received an understanding of love as the foundation principle of our universe, not so much as human sentiment, but of connection and relationship between all things. Love is a greater god than fear, and therefore, if one stands with love, one can turn toward fear. In a loving universe, the principle that guides everything is Relationships. In a universe in which fear is the principal god, we seek to avoid fear by sedating or diminishing ourselves. We close off relationships to things that frighten or disturb us deeply, but inevitably, they catch up to us to some extent. In a loving universe, we meet fear when fear is there. We don't go looking to conquer fear. I never presume I'm going to defeat fear, I just presume relationship, I turn toward fear. I open myself, I become alert, I sense how fear is arising in my body, in the activity of my mind. I try to relax into the fear. At times, it feels bigger than my center, but my center is bigger than the fear, because the center abides in the place I call love, the place where the universe is one great interconnected intelligence. Fear wants us to believe that we are separate, exclusively private psychic entities, but this is only a partial truth. We are also and primarily an expression of that vast wholeness.
When we are afraid, our fears seem so concrete and we believe that this frightened person is who we really are. In contrast, when we reach out to take the hand of love, the movement toward our real self seems much less concrete. That is a movement in faith. There isn't any obvious evidence until, as faith grows, fear becomes less a controlling force in our lives and joy becomes a more natural force in our lives. When you reach toward this deeper mystery called love or wholeness or source or Self, as the root from which all experience emerges, the movement can't be measured scientifically. It's only rational in the sense that the consequences of not having that relationship is to live continuously as the victim of fear, and therefore, to always run from fear toward some imagined security or some imagined happiness.
Even while holding the hand of love, willpower is at times needed to deal with fear. I saw Steven Spielberg's film "Saving Private Ryan" and the recreation of the storming of the Normandy beaches. I thought about these men training for weeks, with bravado, building up this collective sense of will and determination, giving meaning to the sacrifice that they were going to make. But imagine being on those boats traveling in darkness, then getting onto the landing craft and coming toward those beaches. There's no way to escape fear in a situation like that. The courage to face those feelings takes willpower. It takes the ability to break the cycle of victimhood, of helplessness. It takes the capacity to say, "Maybe I will die, I have no power to stop that, I've surrendered to my choice to be here, to face what I have to face without the knowledge that I will be successful or that I will survive."
That kind of willpower comes from our sense of meaning. Real courage comes from a sense of participating in something larger than myself. Will is generated by realizing that I'm not alone, I, with others, stand for human rights, or I, with others, stand up to fight against injustice. It comes from our deepest instincts about what is truth; that relationship and connection is truer than the domination or the diminishing of others. It comes from answering the questions, who am I? what am I? why am I here in this world? The fundamental act of a free person is the ability to ask these kind of questions, to meditate, to make self-inquiry. Spiritual scriptures teach about compassion, the temporary nature of our lives, and the legacy that we can leave by growing more God in our hearts. Becoming more capable of love and more capable of intimacy in relationships is the sign of real freedom. From that place in ourselves, we draw the will to stand against fear.
Community is essential to growing courage and meeting fear. To remember that the legacy of your life has to do with how much God you make in your heart, you have to assert and demonstrate your faith within your community. Such sharing creates a collective energy which is far greater than the energy any individual can muster alone. Now, if you over-identify with community, then in a certain sense, community becomes a shelter from fear. If you belong to a religious group or cult that feels itself elite, that discourages respectful relationship to all other people, then such a community becomes a form of protection or defense, a mutual comfort organization. Those are communities of fear. They are not communities of love, and definitely not communities of spirit.
Communities of love intrinsically go beyond human relationships. They are communities that relate to the earth, that are concerned for the welfare of future generations of human beings and all other creatures. They are communities in which personal self-interest is constantly balanced with a compassion for the good of the whole.
Richard Moss, M.D. After a short general practice, he experienced life-changing realizations that led him to his true calling: the exploration of spiritual awakening and its integration into daily life. His books include "The I That Is We," "The Black Butterfly," and "The Second Miracle." For over twenty years, Richard has worked with groups, helping people throughout the world to transform their lives. He lives in Oakhurst, California with his wife and children.
Having money is an aspect of prosperity, but it is not its basis. We each must have food and shelter to survive and money is the means for procuring these and much more. But for many people money becomes confused not simply with the necessities and the potential for comfort, but with the fulfillment of one's dreams and even with the meaning of life itself. Specifically, for many people money becomes the basis of their identity. Indeed, money is such a potent force that for most of us loss of money is accompanied by a dreadful sense of loss of self, while acquiring money, especially in large amounts, tends to cause an inflation of self-importance. Suffice it to say that faced with the archetypal significance that money has come to symbolize in our culture, most people are unable to sustain a clear sense of themselves. Virtually nothing in our world has the power to make us false and to give us false hope as money. And once there is false hope, debt is not far behind. In this way too many people become prisoners of their dreams trying to fulfill themselves and buy happiness from the outside in.
Faced with something so charged in our psyches, I find it helpful to try to simplify, to try to find the keel that holds our ship on a steady course. First let's acknowledge that the nature of our universe is relationship: everything is in relationship to everything else. Indeed, consciousness is our capacity to perceive and correctly interpret relationship. Taken to its ultimate potential, enlightened consciousness is an exceptional capacity for relationship moment by moment, a relationship that both honors one's individuality yet simultaneously knows oneself to be participating with an infinite continuum of being. When we bring money into this picture we see that money is the material representation of relationship, a material expression of the energy ceaselessly exchanged between individuals, and between humankind and the world. In this sense money is metaphysical: on one level it has a discrete physical existence, but it actually is a material representation or symbol for something infinitely complex and essentially quite spiritual. We can argue about the differing value of the various ways relationship is enacted and acknowledged how much we should pay for this service or that resource but we cannot doubt that money has any existence save through relationship. If we are to understand money and what it means to have a healthy relationship to it, we first must understand it as an expression of relationship.
Obviously, money will have different meaning and different value from person to person depending on how deeply we know ourselves. If we believe we are exclusively separate entities, then money becomes an extension of our identity and separateness. I am reminded of the cover on an issue of "World Watch" magazine showing each family privately living with its own house, car, lawn mower, etc., atop what looked like a vertical walled, unassailable butte. The headline read "Sharing?" This image captures the sense we have today in which money becomes an instrument for our separation from others, for self-protection, and thus, to varying extent, a means for immunity from relationship. In this instance, if we have sufficient money we have the power to avoid some relationships and situations have the freedom to participate in those we desire. For many people in our culture it is this freedom that is considered prosperity. If, on the other hand, we have very little money, then we have much less power to avoid certain circumstances and we are less able to control who we will be in relationship with.
Money is directly related to time. The myth is that money gives us the power to control our time and wealth often translates into the power to determine how others spend their time. Ironically, despite all that we buy to supposedly make our lives easier, it is the pressure of not having enough time that most people struggle with. This pressure is greatest where people identify money and what it seems to promise as more real and important than soul. Then it is but a short step to leveraging buying power with debt, insuring that one becomes an initiate of the financial system and, if not cautious, its slave. Indeed, exceeding seventy-hour work weeks is no longer an uncommon event and in some instances, even longer hours are considered a normal aspect of sacrificing self for a well-paying job.
If money can be seen as a source of immunity when self-protection and separateness dominate in our consciousness, it can likewise be seen as the basis of community when it is the sense of openness and ceaseless connection that is our predominant understanding. When money becomes respected as the material expression of the energy of connection, it exists as a force for the sustaining of community among mutually-empowering individuals. When we recognize not merely intellectually but as a life-organizing realization that we are connected to everyone, then the Golden Rule is not only to do unto others as we would have them do to us, but rather to do to others because they are us. Then we experience the suffering of others as an obligation to live our lives in such a way as to try to alleviate that suffering, however long this may take. Then compassion, not self-protection, is the predominant impulse and prosperity for oneself means working for the prosperity of the whole. Money is no longer merely a private resource but a community resource and this gives profound meaning to our labor.
Immunity and community: this is the conundrum of money for it rests in two fundamental truths that we are both separate and ceaselessly interconnected. When the emphasis tilts too far in the direction of immunity then money and the use we make of it becomes a source of isolation, self-protection and division. This is the danger in capitalist democracies. When it tilts too far toward community, as it did in the socialism of the communist states, then individual rights and the natural expression of individual needs and tendencies is suppressed. The science of economics shows that when either polarity is overly emphasized there is the possibility of distortion and the society can become diseased. A global economic disease exist today in the over-emphasis of money as a source of immunity and salvation. But the real problem is not with money, it is with human nature and, specifically, with our inability to deal with fear in a conscious and healthy way.
Fear has always had the power to dehumanize us. It does this because it intensifies our sense of separation. It is this, in turn, that leads to greed. When fear is the dominant force we are trying to compensate, money becomes an instrument for personal security, for recognition, and for power, and the more the safer. Even if we use our money for "our" family, "our" tribe, "our" nation, this is often just the collective expression of fear-driven insular tendencies. And intellect becomes the superb tool for rationalizing greed and dishonesty because, after all, "others do the same thing and if we're not clever they'll get more." At every step, fear and greed dance hand in hand.
Yet, as we all know (but don't necessarily believe) money itself is not the cure for fear. It can alleviate certain anxieties, it can provide a degree of hope, a degree of prosperity, but fear is a far deeper disturbance in our psyches that has at its roots a profound ignorance of our real nature. Fear feeds on our perception of being exclusively separate psychic entities. Only the most earnest and intelligent examination of ourselves can show us that this is a delusion and establish us in a right relationship to ourselves and to each other. A true relationship to our essential nature, to whatever extent we have realized and lived it, requires that we acknowledge, even if only intellectually at first, that there is something prior to this thing called "me," this "me" that seems to fill our whole field of being every morning when we awaken from sleep. It is odd that, having forgotten "me" while asleep, we become re-intoxicated every morning with the sense of its ultimate, irrefutable existence. Only deep insight can awaken us from this intoxication, and the potential to awaken is clearly present for we have the testimony of the lives of great souls throughout time.
It is only in faith that we receive a form of nourishment that can help us look squarely into our fear and the power our intellects have to rationalize greed. It is only in faith that we can hope to face the conundrum of money, integrity, intelligence, and compassion.
This moves us into the question of the relationship between prosperity and responsibility. Again we are in the domain where we each exercise altruism or selfishness in accordance with our realization of faith, or in accordance with our vulnerability to fear. This is not the domain of philosophy or good intentions. I can assert the highest values and principles, but I can only pray that in my life I will be able to fulfill these. Prosperity and a right relationship to money grows from a deeper relationship to self lived moment by moment. At a deeper level of realization of self, there is no absolute separation between you and me, and none of us are separate from the Earth. At this level prosperity is no longer about being able to control your relationships or circumstances, because all relationships are valuable and all circumstances are a mirror in which we can learn about ourselves. We are no longer victims of fear; it is our teacher, not our ruler. Once we have this relationship to fear, then we can also have a healthier relationship to money as an instrument for honoring compassionate relationships.
Freeing ourselves from the conundrum of money requires a spiritual understanding. Money itself cannot oblige us to its own use. It is trust in our sense of obligation to each other born of spiritual understanding, person by person, that is the basis of any healthy economy. It is a profound irony (despite the historical reasons) that in the United States we have divided government and the laws ordering our economic relationships from our spiritual institutions. Indeed, it is an understatement to say that in our society there is a profound confusion between money and spirituality. This confusion is easily furthered by a superficial reading of, for example, the New Testament. It is said that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (Timothy 11:10), but money itself is not evil. It is making money the primary object of meaning in one's life that is evil. It is the subjugation of one's life to the pursuit of money rather than living to uncover and express the soul's own unique genius that is the evil. Joseph Campbell spoke of "following one's bliss," referring to the necessity to live a life that supports the fulfillment of the soul's true aspiration, that this above all else honors spirit and holds out the hope for true prosperity. In this sense merely seeking to acquire money can often be profound self-betrayal. It is often said "do what you love and the money will follow," and I believe this is true because when our hearts are open we are already in relationship far beyond the time-space locality of our bodies. This extended relationship provides for us economically as well. It may not be great wealth, but it is impossible to be open in this way and not feel oneself to have sufficient means.
A second source of the professed gulf between money and spirituality is the truth that spiritual understanding cannot be purchased with money. Thus Peter forcefully abjures Simon the magician, "Your money perish with you because you thought the gift of God could be purchased with money" (Acts 8:20). Many have taken this to mean, particularly in Christian society, that spiritual teaching should be offered without monetary compensation, thus driving a confusing wedge between money and spirituality. But this is not what is being challenged by Peter's remark. The error is Simon's arrogance in presuming that he can use his wealth to acquire the spiritual power demonstrated by the apostles. There is no quid pro quo between money spent and spiritual growth, but spiritual understanding is expressed in how we earn our living. Does our work honor the soul? This is not so much the nature of the work itself, but the good heartedness with which we live our work in ourselves. Likewise, spiritual understanding is at the basis of how we spend our money. How could it be otherwise, for money is but the extension of our own realization of relationship. Indeed, money is rightly used to support a spiritual teaching to which you feel affinity as long as there is no expectation that the amount of money spent insures the acquisition of spiritual power or the liberation from suffering.
Neither prosperity nor money are an end in themselves. They are but an expression of relationship, first to one's core self and simultaneously out from this source to others. The responsibility is not in living to make money, but in living in such a way that faith converts fear into relationships that enable others and our planet to thrive. Right relationship to self is lived moment by moment. Right relationship to money follows from that.